8 ways to start confronting anti-fat bias at your nonprofit


Source: UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health

Often considered a delicate and sensitive subject, it may feel uncomfortable or even rude to talk about anti-fat attitudes at your nonprofit. However, studies increasingly show that people in larger bodies are treated differently and paid less than their straight sized counterparts. Fat individuals face hurdles as small as not having accessible clothing options and as large as facing medical bias that can have disastrous consequences.

The primary tool used to measure fatness and uphold thin Whiteness as the standard body is still widely used today: the Body Mass Index (BMI). It’s been increasingly scrutinized as an inadequate measure of a person’s health for decades in parts of the medical community. The BMI emerged out of racist pseudoscience in the 19th century and now disproportionately punishes and harms women, people of color, and especially women of color today.

A 2011 study found that for each one unit increase in BMI women made 1.83% less, which could lead to thousands of dollars in lost wages over a lifetime. 42% of fat individuals report facing some kind of discrimination as a result of their size, and the larger a person is, the more discrimination they report facing. In our workplaces and our world, anti-fat attitudes have clear and direct consequences on the lives of fat people. This discrimination is intersectional, compounded by sexist, racist, and classist attitudes and behaviors.

If we do not discuss anti-fat attitudes as part of diversity, equity, and inclusion work, the problem will only persist and harm those already most marginalized in our workplaces, especially women of color. In order for everyone to thrive we must entertain the uncomfortable.

A good first step is to educate yourself and your employees on how you view people in larger bodies. Beyond that we must consider how our workplaces feel to those in larger bodies.

The following list is a starting point to have larger conversations about anti-fat bias in our nonprofits and society.

  • Consider taking the weight IAT test to see what your implicit bias is towards fat individuals. 

  • Ensure that your office is accessible for people at all sizes by providing comfortably sized furniture, and devoid of architecture that may be hostile towards people of larger body sizes. 

  • During staff outings pick activities that wouldn’t exclude someone based on their weight. 

  • Examine your workplace policies around hiring and promotion to ensure that people of all sizes are treated equitably.

  • Include weight-based discrimination and bullying in guides about inappropriate workplace behavior. 

  • Eliminate weight-based workplace “wellness programs” that are not shown to be effective at achieving positive health outcomes and may actively harm fat employees.

  • Use more positive images of larger people in your communications. The UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health has a Media Gallery. 

Anti-fat bias is a pervasive force within our world and requires a dynamic response to confront our own individual biases and dismantle systemic barriers faced by those in larger bodies.  



About YW Boston

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I Services—such as InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and youth programming, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.

As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at sheera@ywboston.org.