TikTok’s Toxic Fat “Activism”

Recently, out of the depths of TikTok, a movement has re-emerged in the form of fat activism. The concept of fat advocacy isn’t anything new, having roots that stretch back to the 1960s and becoming especially prominent in the modern-day through sites such as Tumblr. But this new wave of activism is approaching the idea of weight discrimination in a very different manner compared to the movements of old, and it seems to be doing nothing except causing conflict between fat activists and the rest of TikTok.

“Fatphobia” is the main term circulating around pro-fat TikTok, defined as “a fear of fatness and fat people” by Aubrey Gordon, an activist at Self magazine. At face value, it seems a good idea; a way to label the discrimination that many fat people suffer regularly, and potentially a replacement term for body shaming. But when one looks into the way that the term is actually used on TikTok and other social media, the idea of fatphobia becomes almost horrific. When TikTok star Mark Gaetano posted photos of his transformation from overweight to fit after losing 120 pounds, he expected comments congratulating this incredible feat. Instead, he was flooded with comments calling him fatphobic, a supporter of thinness, “diet culture”, and disordered eating. Gaetano made an apology and pointed out that he lost all of this weight because he felt his health was in jeopardy and not because he wanted to make any sort of point about fatness, as though that wasn’t already apparent.

 It’s mind-boggling that an entire community can form around protecting people from body shaming, and then immediately turn around and tell everyone else that they can’t do what they want with their bodies. This has led to an unhealthy obsession with diet and body image among fat activists, with many of them constantly posting videos of their diets and eating routines as some odd way to prove to the “haters” that they AREN’T unhealthy, which at this point is so far gone from the original purpose of the movement that it’s laughable. And this extreme toxicity from fat activists has spurred a counterculture hellbent on mocking fatphobia and fat activism, all while glorifying bodybuilding and fitness. One now-deleted TikTok brought particular attention to the app’s fatphobia movement and began the internet’s current hatred for fat activism. In it, the video’s creator looks into the camera and proclaims, “if you work out because you want your body to look a certain way, you don’t care about health- you are fatphobic.” Many took issue with this absurd statement, responding to the video with videos of themselves or bodybuilders working out and flexing their muscles while proudly declaring themselves fatphobic, with many gaining hundreds of thousands of likes.

Now, which group is right- the fat activists or the bodybuilders? What if it was neither? On one end, TikTok’s fat activist movement has become a toxic cesspool full of condescending, hypocritical nonsense fueled only by a desire to anger the other side. But then the other side isn’t any better, a counterculture revolving around body shaming and glorifying an unrealistic standard that many will never reach no matter how hard they try. What fat TikTok needs to realize is that working out is not fatphobic and that in some cases being overweight IS unhealthy, even if it usually isn’t. And fitness TikTok needs to learn that some people become overweight due to mental or physical illnesses, and telling them to “pick up a weight” isn’t going to solve anything. In short, there is no correct side in the social media discourse over fatphobia.