“Hey, how much do you weigh?” asks a complete stranger to Nataly Ortegón, while she, sitting on a park bench, enjoys the sun on an unusual afternoon in Bogotá. This is something that this photographer, artist and activist experiences on a daily basis due to her fatphobia in front of her physical appearance.
Of course, some will say, “What’s the deal? It’s a simple question!”. But no, it is not a simple or innocent question. Comments about weight are just one of the many leitmotifs that fat people in Colombia live day after day, year after year, decade after decade. Another is bumping into someone by accident and receiving a response of “watch where you’re walking, fat girl,” with an emphasis on the word “fat.”
Or when enjoying a family lunch, hearing the phrase: “Don’t eat the potatoes, better help yourself to more salad”. And having to do somersaults to get on a public service bus because it is not designed for people with a lot of weight. Or go to the doctor and before opening your mouth receive a scolding from the doctor on duty for the extra kilos.
The discrimination of society
The park’s comment, which came out of nowhere, actually comes from everything that society believes and feels entitled to point out about fat bodies, which have become the object of discrimination that manifests itself in a thousand ways. From not being able to access a certain service or product, through criticism of physical appearance, to the denial of job opportunities, the bullying and bullying.
All this constitutes fatphobia. This is one of the forms of discrimination that society exercises against bodies that do not meet a certain canon: thin, white, young, athletic, cisgender, heterosexual.
To try to understand what it is like to suffer, but also to rise up against fatphobia, diner spoke with three activists and a nutritionist who works from an inclusive weight perspective.
Silvia Quintero, a political scientist, is studying a postgraduate degree in gender issues at the National University. She grew up dieting, counting calories and learning to substitute some foods for others; these concerns were repeated at each of her meals, every day of her life. “It’s an ordeal, something that doesn’t allow you to live peacefully,” she recalls. She adds that the pleasure associated with food was alien to her because the timing of feeding on her was distressing.
Until she started reading about women’s relationship with their bodies and how society imposes arbitrary ideals on them. In this way she met other people who suffered from the same anxieties and pressures as her. “That allowed me to get out of that individual place. And to see that the things that I lived through and that made me feel bad about myself were something that she shared with many other people who also had fat bodies.
Quintero was thus linked to an activism mainly exercised by women, because despite the fact that all fat people suffer discrimination, particularly oppressive demands fall on women. In these spaces he began to give a political character to the fact of living in a fat body.
guilt and shame
Marcela Salas is a social worker and has just finished her master’s thesis on the relationship between family and fat. Upon coming into contact with feminism, Salas began to question the constant diets and the pressure to feminize her body, lose weight and shape it in a certain way. She has been part of the Gordas sin jacket collective and now acts independently.
Salas remembers that, like Quintero, before her activism she also lived all the time focused on that bodily regulation that her environment imposed on her. Today she feels that she lives beyond her weight and tries not to let it determine everything in her life: from her personal relationships to her work relationships; what she eats, what she does and how she gets along in the world. “In reality, things still happen that remind you of that. But the personal work is to eliminate the fear and shame with which we learn to walk in the world and say, ‘yeah, I need a bigger seat’ or ‘pass me the belt extender’ on the plane and not feel sorry for it ” .
And it is that guilt and shame are two emotions to which fatphobia appeals all the time, because “the trick” is to make them feel guilty for being the way they are and for not losing weight, emotions that in turn generate depression, low self-esteem , anxiety and eating disorders.
As it explains Nataly Ortegonthe photographer who narrated the episode in the park, people feel they have the right to criticize the bodies of others or to suggest changes in their habits.
“They approach me and offer me products to lose weight, that is, people start from the conviction that a fat person has to lose weight to adapt to the world, to achieve ‘success’, because being that way is not being successful. Other ways of existing have always been made invisible and then everyone feels entitled to, with a supposedly good intention, advise you to lose weight, ”he says.
These comments come from a place of moral superiority, as explained by Salas. He also adds that many times these tips are hidden behind the excuse of care. “’I recommend this diet for your own good,’ they say. But in reality there is no intention of care, but a prejudice and a conviction that they can have an opinion about our bodies.
The health argument
Nutritionist Paola Sabogal works from an inclusive perspective of body weight. Although she has not experienced fatphobia herself, she did develop a special sensitivity towards the subject because when she was a child, she Sabogal had the privilege of eating foods that her sister was not allowed, something that was painful for her.
In addition to that, his mom also suffered from fatphobia. “She had a fat body and she suffered from it a lot. Particularly, I remember that one day she came crying from a consultation with the EPS nutritionist; she told me about the mistreatment she received from her and at that moment I thought that I would have acted exactly the same as they acted with her; that for me was a very strong blow and made me question how she was doing my job”.
So he began to study about the movement of health in all sizes. Since then she has learned a lot from the activists and tries to share that knowledge in her networks. And she’s constantly crusading against myths like fat equals poor health or that people should lose weight by whatever means, including surgery or constant dieting.
“Gorphobia comes from a notion of health that proclaims that a fat body is always sick; this is a legitimizing discourse of the non-existence of fatness and that generates guilt and stigmatization of fat people. If we really cared about their health, we would make them a special protection group within the system, instead of putting a requirement on them to have a certain body type. But if we think about all the processes that are prescribed by health professionals to lose weight, we see stigmatization and a chain of negative effects on physical and mental health due to these impositions”, explains Sabogal.
The end of fatphobia
Instead of protection, institutionality creates more discrimination, such as the measure dictated by the Bogotá Mayor’s Office during the pandemic, which suggested that fat people not go out on the street, which generated even more prejudice. Or like certain bills that seek to pay more to the health system.
Some people question whether advocating for the end of fatphobia is being against health and pose it in terms such as “well, let’s accept all bodies, but fat people are still sick, right?”. Paola Sabogal’s response is that “several studies have found that fat people, when compared to thin people, tend to have a higher incidence of certain diseases. This shows a ‘correlation’, that is, the presence of two simultaneous phenomena that increase or decrease together; this has been the basis for assuring that being fat makes you sick, despite the fact that the simultaneous presence of two conditions does not imply causality of one over the other, that is, having diabetes and being fat is different from having diabetes because of being fat” , Explain.
For her, this linear notion of causality is permeated by a reductionist science that breaks down the complex world into measurable factors such as weight and disease parameters, and dismisses the social determinants that condition weight and health.
“In fact, if we consider only the group of fat people, we find that they are exposed to a greater risk in their health due to three central factors: repeated diets that affect body composition and that produce nutritional deficiencies, metabolic disorders and behavioral disorders. food; this yoyo effect results in systematic weight gains, associated with increased cardiovascular risk, among others, and weight stigma that has been associated with increased cardiometabolic risk, dysfunction in glycemic control, increased inflammation, and oxidative stress.”
Therefore, the nutritionist questions whether the difference in health markers found in studies of fat people vs. not fat necessarily has to do with their weight or with what doctors and society in general require them to do to lose it.
Diversity as a starting point
In short, for Nataly Ortegón, it is about respecting diversity. “The challenge is that people understand that there are fat, thin, tall, short bodies and not only in terms of weight, there is diversity in many aspects; when we understand that to standardize is to segregate a lot of people, there can be a real change”.
While these changes are taking place, the three activists are not sitting around waiting for their environment to transform.
They are all involved in movements that lead to real change. For example, in the design of public policies related to the use of public space, anti-bullying campaigns in educational and labor institutions or access to health, among other issues.
Meanwhile, they continue to do something political every day of the personal, because with their body they communicate a message through these hostile streets. “My mother always stressed that no one should judge my body, that I should not pay attention to the comments of others. Later, when I had to face the world and its prejudices, I decided not to hide. I never wanted them not to see me, on the contrary, I go around the world like on a catwalk, I go on stage, I do activism, I love my body. And it is that when you live in a society that tells you to hate yourself, loving you is revolutionary”, concludes Ortegón.