Fat Liberation Self-Study Guide

Click on the links below to explore concepts of F/fat liberation.

Topics include anti-fat bias, weight stigma, F/fat liberation, and healthism.

Content Warning: Mentions the Transatlantic slave trade, race pseudo-science and eugenics, BMI, fatphobia, racism, sexism, and misogynoir


  • Anti-fat bias: n. The stigmatizing belief that bodies should be thin and/or muscular to fit within commonly held standards of beauty, fitness, and health. Pervasive anti-fat biases have serious ramifications such as discrimination in education, hiring, and employment; personal relationships with family members and potential partners; as well as life-threatening health disparities resulting from doctors’ misdiagnoses or refusal to treat patients until they lose weight. Weight stigmatization or bias can also result in fat persons’ internalization of a negative self-image and/or harmful eating and exercise practices in an attempt to lose weight.
  • Body positivity: n. Body positivity began as a political and cultural movement towards self-acceptance, self-love, and acknowledging the beauty present in a wide range of body shapes and sizes. Though originally connected to radical movements of fat acceptance and liberation in the 1960s (See “Fat/fat activism/fat liberation”), over the past several decades, corporations and influencers have largely co-opted the term and converted it into a marketing ploy that encourages consumption as a route to beauty and self-satisfaction. Critics of the body positivity movement consider that it perpetuates the social mandate to prioritize external appearance and beauty. Additionally, some argue that the movement puts the onus on fat people, especially fat women, to individually resolve the stigma and shame attached to fatness for themselves, rather than demanding a radical intervention into the ways fat bodies are treated by media, healthcare providers, employers, and the fashion industry, among other institutions. See also body neutrality, Fat/fat activism/liberation, and radical self-love.
  • Body neutrality: n. Body neutrality emerged from critiques of the body positivity movement, specifically that the latter maintained a focus on physical aesthetics and tended to perpetuate other dominant beauty standards like able-bodiedness, traditional femininity, and whiteness (See “Body positivity”). Conversely, body neutrality advocates for a greater valuation of bodily capacities or functionality, stressing what each individual’s body can do for them, rather than how attractive or unattractive it appears to others. Instead of encouraging people to love their bodies, body neutrality urges them to acknowledge their bodily imperfections and grow to accept that their body and its parts have other purposes beyond their aesthetic value. See also body positivity, Fat/fat activism/liberation, and radical self-love.
  • F/fat activism/liberation: n. Traditionally a derogatory term used to pathologize people of a large size and/or weight, the term F/fat has been reclaimed by activists since as early as the 1960s to combat anti-fat bias and weight-related stigma. Rather than using medically loaded terms like “obese” or “overweight,” fat activists treat the word “fat/Fat” as a valid and celebrated part of their self-identity, granting neutral and/or positive connotations to the term. See also body positivity, body neutrality, and radical self-love.
  • Health at Every Size: n. HAES is a political and cultural movement towards social justice and institutionalized community support for people of all sizes, particularly those whose bodies are subject to weight stigma and anti-fat bias. Supporters of this movement acknowledge that health outcomes are influenced by several complex social factors in addition to weight, such as access to healthy food, exercise and leisure time, as well as other intersecting identity categories like race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or attractionality, disability, socioeconomic status, etc. (See “Healthism”). HAES therefore advocates for (1) respect of all body sizes, (2) critical awareness of scientific and cultural assumptions about bodily experiences, and (3) for compassionate (self-)care that supports each individual’s specific needs in terms of diet, movement, and healthcare.
  • Healthism: n. A pervasive belief that health and wellness are both universally desired properties and moral responsibilities of each individual, rather than a complex factor of embodiment influenced by social factors such as environment, disparities, institutional oppression, and other macro-level forces. As a result of healthism, fat people, disabled people, and those with chronic illnesses often face misdirected blame for their medically stigmatized physical and mental (dis)abilities. Often, able-bodied, thin, healthy people, and others deem them irresponsible and therefore unworthy of care and other basic resources. Those who perpetuate healthism, including many medical professionals, may suggest that lifestyle modifications like exercise and dieting can “fix” or “cure” chronic illnesses and/or disabilities, rather than taking into account a person’s socioeconomic status, access to nutritious food and healthcare, and/or space and time in which to move their bodies.
  • Radical self-love: n. Attributed in large part to poet, activist, and writer Sonya Renee Taylor, RSL critiques the subtle, ubiquitous, and the more obvious ways systems of oppression act upon the body and inequitably distribute vital resources to certain bodies over others in a set of processes Taylor describes as “body terrorism.” Not to be confused with body positivity, RSL pushes for body liberation by insisting on recognizing the fullness of bodily experiences, which accounts for not only weight and size, but also race, age, (dis)ability, gender, attraction, and many other categories of personhood. RSL demands a complete restructuring of sociopolitical life that would eradicate the body hatred and violence continuously enacted towards others and oneself. See also body positivity, body neutrality, and Fat/fat activism/liberation.
  • Universal Design: An adaptive set of design practices and policies that make any environment, service, and/or product accessible to everyone regardless of age, size, and (dis)ability. Universal design should accommodate users with a wide range of abilities and disabilities, preferences, experiences, and knowledge. It should also communicate necessary information clearly, minimize consequences for user errors, require low physical effort, and provide appropriate size and space for users with varying mobility, height, etc. Some examples of application for Universal Design include education (Universal Design for Learning), architecture, and web design.
  • Weight Stigma: n. See anti-fat bias.


News Publications


Academic Journals and Books

  • Harrison, Da’Shaun L. Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness. North Atlantic Books, 2021.
  • Rothblum, Esther and Sondra Solovay. The Fat Studies Reader. New York University Press, 2009.
  • Strings, Sabrina. Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia. New York University Press, 2019.

University Courses

  • WGSS 3563 – Queering the History of Health

Get involved

  • Reflections WashU: Reflections is a close community of peers dedicated to promoting body inclusivity, challenging fatphobia, and spreading knowledge about eating/exercise disorders. We are an action-centered organization, not a support group (Description from WUGO).