Illustration by Darin Connolly

“Fat” isn’t a bad word until you make it one. I am fat and I am beautiful. Those terms aren’t mutually exclusive.

For every person on the internet telling a fat person to lose weight, there are thousands more fat people rolling their eyes, including me. Stop pretending to care about fat people’s health. Encountering a fat person doesn’t suddenly make you a doctor — pretending to care about our health is just disguised fatphobia and toxic diet culture.

My whole life, I’ve been bigger than the people around me. It’s nothing new. I remember taking ballet lessons as a child and hearing teachers talk among themselves, saying I would never be able to be a real dancer because of my size. This wasn’t what I needed to hear at 7 years old. Needless to say, my conscious relationship with my body and food started at a young age.

People don’t even seem to recognize fatphobia as a problem because we are so steeped in diet culture. With the onset of the new year comes a plethora of articles about how to “lose belly fat,” and what exercises are “proven to make you lose weight,” implying fat is a bad thing to be.

According to a new report from Common Sense Media, in the U.S. more than half of girls and a third of boys from ages six to eight say their ideal body would be thinner than their current body. The National Eating Disorder Association reports 62.3 percent of teenage girls and 28.8 percent of teenage boys try to lose weight.

People idolize thin bodies, thinking being thin is the same as being healthy. Considering how people are socialized by family or media to equate the two, it begins to make sense why we believe certain things about fat bodies.

I started playing lacrosse at 12 years old and my dad enrolled me at his favorite gym when I was 13. When I was 17, he got me a personal trainer for a couple weeks. I went along with it, thinking it was all to be healthier and show I was doing something about the way I looked, even though I shouldn’t have to.

It’s infuriating to see people think they are entitled to the bodies of fat people. Online, random people comment on pictures of fat people loving themselves telling them they need to lose weight. In real life, people see us at the gym and find it a call to stare or to try to correct our form.

Fat people don’t want your unsolicited opinions about our bodies.

Our weight is not an invitation for people to tell us what to do for our health. People deserve medical care and dignity regardless of the assumptions others have about weight and their level of health. We expect doctors to know what they are talking about, but even they have their own biases and fatphobia. It’s often reported they may tell fat people to lose weight when there may be a more serious problem not caused by being fat, like endometriosis, ovarian cancer or some kind of untreated injury.

In a study by healthcare providers from the International Association for the Study of Obesity, “providers who evaluated patients who were obese were more likely to rate the encounter as a waste of time and indicated that they would spend 28 percent less time with the patient compared with those who evaluated normal‐weight patients.”

Even in this study, we see doctors use terminology like “obese” and “normal-weight” to classify people, and doctors definitely have their own biases.

Body image is complicated, and is not as simple as just losing weight and eating healthy. People don’t choose to be fat. A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found 23.5 million people lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home. So, in certain communities, access to healthy food is limited and expensive.

If skinny people cared for our health, you would realise telling us to lose weight is harmful and can influence restrictive dieting and excessive exercise, among other dangerous habits. This only serves to make things worse, increasing negative body image, disordered eating and excessive exercise.

To combat this, be critical of the media you are fed, and realize your words are harmful. Think about how you came to say those things.

I know people who say they feel fat after eating, or people who say they’ll get diabetes after eating a lot of sugar. Casual language reveals the deep-rooted intolerance we have learned as a society. Catch yourself using fatphobic language, and think about what you say versus what you actually may mean.

Unlearn the assumptions you may have about fat bodies. Body positivity is understanding the relationship between health and weight is complicated, highly individual and being fat doesn’t guarantee health problems related to it. You can be healthy or unhealthy no matter what size you are.

Next time you feel compelled to comment on someone else’s body, pause and think about why you feel compelled to say something. Change how you view fatness and fat people, because it harms everyone.