Fat Is a Social Justice Issue

Weight has always been a target for shame and bullying; the stigma of fatness continues, even amid a body positive culture.

Fat shaming is not a new phenomenon, said Dr. Susie Orbach, the London-based author of the seminal “Fat is a Feminist Issue,” published in 1978. “I wrote the book during the second wave of the women’s liberation movement. We were investigating everything.”

“But nobody had really looked at the fact that we were living in a visual culture that was pressing us to be smaller and smaller and smaller,” said Orbach, one of Britain’s best-known psychotherapists, who worked with the late Princess Diana. “The idea of fatness was so scary to people. The book was a call to not be frightened about our appetites, not be frightened about food, to throw away diets, to dare to occupy our bodies, to live in our bodies,” she said.

Women all over the world are now obsessed with the Western ideal of beauty, said Orbach, offering as an example the case of Fiji, where shortly after television became available in the 1990s, a significant number of women became bulimic, hunched over toilet bowls in an attempt to look like the women of the 1990s era TV comedy “Friends.”

Dr. Susie Orbach, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist, and author of “Fat is a Feminist Issue,” says businesses have millions by convincing people they are overweight and unattractive, and discusses some of the consequences of exporting thinness as a beauty ideal.

‘Social Media Is as Addictive as Drugs’

Social media is playing an ever-increasing role in how teenagers view and shame their bodies, said Dr. Gary Goldfield, senior scientist at the CHEO Research Institute with the Healthy Active Living & Obesity Research Group. “Social media is as addictive as drugs,” said the researcher, noting that platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook have aggressive algorithms that keep kids glued to their devices for 6 to 8 hours a day.

“The prevalence of problematic social media use is rising and rising: we have a very serious public health problem on our hands,” said Goldfield. “And adolescence is a period where body image is more important for self-esteem than in any other life period. It’s also a period of time where social validation and need for acceptance and sensitivity to social rejection is also more pronounced,” he added. “We’re bombarded by these unattainable beauty ideals. But whether it be influencers or celebrities or just the average person posting, almost all of them have been photo edited. So they’re not projecting reality.”

Dr. Gary Goldfield, Senior Scientist at the CHEO Research Institute with the Healthy Active Living & Obesity Research Group, explains the difference between disordered eating – which is quite prevalent – and an eating disorder.

Disordered Eating

“Kids who look up healthy ways to lose weight will be fed non-stop all kinds of unhealthy ways to lose weight that will take them down a rabbit hole that has been shown scientifically to contribute to disordered eating and full-blown eating disorders,” said Goldfield.

research study helmed by Goldfield concluded that teens who went on a “social media diet” significantly improved their self image. The study compared a group of teens who were asked to reduce their consumption of social media by 50%, and a placebo group, which had no restrictions.

After just three weeks, body esteem had significantly improved in those who had reduced their social media consumption. Those in the placebo group experienced no changes in self perception.

Body Positivity

“Limiting social media clearly seems to have benefits on body perception,” said Goldfield.

Blogger Jasmyne Cannick discussed the shift away from the body positivity movement, and the new anti-diet movement, fueled in part by food companies seeking new marketing techniques to push unhealthy food. Cannick also discussed new weight loss drugs Wegovy and Ozempic, which are taking the celebrity and influencers’ world by storm.

“As a black woman, my body shape, my body weight is different from that of a white woman of the same age and same height,” said Cannick, noting that she works in an industry where looks play an important role in the ability to be employed.

Jasmyne Cannick, Race, politics, and social issues commentator and an award-winning journalist, discusses the impact her weight has had on her career and notes that looks can be as important as professional experience when it comes to jobs in media.


“People used to say to me all the time, ‘you need your own TV show.’ And I would say, ‘I’m too fat for that, because we like our anchors and we like our reporters on television to have a certain look, and I didn’t have that look,” said the award-winning journalist.

In recent years, there has been a seismic shift in the way women view their bodies fueled by celebrities like Lizzo, Ashley Graham, Selena Gomez, and others. “Lizzo made her name by saying, ‘Hey, I’m a plus size girl, and I’m going to wear what I want to wear, even if it’s no clothes. And I’m going to show my complete entire butt on social media,’” said Cannick. But recently, the singer said she was tired of all the nasty comments about her size, and was stepping down from social media.


Lizzo has also started to use Ozempic, and has recently posted photos of a much-slimmer self. She has also released her new line of shapewear, Yitty. Cannick perceives the singer’s shift away from embracing her large body as the beginning of the diminishment of the body positivity movement.

“Can we dare to live from our bodies? Can we dare to know our appetites, really know them, and stay present for our hungers? And can we also develop our emotional appetites so that we can find real nourishment?” questioned Orbach at the conclusion of the EMS briefing.

EMS’ Stop The Hate initiative is made possible with funding from the California State Library (CSL) in partnership with the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs (CAPIAA). The views expressed on this website and other materials produced by EMS do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the CSL, CAPIAA or the California government.