Grossophobia: Sociology of invisible discrimination – Book extract – Economy

Extracts from the introduction to the book Grossophobia

The media success met in June 2017 by Gabrielle Deydier’s book We are not born fat1 What is remarkable is that the media are generally more inclined to highlight the medical problems associated with obesity than to criticize the discrimination suffered by people designated as overweight. Deydier’s success is part of a progressive awareness, in the media arena, the extent of the daily injustices experienced by those who deviate from the dominant norm of thinness. The next few years will tell us whether this media success was only the coup d’etat of a shocking book or whether it testifies to a more profound transformation of society.

For the past fifteen years, the development of blogs, then of social networks, has brought to light men, and even more women, who claim their right to live without being discriminated against2. Their mere presence in the media and digital space has had the effect of an electric shock in a society accustomed to highlighting extremely thin models. On Instagram, the model queer Tess Holiday launched in 2013 a movement “Eff your beauty standards” (“I fuck your beauty standards3 ») To criticize the dominant standards in the fashion industry. More than two million people currently follow this account which highlights fat women and men, queer or not, valid or not and of various origins and cultures. Unfortunately, this interest has had its downside: the hatred that is pouring out on social networks towards Tess Holiday and all the public figures whose bodies exceed the authorized norm is impressive by its violence. From plus size models to oversized actresses, from overweight comedians to very obese strangers, all are subject to constant criticism, insults and violence. The recurrence of this hate speech reveals what many people can experience in their daily lives, especially when exposing themselves publicly.

It is in this context that Gabrielle Deydier’s work has restored its legitimacy to the term “grossophobia”, used by militant associations fighting against discrimination since the 1990s, in particular by actress Anne Zamberlan4, one of the founders of the oldest French association, Allegro Fortissimo. In March 2021, since the start of media archives on Europresse, this term had been used 1,618 times by the French media. Of these occurrences, 1,521 had appeared after the publication of Gabrielle Deydier’s book in 2017, which testifies to the importance taken by this question very recently. The word “grossophobia” also appeared in the dictionary in 2019. This term raises questions, however, because at first glance it tends to turn a political, social and moral problem into a question of psychological and individual disgust towards people whom pejorative stereotypes designate as “lazy” or “lacking in will. “. The concept is however interesting when its first meaning – the fear of the lumpiness – is analyzed as a social and political problem which goes beyond the psychological and individual frameworks. This word also has the merit of comparing what fat women and men experience with the experience of victims of homophobia or Islamophobia for example, whose social sciences have clearly shown the political and social workings. In addition, the use of the term is defended by many people concerned, which tends to make it a tool for social advocacy. This is also the case for the words “fat” or “fat”, defined by a growing number of people as being neutral and descriptive expressions, without medical connotation, Conversely the terms “overweight” and “obesity” used from a medical perspective. These words describe the corpulence, when “small” or “large” are intended to describe the size. They relate to the weight standards of each company and to those of the person who uses them.


In France, the existing data on the subject unanimously reveal the extent of the difficulties and violence suffered when one is a very corpulent man or woman. These stigmatizations are linked to anthropological implicit which, for centuries, has associated size with certain character traits considered immoral, such as laziness, stupidity, compulsiveness or lack of will. These tacit links between corporeality and morality, which we still find in current social representations, recall the principles of anthropometry of Paul Broca or Cesare Lombroso, who in the nineteenth century sought to biologize criminality by explaining it in particular by the morphological characteristics of human skulls. Women, people of color, members of the working class as well as all the people considered “deviant” have been the subject of numerous studies tending to associate their supposed intellectual defects or moral to their physical characteristics (size of the skull, skin color, facial features, silhouette, gait). In the case of lumpiness, this link between supposed immorality and strong build has been reinforced by the medicalis

1 Deydier G., We are not born big, Paris, Éditions Goutte d’Or, 2017. 2 In this book, the choice was made to use the rules of the proximity agreement when possible. The rest of the time inclusive writing was adopted. To consult the rules used in terms of proximity agreements, see the website of Éliane Viennot, literature historian and literary critic specializing in questions of sexism in the French language:. 3 All translations from English are by the author. 4 See Zamberlan A., Rant against grossophobia, Paris, Ramsay, 1994.

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