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August 20, 2019 Tuesday 02:34:28 PM IST

Fascination for Slimness Has Racial Origins, Not Linked to Health

Photo by Vidmir Raic for

Sabina Strings, Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of California, Irvine has said in her recently published book Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia, that fat phobia has deep racial and religious roots and nothing to do with health concerns. 
She has said that thinness has been a mainstream archetype in the US since atleast the 19th century. This precedes the medical establishment's concerns about excess weight by nearly 100 years. She found that fat phobia is rooted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and Protestantism. In the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonists and race scientists suggested that black people were sensuous and thus prone to sexual and oral excesses. Protestantism encouraged temperance in all pleasures, including those of the palate. By the early 19th century, particularly in the U.S., fatness was deemed evidence of immorality and racial inferiority.

Initially, fat phobia was associated with black women and the goal of race scientists and protestant reformers. Medical science took it up later for health reasons. Now regardless of race identity or gender, people are encourage to become slim. Thinness is privileged and fatness stigmatized. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a poor measure of health outcomes but it continues to be used to confirm to a flawed weight standard.