Modern fat phobia emerged in America during the 1800s in response to industrialization and globalization, but its broad cultural appeal rested largely on racism and white supremacy.
White, western “scientists” in the 1800s categorized people into social hierarchies on the basis of their distinguishing physical characteristics, including relative fatness. Unsurprisingly, they places white Europeans at the top of this social hierarchy, and their distinguishing physical characteristics – including relative thinness – were deemed to be signs of civilization, and cultural, moral, and intellectual supremacy.
In contrast, Black people, the indigenous peoples of North America and Australia, and many other non-Black peoples of color were placed at the bottom of this hierarchy, and the physical characteristics attributed to these groups – including fatness – were deemed to be signs of primitivity, and cultural, moral, and intellectual inferiority.
Thus, it became essential for white people to maintain a thin physique to distinguish themselves from other “primitive” races, and to physically embody their own racial supremacy.
Furthermore, because fatness distinguished non-European immigrants and poor people of color from rich white people, any discussion of the social, economic, moral, and medical harms of fatness became coded language for discussing the “problem” of the “uncivilized” races. This coded language is still in use today. Case and point: The “obesity epidemic” is used to blame mostly poor people of color for social ills ranging from global warming to economic depression, and weight-loss is prescribed to solve health problems more logically attributed to poverty and systematic oppression.
Fat phobia was born of racism, classism, and white supremacy, and continues to service these oppressive systems today. Never forget that.