HomeAll postsIs being fat a disability? A biased opinion

Is being fat a disability? A biased opinion

Shakespeare (from Disability Rights and Wrongs Revisited [2013], Routlege) and others seem to accept that ‘fat’ people are disabled although they have no impairment causing their morbid obesity. Fat people have apparently been claiming to be disabled because they feel oppressed. Under the auspices of Post-structuralism, an ontology that accepts discourse as truth, claiming to be disabled equals a disability. I disagree. Post-structuralism accepts claims of disability based on oppression. I disagree.

Oppression is not evidence of a disability.

Queers are oppressed in our predominantly straight society but homosexuality is not a disability.

Muslims are oppressed in our white ‘Christian’ society but Islam is not a disability.

Being excessively overweight without a biological impairment or mental illness causing fatness is not a disability, it’s a lifestyle choice. If you have a biological impairment (e.g. hypothyroid) or a mental illness causing morbid obesity, then the hypothyroid or mental illness is the disability and the morbid obesity is a symptom of that disability.

To take it one step further: I am not disabled because I am an albino; I am disabled because of my degree of albinism causing low-level eyesight coupled with society’s expectations that people meet a minimum standard of visual acuity or suffer the consequences. Other people with less albinism — for example 6/12 or 20/40 vision — may not have ‘normal’ eyesight but they can function in society without experiencing barriers to their participation. These people can, for example, hold a drivers license and read from the whiteboard in school without using a telescope. Although they may have the genetic condition albinism they are not disabled. (The CDC provides a definition of disability as does the Australian Human Rights Commission.)

The later consequences of morbid obesity (knee injuries, diabetes, heart disease etc) may be classed as disabilities.

However, choosing to be significantly overweight already has a cure: healthy eating and exercise.

For fat people who choose to be overweight to claim they are disabled is like choosing to stand on only one foot and claiming to be mobility impaired: choose to use two feet and you’re fine. By claiming a disability, you are making a mockery of others’ real medical conditions and experienced oppression.

Don’t try to claim disadvantage or victim status while there are thousands who genuinely need change to gain equity and access.

In 2005 my supervisor, a senior social worker, said, ‘Your disability is your choice because you’re too vain to wear coke bottle glasses’. If wearing ‘coke bottle’ glasses would fix my eyesight, I would wear them. My disability is not my choice. I never chose to suffer discrimination, barriers to education, barriers to employment, barriers to participation in so much of my life.

Choosing to be fat or choosing to stand on one foot is not a disability, it is a lifestyle choice. Don’t be a dick.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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