Bioethics Blogs

Scales and the Emotional Underside of Fatphobia

Michael Orsini explains the pervasiveness of discrimination, fear, and hatred related to ‘fatness.’


It’s convenient to dismiss the recent flap over the removal of scales at the Carleton University gym as yet another case of political correctness run amok.

Did Carleton Athletics simply cave in to pressure from overly sensitive gym patrons who were ‘triggered’ by the sight of a scale? While tempting, that would be the wrong question to ask in the wake of this controversy. Rather, what is it about weight itself that would unleash such a torrent of emotion and name-calling?

Conservative media commentators mocked the University for its decision, revealing the extent to which the conservative battle against political correctness is fueled by ugly views about fatness.

That is not to say that all liberals are fat-loving citizens. Far from it. Fatness arouses a range of complex moral emotions in all of us, from feelings of pity and sympathy to fear and disgust, regardless of our ideological leanings.

In a world in which we come to rash conclusions about people based upon their appearance, being fat or ‘obese’ is shorthand for being slovenly, lazy, and ‘out of control.’ As Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman argues in his best-selling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, we often make decisions based on visceral feelings, strongly felt emotions that typically serve as poor guides. For example, in discussing the palpable fear of shark attacks, Freeman Dyson notes that we pay more attention to sharks because they frighten us, even though “riptides occur more frequently and may be equally lethal.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.