Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2016

Why Canada must make sizeism illegal

Legal protections at the provincial, territorial, and federal levels can help fight fat-shaming

Jill Andrew@jillslastword

ThisMagazine50_coverLores-minFor our special 50th anniversary issue, Canada’s brightest, boldest, and most rebellious thinkers, doers, and creators share their best big ideas. Through ideas macro and micro, radical and everyday, we present 50 essays, think pieces, and calls to action. Picture: plans for sustainable food systems, radical legislation, revolutionary health care, a greener planet, Indigenous self-government, vibrant cities, safe spaces, peaceful collaboration, and more—we encouraged our writers to dream big, to hope, and to courageously share their ideas and wish lists for our collective better future. Here’s to another 50 years!

In my TED Talk on fat-shaming and the thin epidemic, I proclaimed, “Fat is just a description. It is not a prescription nor an invitation for hate!” Size discrimination has lasting effects. From micro-aggressive stares to overt verbal, physical, and sexual violence, fat bodies, especially those of women and girls (though accounts of men and boys are rising), are often the targets of unmitigated judgment and groundless assumptions about our value, health, productivity—in essence our potential for being good, successful citizens. It’s as though living in a fat body begets failure. Insidious myths on fatness create environments where fat talk, fat stigma, general body-shaming, and body-based harassment on the basis of size, weight, and shape flourish without accountability.

Children as young as four have thigh gaps on their wish lists. Calling someone a “fat cow,” I’ve been told, “is the ultimate come back.” Body image and more specifically body-based harassment is also a primary source of bullying, according to the 2006 Toronto District School Board student census report. In 2011, the student census showed that 58 percent of students in Grades 9-12 and 67 percent in Grades 7-8 said they liked how they looked—a passing grade, but not exactly an “A.”

Adults like to tell bullied children “it gets better,” but does it really? Without legal protection against sizeism, employers, health care providers, and educators are able to discriminate against fat people without fear of recourse. Fat people are less likely to be hired or promoted and on average are paid less than non-fat employees. Particularly in the workplace, sizeism intersecting with sexism and racism can have a triple effect for women of colour. In health care, fat people have been misdiagnosed or refused services by providers who immediately assume their health issues are associated with their weight—an assumption that has been debated for years in scholarly, scientific, Health at Every Size, and fat activist communities. And lastly, some educators assume fat students are less intelligent or committed to taking on leadership roles. Ironically, absenteeism is often linked with “obesity.” Yet, has it ever occurred to anyone that someone’s choice to discriminate or that being fat in environments where fat talk is left unchallenged might be the actual culprit?

Sizeism must be illegal. I am advocating to have size recognized as a protected ground in our provincial and territorial human right codes and the Canadian Human Rights Act. I am also advocating for the explicit addition of sizeism within all human rights policies in school boards across Canada as well as an instituted Body Confidence Awareness Week across school boards that incorporates body-based harassment and body image issues from a human rights social justice lens. When surveys indicate some young girls are more afraid of being fat than of cancer, nuclear war or losing their parents, I think it’s time we take action. Join me.

Photo courtesy of Jill Andrew/Twitter

Jill Andrew, Ph.D.(C.) is currently petitioning to make size discrimination illegal. Andrew is co-founder of the Body Confidence Canada Awards and is co-editing an anthology titled In Our Skin: Our Bodies, Our Stories. She is a columnist with This.

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