When people think of or discuss body size and shape, they often focus on weight and BMI (body mass index) as a way to categorize body size. But, weight and BMI are terrible measures to discuss body size, because not all people who have the same BMI or weight are the same body size.
Fat activists developed The Fat Spectrum or “fategories” to offer a more nuanced and inclusive approach to understanding and discussing body diversity. These labels are not perfect and will not reflect everyone's experience in their bodies, but they are used in fat spaces and on social media. The wider public has more exposure to them and people have come to me confused, so I want to make a brief explainer of the fat spectrum.
DISCLAIMERS AND DEFINITIONS:
Not every fat person knows these terms or uses them.
Please do not use these terms to describe other people’s bodies to them unless they have explicitly asked you to do so.
Accommodations for fat people are not "special." They are mandatory for their participation in our society and we should be working to make our world a more inclusive place for people of all sizes.
Fat people are individuals, not a monolith, so be respectful and listen to fat people.
I have not found a fat spectrum that does not use US women’s sizing (email me if you know one and I’ll update this blog), so I apologize to anyone who does not wear US women’s sizing.
Fat Activism: is the social movement that seeks to eliminate the social stigma of fatness and advocates for the dignity of fat people to be recognized.
Fat Liberation: is the idea that fatness is a valid and celebrated part of self-identity and someone’s body size is not illustrative of someone’s worth, inherent value, work ethic, etc… Fattness is a neutral term and neutral state and people can care for their bodies in whatever way they choose.
What is the Fat Spectrum?
The fat spectrum is a relatively new concept and is still being discussed and debated within fat acceptance and fat liberation communities. However, it has been gaining traction in recent years as a more inclusive and nuanced way of understanding and discussing body diversity.
The fat spectrum categorizes bodies into five main categories: straight-sized, small fat, mid-fat, large fat, and superfat/infinifat. *Please note, the term mid-sized has grown in popularity due to Tiktok, and the range of what is considered mid-size varies widely. So, I will include it - but do not have a defined range (please email me if you have sources about the definitive range).
US Women’s sizes found in mainstream stores 0-12. People in this category are not fat (though they might “feel fat”) and experience the normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill, anti-fat bias perpetuated through diet and wellness culture, but are often not the target of it from society. They are afraid of being called fat or considered fat because of the weight stigma that we are all swimming in, but they do not have barriers to accessing healthcare, public spaces, clothing, ect…because of their body size.
Generally, this is used to refer to US Women’s Size 10-14. People in this category are considered fat in TV and movies. Think America Ferrara in Ugly Betty or Nicola Coughlan in Bridgerton. These women are not actually plus-sized or fat, but are used to portray “fat” people. People in this category might still experience weight loss advice from medical professionals and or strangers, but they still have access to healthcare, public spaces, clothing, ect…
US Women's Size: 14-18. People in this category experience some degree of weight stigma and discrimination (in gyms, from doctors, and/or people being "concerned" with their health). However, they can generally participate in society without accommodations. Often they don’t need larger chairs, seatbelt extenders, or special equipment. They can find clothes at plus-sized stores, and sometimes at mainstream stores.
US Women's Size: 20-24. People in this category experience much more weight stigma and discrimination, both in public and private spaces. They might need seatbelt extenders, more inclusive seating, and other accommodations. They can only find clothing in plus-sized clothing stores and online.
US Women's Size: 26-32. Sometimes called "Lane Bryant Fat" (coined by Roxane Gay) People in this category will experience weight stigma and discrimination most likely everywhere. They are the highest sizes in plus-sized clothing stores and might only be able to order clothes online. They need seatbelt extenders, more inclusive seating in all public spaces, and other accommodations, especially in medical offices.
SUPERFAT OR INFINIFAT
US Women's Size: 34+. Sometimes called "Infinifat". People in this category experience significant weight stigma, discrimination, and barriers to accessing a lot of public spaces. Often plus-sized clothing stores don't have their size. They will probably have to have their clothes custom-made. Not to mention, that they have to survive the daily onslaught of complete strangers being total d*cks to them just for existing! Their bodies are often used as disgust porn for straight-sized people and the media, which has shown to be horrible for their health and is incredibly dehumanizing.
Everyone and every body, regardless of size or health status, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect AND have equitable access to healthcare, transportation, clothing, and all other aspects of society. Understanding the fat spectrum is helpful, but we ALL need to listen to people in the most marginalized bodies and build a more inclusive society where all of us can thrive!
Additional resources and thoughts on the topic: