[Part 1 of 2] How to Accommodate Fat Guests [P.S. Why Word Choice Matters]

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Note from the author: "This is a highly sensitive topic, and I can understand why seeing the word "fat" in a headline or caption seems offensive. In the article, you'll see that the term is stripped of all pejorative meanings and was used in line with fat activists' quotes and self-identification. There is a whole population of people out there who reclaim that term and don't attach negative meaning to it. The intent of this piece is to discuss a whole segment of people who have been largely ignored by the hospitality industry."

From access to a wider talent pool to increased retention and innovation, there are several important reasons why many spa and hospitality leaders are prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. There has been one group however, that has been largely invisible in these efforts due to blind spots and unconscious bias: Fat people continue to feel unwelcome as guests in spa spaces.

Our culture has a hierarchy around weight. “Thinner people are seen as better,” says fat activist Marilyn Wann, author of Fat? So!: Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size (Ten Speed Press 1998). Wann says that fat people often face negative stereotypes, as well as environments and situations that range from unaccommodating to dangerous.

There is plenty of published scientific material available to dispute the notion that fat equals unhealthy; being fat is not actually the problem—fat stigma or fat hatred is. “When the focus is on weight and body size, it’s not ‘obesity’ that damages people. It’s fearmongering about their bodies that puts them at risk for diabetes, heart disease, discrimination, bullying, eating disorders, sedentariness, lifelong discomfort in their bodies and even early death,” says Lindo Bacon, PhD, scientist, author and speaker with three graduate degrees in weight-related science, including a doctorate in physiology. “It should be obvious, but weight stigma does not reduce ‘obesity’—and health care should be about self-care and promoting the health of the person in all its forms.”

Being inclusive in a way that recognizes fat people requires some serious rethinking. When we genuinely care about the health of guests entrusting their bodies over to us for care, there are a number of ways that spa and wellness businesses can be more inclusive and accommodating to fat guests.

Change the Narrative

In order to shift the discussion from “fat equals unhealthy” to “the health of a person in all its forms,” we must acknowledge blind spots and unconscious bias, and recognize the damage that this can cause not only in personal interactions but also when they’re woven into services and treatments.

Even the word “obesity” is problematic, as it pathologizes the size of a body. It is a category based on the body mass index (BMI), which is a simple mathematical equation based on height and weight. It measures physical appearance, not health. It was never intended to be used for individual health concerns, but rather for statistical analysis of a group.

Continue reading our Digital Magazine for more information to make sure you are creating an inclusive spa space...

A lifelong spa-goer and wellness product devotee, Irene Macabante uses her 25+ years of branding and marketing experience to create memorable spa experiences that drive customer loyalty and boost wellness brands’ reputation. As founder and CEO of The Citrine Consulting Collective (www.citrinecc.com), she ensures that its mission and vision are carried out with integrity, efficiency and transparency.

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