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Weighted: Designing Towards Fat Liberation

How might design eradicate anti-fat bias to create a kinder world and remove instances of fat shaming?

Context:

Graduate thesis, 2021-2022

Methods:

Secondary research, UI/UX Design, Art Direction, Data Visualization, Ideation, Photography

Tools:

Adobe CC (Photoshop, Illustrator, XD), WordPress, HTML, CSS, Trello

Designed six implementations to combat interaction points of anti-fat bias

What I Did

Through this thesis, I saw that experiences of anti-fat bias are real, painful, and upheld by structures around us. Design has the power to change those structures and reduce pain. As designers, that is what we should strive for to be truly holistic and human-centered.

My Background

As a fat-identifying* woman, I have a personal history with the instances of anti-fat bias that occurs throughout lived experiences. I have known that anti-fat bias is present in social interactions, but recently have noticed more that design decisions have an impact on that bias being felt for fat people. From policies that allow people to be fired for their body size, to lack of access in design spaces like fashion, there are multiple points of interaction and systems that exacerbate fat discrimination. However, while that discrimination is present through these systems and experiences, making changes with the mindset of reducing anti-fat bias can have a big impact on helping fat people feel more accepted and cared for in daily life.

*I am using the term fat in the tradition of fat-activists reclaiming the word. Please note that if you are not fat-identifying, this word can be triggering for many people so it is best not to casually use it in conversation or as a reference to someone unless that person specifically states that they are okay with you using the word.

Who anti-fat bias affects

For this work, I focused on how anti-fat bias affects femme-identifying people's lived experiences. There are 1.9 billion people who anti-fat bias largely affects, and of that population, fat femme-identifying people face high levels of weight discrimination as they are held to a certain beauty standard that fatness is not a part of. Fat women face particular modes of fat discrimination, from lack of clothing access to specific dating-centric harassment. The prevalence of diet culture makes this bias difficult to escape and has historically affected millions of women.

How I began

Generative Secondary and Primary Research

To begin exploring points of change through the design process, I began by engaging with fat activism resources such as NAAFA, following fat activism podcasts and news, as well as taking in a plethora of books and streaming content related to fat activism. I also began speaking with professionals who study bias and create our world to better understand points of change. Most importantly, I spoke with fat and plus-size identifying people to discuss their challenges and where they would like to see changes made. 

Research

🪨 Obstructs

fat women from accessing spaces.

Addressed by Flex

✋ Discourages

fat women from entering social areas.

Addressed by Affirmd

🤷 Forgets

fat people's needs, which results in a lack of option availability.

Addressed by Plus Futures

😝 Ridicules

fat bodies and creates shame in seeing fat.

 

Addressed by both Venus Bebere and Repono

🧐 Scrutinizes

fat people's behaviors in daily experiences.

Addressed by the Fat Positive Dinner Party

Fat shaming, as a result of anti-fat bias, prevents the development of care-driven spaces and services through five key problem areas.

Fat shaming....

How this affects fat-femme people and reduces anti-fat bias.

A key point of change is that fat people are granted less access to spaces, services, and community, which reinforces the negative effects of fat discrimination. This lack of access is communicated through verbal messaging, visibility, and ability to access points of interaction in social and public spaces. This messaging results in a pressure of larger-bodied people to feel unable to participate in aspects of society in five ways: by being obstructed from access, discouraged from entering spaces, having their needs forgotten about, ridiculed when made visible, and scrutinized more heavily when together as a group. 

By designing points of change across a wide grouping of products and experiences, we can see how anti-fat bias can be addressed to create more accepting spaces through design.

Anti-fat bias directly affects 1.9 billion adults and has numerous harmful effects, such as consistent high stress, eating disorders, and reduced self-esteem to name a few.

Who does anti-fat bias affect?

Mapping out the experiences around fatness

From that research, I was able to begin mapping out where fatness appears in Western society to see how fat people approach their fatness and their bodies, how others see and approach fatness, and where biases and discrimination appears and is being actively reduced. From this map, I started trying to identify what the key desire was from fat-femme identifying people as to the kind of world they would like to see, and what they all consistently said was that they wanted a world where they could fit socially and physically, and gain access to care-driven services and spaces.

The Fat Ecosystem

The Fat-Positive Dinner

A co-created experience for fat-femmes to create community

Affirmd

A dating app that encourages fat-positive behaviors

Venus Bebere

A drinkware line that celebrates the beauty of the fat form

Repono

A plugin that removes fat-negative language in the writing process

The Fat-Positive Dinner

A co-created experience for fat-femmes to create community

Affirmd

A dating app that encourages fat-positive behaviors

Venus Bebere

A drinkware line that celebrates the beauty of the fat form

Repono

A plugin that removes fat-negative language in the writing process

Take a look at the projects:

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