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By Kristin Kimiko Dorey, teacher and plus model, Surrey

We’ve now officially entered every fat person’s least favourite season: the season of New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it is the time of year when we become privy to the myriad ways and extreme lengths people will take to avoid looking like us.

While most adults have moved past open jeers and taunts, the more insidious (and sometimes more traumatic) fatphobia seems omnipresent. The same people who know better than to directly shame us often feel perfectly valid in disparaging their own bodies in front of us, inadvertently telling us all the things they’d like to change about us. We notice the way celebrities are dog-piled when they gain weight: a never-ending barrage of insults ranging from name-calling to pity. To be honest, I’m not sure which is worse. We see how (often the same) celebrities are celebrated and lauded for their weight loss and their pursuit of conventional beauty.

We hear you say that you feel fat—even though fat isn’t a feeling—when what you really mean is sluggish, lazy, and bloated. We notice when the only fat characters in a book or film are objectively terrible people (I’m looking at you, Dursley family) or when a fat character’s only concern is weight loss. We are listening, and so are your colleagues and the young people around you. Here are some tips for navigating the topic of bodies, at this time of year and beyond:

Reflect on how often you really need to talk about others’ bodies.
I think you might find that the answer is almost never. This isn’t just for the sake of fat people. Thin people, tall people, short people, etc., already know what their bodies look like, and they don’t actually need to be told—mirrors exist. Remarking on someone’s weight loss or weight gain can be incredibly hurtful, even if you mean it to be a compliment. Commending someone’s weight change sounds a lot like, “Wow, I like your body more now because it is more closely aligned with society’s beauty standards, and I’m proud of you for finally getting on board.”

Also, it should be noted that weight loss or weight gain can be a sign of other things that someone may not want to discuss, like an eating disorder, illness, chronic stress (late-stage capitalism, a pandemic, and environmental degradation will do this to a person), depression, etc. Last year my body changed when I was sick and waiting for surgery; I can’t tell you how many people congratulated me on my weight loss. To which I replied, “Thanks, I’ve never felt worse, and this is the least well I’ve ever been.” Now it’s awkward for everyone.

Remember that physical appearance is not an indication of health.
Yes, you read that correctly. Unless you are someone’s doctor or possess X-ray vision, you don’t really know what’s going on in their body, even if you’ve been conditioned to think that you do. Also, if someone does have health problems, that’s their business. What they will need from you is compassion and support, not “health” advice. Leave that to the professionals.

Ask for consent before engaging in diet talk.
Sure, it might seem like a nice, light lunchtime topic, but for some, it’s the last thing they want to talk about. Take a temperature check before diving into it. And for the love of Jason Momoa, please never tell anyone to go on a diet or assume other people will want to join in eating grapefruit, black coffee, and nutritional yeast, or whatever food restriction is trending these days.

Be thoughtful about how you speak about food.
It’s deeply embedded into our culture to moralize food as “good” or “bad.” We do this without thinking. How often do we say that we can’t eat something because we’ve been “bad’’ this week or we can now splurge and have a sinful piece of cake because we’ve been so “good”? When we speak this way about food, we tell those around us that there should be guilt and shame associated with particular foods. When we label things as “good” or “bad” we are passing judgments about the way others eat. Also, stay away from calorie talk. If you want to count calories, that’s between you and your body; however, talking this way gives young folks the impression they should also be counting calories and thinking of food only based on its caloric value. 

It should also be noted that sometimes students who bring “bad” food to school do so because those foods tend to be less expensive and easier to pack for lunch. This doesn’t mean that we can’t address a student’s nutritionally insufficient lunches. If we have a concern that a student’s lunch is lacking in the type of nutrition that makes learning possible, we can frame it as such when speaking to the parent(s) or guardian(s), rather than telling them their child’s lunch is “bad.” The former opens a dialogue with curiosity; the latter is shaming.

Be mindful of dress codes and how they’re enforced.
Dress codes are a hot topic, and I understand why. For some, a dress code is viewed as a means to protect the safety of students; others feel dress codes have the potential to be body-shaming and sexualizing, among other things. It’s possible that both are true. While I won’t get into a debate about the existence of dress codes, I will implore you to reflect on the messages that are sent to students when we tell them what they’re wearing is inappropriate. Is it a comment on their clothing or a comment on their body? If it’s about their body, please go back and read the first tip.

Address body-shaming language, but be conscious of how and when.
It’s a nightmare when a student says something to another student that is unkind and everyone in the class hears it. It’s especially sensitive when what’s said is something the student can’t change, like their physical appearance. While the conversation needs to be shut down immediately, the follow-up chat with the person who said it should take place privately. There should also be a follow-up with the person who was hurt. It’s hard to walk away from a potentially traumatic interaction and have no one acknowledge that it even happened or ask if you’re okay.

When choosing reading materials, consider the way bodies are represented in the text.
While we know we should be choosing inclusive texts that reflect the diversity of our student body, often body type is left out of the mix. If you choose texts that portray specific bodies in stereotypical or antagonistic ways, use the opportunity to unpack bias.

Ultimately, when it comes to bodies, the biggest advice I can give is to remember that when talking to the people around us, we all come to those conversations with different experiences and baggage. We are all inundated with images of toxic beauty standards everywhere we look, but what we don’t have to do is project those onto others or pass those on to the next generation. I hope 2023 is the year we can make peace with these beautiful and imperfect bodies of ours.


The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love
by Sonya Renee Taylor
You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar
Shrill by Lindy West
Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby
Hunger by Roxane Gay
Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings
Fat Activism by Charlotte Cooper

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega
by Crystal Maldonado
Being You: The Body Image Book for Boys by Charlotte Markey, Daniel Hart, and Douglas Zacher
Her Body Can by Katie Crenshaw and Ady Meschke
Beautifully Me by Nabela Noor
Lovely by Jess Hong
Shapesville by Andy Mills and Becky Osborn
All Bodies Are Good Bodies by Charlotte Barkla
Celebrate Your Body (And Its Changes, Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls by Sonya Renee Taylor

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Category/Topic: Teacher Magazine