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The following definitions were originally sourced from a final project co-created and presented with my cohort Psalm Lewis (whom you may know better as vegan chef extraordinaire Collard Gal), at the California Institute of Integral Studies for our Trauma course. The goal of this final paper and project is to explore the connection between Fat Phobia and Complex Trauma through the lens of current societal norms. We found it extremely important not only to start making way for these explorations within the Psychological community, but to validate them concretely through the writing of academic literature, and through the creation of operational definitions for each of the terms utilized. This will allow a baseline of understanding in general, as well as being specifically applied to Psalm and my academic work together in the future – research and literature and workshops, oh my!




Image credit Flickr user Adam S via Creative Commons

{*It is also extremely important to be aware of the roots of both the terms, fat and obese, in question. In a research study that explored Decreasing the Stigmatizing Effects of Fatness in Professional Psychology Journal, authors cite the roots of the terms fat and obese: “The Greek word for fat has, from its origins, neutral connotations. The word obese (from Latin meaning that which has eaten itself plump) assumes that eating makes people fat. The National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) champions the use of the more neutral word fat, and we chose to follow their recommendations” (Bacon & Robinson, p. 175). Much of my own works serves to dispel the harmful misalignment between fat and food, and I do not believe in using the term obese in my own personal discussions.}

FAT PHOBIA – Pathological fear of fatness (definition found in medical academic article Fat phobia: measuring, understanding, and changing anti-fat attitudes).

FAT SHAMING – One pervasive symptom of Fat Phobia; The widespread openly acceptable practice of judging, criticizing, and discriminating against people living in fat bodies.

COLONIAL GAZE – The historical use of representation to justify the domination and subordination of women and people of color. Within the context of fat phobic societies, fat bodied women are depicted either as morally corrupt, ignorant, promiscuous individuals who needed the colonizer’s guidance, or as cheerful childlike women who embodied desirable virtues such as: chastity, modesty, asexuality, altruism and purity. So, the colonial gaze utilizes the images both to legitimize the colonial administration and to control the fat bodied women in society. This can be perpetrated through the manufacture of clothing, furniture, architecture, and size specific legislation. Fat bodied womyns’ images serve as invaluable symbols for fat phobic movements.

PATHOLOGIZING FATNESS – health/fitness/wellness pathology of physical bodies with higher fat, the presentation of fat overshadows the actual presence of any physical/social/emotional/ spiritual condition (the inverse but equally wrongful action: glorification of “active”, “healthy”, “otherwise beautiful” fat bodies as being “better than” within and without fat communities.) *therapists do not try to understand fat bodies by pathologizing them and practice within your scope – i.e. not giving health and fitness advice because you are grappling with fat phobia which you never honestly addressed.*

INCLUSIVITY– intentionally holding space for a subjective experience that you do not share as a lived reality. The practice of honoring a different lived experience to avoid unintentional erasure of an individual’s perspective.

SPATIAL DISCRIMINATION – can occur via multiple microaggressions throughout the day in many forms of restricted physical environments and proximity to others – i.e. room arrangement, furniture size, airline seat belts, required equipment and/or uniforms, clothing {one size does not fit all!})

COMPLEX TRAUMA – Compounded experiences that often begin in childhood and are carried throughout one’s lifetime.

[RELATED POST: 7 Body Positive Tips Never Going out of Style!]


Intertwining bell hooks Teachings Further Defined:

ENLIGHTENED WITNESS – (based upon Psychologist Alice Miller’s theorizations) One who helps others to recognize the injustices they suffered, to give vent to their feelings of rage, pain and indignation at what happened to them.

HISTORICAL GAZE – We are all looking not just through our own lens, but through the eyes of our ancestors whose genes live within us.

DE-COLONIZING YOUR MIND – Taking back ownership and possession of your thoughts/emotions/actions from the current societal norms that are strongly rooted in colonizing beliefs and thoughts – working to de-structure this embedded scaffolding to think independently. (*It’s important to remember America is a country of colonizers*)

“PATRIARCHY KNOWS NO GENDER” – Oppressive privileged Patriarchal beliefs don’t just show up in the actions of males, but have in turn been believed, imbibed, and digested by females who then perpetuate it against one another.

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*These definitions were sourced from a revolutionary panel discussion at The New School, NY, entitled; “Transgression: Whose Booty Is This?” (Seen in the video below). This discussion is one of the most powerful I have witnessed, and importantly centered around Womyn of Color – I highly recommend it to every Feminist reader, and those looking for more radical information that isn’t often addressed.*




Image Credit: Flickr user Cliff via Creative Commons

Kindergarten – she begins to notice her body size is bigger and because of the cultural messages she has taken in as a child without a fully formed sense of self yet, she has taken in that being bigger equates to something bad, just as being different can often be seen as “bad.”

1st grade – She begins to be teased on the playground by the school bully. Her face gets hot and red and she feels “icky on the inside” – she withdraws during recess.

2nd grade – One day at school, she and her classmates are called to the nurse’s office to have their heights and weights taken – in front of each other. The little boy next to her makes fun of her and shares her weight with the rest of the class. Around this time, she quits dance class because she doesn’t like the skin-tight outfits.

3rd grade – Her grandmother makes a comment on her weight being “too much” and tells her to eat less during dinner time.

4th – 8th grade – One of her teachers discusses her weight loss after a recent stomach flu in front of the whole class, languaging it as something positive. She becomes aware of the difference of her body in her uniform compared to her peers, as well as the different way her body fits in the small desk and chairs.  She begins posturing her body smaller and smaller – continuously drawing herself taut and inward. She quits volleyball and softball because she feels uncomfortable in the uniforms that are not size accepting. She hates having to participate in the presidential fitness tests yearly in school among her peers.

High School – No matter the doctor visit, her “overweight” body is constantly objectified and told it is wrong, it is too much, it is not good. She is bombarded with T.V commercials and magazine ads filled with body shaming ads, diet schemes, and no visible representation of the fat body (just constant discussions about weight loss). She is surrounded by negative body talking peers whose bodies are visibly smaller than hers. She has limited clothing options outside of ‘grandma gear’. She is surround by and immersed in patriarchy masked as reality – i.e. boys taught to cherish size 2 bodies with blonde hair attached. 

College – A lot more of the same from high school, although heightened by contained living spaces, shared bathrooms, and frat mentality. Shared eating spaces such as the cafeteria prove constantly confronting when she feels judged for what she eats – whether it be salad or a burger! She engages more fully in hook-up culture than in loving relationships because she has learned to objectify herself (*this is not a judgement against “hook up culture” or “hooking up” vs. being in a relationship or “dating,” this is just a specific example highlighting that it might not really be her conscious choice, but rather a cultural re-enactment*)

Post-College/ “Real World/Society” – Enters therapy in order to alleviate anxiety and depression – therapist asks: “Do you think you keep fat on your body in order to prevent intimacy?” ENTIRE CULTURALLY RE-ENFORCED TRAUMA BECOMES FURTHER RE-ENFORCED IN A SUPPOSED SAFE SPACE. This statement makes deeply detrimental implications based upon fat phobic assumptions and 1. assumes fat is kept on her body by choice and 2. presupposes that fat bodies cannot be intimate – the messaging of which gets placed directly back upon the client. At the same time she experiences harassment on the street daily – both “positive” and “negative” (quotes used here around these terms because there actually is no right way to “shout out”/”cat call,” demean or harass someone else’s body – both are objectifying. She also hears numerous times throughout college, just as she did in high school, “You have a beautiful face,” (separating it inherently from her body) or hearing, “You look great; did you lose weight?” (directly linking looking great with being thinner, and assuming that anyone has the right to comment on anyone else’s body, which is incorrect).

“ADULTHOOD” – Now equals a summation of the societal trauma she has sustained, essentially as therapists you must remember to consider that you may very well be first treating her inner child in order to heal her current womyn. *this = complex trauma*


It is difficult to truly highlight the multiple daily micro aggressions that all fat bodied humyns, and in particular fat womyn, have to face due to their very existence within society! Psalm and I have come to understand that any fat body becomes representative of the greater shadow of our repressed society – humyns become confused and conflicted because everything in their primal nature is telling them to love the sensuous, luscious feeling and look of fat (i.e. breast obsessions), but then everything in their environmental surroundings is telling them that fat equals bad (i.e. every diet commercial ever). Fat Phobia is a socially-created fear that must be eradicated from all angles. Other than the beast that is mainstream media, Psalm and I are working toward becoming licensed Somatic (whole-bodied and sensation attuned) Psychotherapists, each with our own Body Positive twists. Personally, I want to work to eradicate Fat Phobia academically within the Psychological community, in order to better serve those who experience it at the hands of other communities. I also strive to not only work with adult womyn to heal the complex trauma they have experienced, but to begin at the baseline by working with children (our literal future) in order to instill self-love and positive approaches to their bodies from the beginning!

Featured image credit: Courtesy of Saucye West; photographer Desmond Rodgers
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Being raised in New England, the west coast has always felt like a breath of progressive, laid-back, open-minded, fashion-forward air to my free-spirited soul, which is what drew me to California. Escaping the more cookie-cutter traditional white picket fence life, has led me on an adventurous journey toward self-love and acceptance, and ultimately body positivity! I am in Oakland, because I moved to the Bay Area for graduate school to become a licensed Somatic Psychotherapist, and after exploring different city options, I discovered that the eclectic, unique, and honest vibe of Oakland resonated with my funky spirit and style! My role in WYV as Senior Columnist is producing weekly articles on Body Positive Fashion, Fat Acceptance, and many of my other passions such as social justice, childcare, and chronic illness advocacy. Of course I'm constantly being inspired by my very diverse (fashionably and otherwise) Oakland peers, local business owners, and fat/body positive activists! Come follow my photographic adventures on my instagram: @somewhere_under_the_rainbow

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