“Microaggression,” according to Wikipedia, is a term was coined by Chester M. Pierce in 1970. Columbia professor Derald Wing Sue, who literally wrote the book on them, defines microaggressions as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” Some examples of racial microaggressions include statements like “But you don’t act like a black person,” or any of these others mentioned in this Buzzfeed list, or this list from American Psychologist, and this Tumblr.
Microaggressions are definitely real things that impact the lives of marginalized people of all categories. Most discussion of microaggressions focus on race, but they play a big role in size politics too. But because size is a dynamic element for most people (i.e. it might change), sizeist microaggressions tend to impact people of all sizes – those who are fat, and those who are afraid that they are fat or afraid of becoming fat. I’m personally getting really damned sick of them.
“You look great! Have you lost weight?”
“You look so skinny in that picture!”
“God, I am a disgusting pig at this weight.” “…You weigh less than me….” “I mean, just because I’m not usually this weight. It’s different.”
“But you eat healthy. I’m talking about the fat people who eat McDonalds.”
“Wow, you look great! You lost like a million pounds!”
“Just so you know, I used real butter in that recipe.”
“I used to be overweight, but I’m happy with my body now. If I was ever a size 10 again, I’d shoot myself.”
“But I don’t think of you as a fat.”
The important thing to remember is that these micgroaggressions are committed unintentionally. For many people, these microaggressions come from the practice of fat talk – a self-deprecating way of communicating that people use to try to assuage their guilt over their eating/exercise habits, or demonstrate their social humility. It’s really unfortunate because people who fat talk think they’re only talking about themselves, and therefore only affecting themselves with their statements. They fail to realize that every time they criticize their own body or eating/exercise habits in front of other people, their words have the same impact of a microaggression.
It’s also possible that the person doing it just really has no idea because they just don’t think about weight stuff that often. For example, laughing at a fat joke on a TV show. While sitting right next to a fat person, totally oblivious to the impact of their complicit laughter on their friend next to them.
Microaggressions can result from the environment we live in too, like when clothing brands only carry up to a size 12. They can be actions rather than words, like when someone gives out free t-shirts as prizes, but only in sizes XS-L. They can happen in academia/research, like when you’re reading a book on organizational change theory and all of the examples are compared to weight loss maxims (“Just tell your team to put down the cookie, or better yet, remove all the cookies from the office!” – the cookie here being a metaphor for whatever “bad behavior” you’re trying to change).
Do you have more examples of sizeist microagressions? Have you been committing them unintentionally? And if so, are you willing to make an effort to stop?