Fatphobia in finance

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We all love a good metaphor. Just ask 14-year-old me, who wrote ~deep~ stuff on LiveJournal (and, no, we’re not including the link…for everyone’s sake). But if your goal for the new year is to be financially healthy, you may come across metaphors that compare financial fitness to physical fitness — and some that veer into obesity territory.

Physical health parallels are everywhere in personal finance. For example, there’s also The Financial Diet (a favorite Money Scoop) and The Financial Gym (your dear writer’s former employer).

But there are also “financial cleanses” that compare putting away credit cards to cleaning out the refrigerator. Or “financial detox” guides that feature pictures of green smoothies and compare sugar intake to frivolous spending. These metaphors are linked to body shaming to – in theory – encourage positive financial outcomes. But shame is neither motivating nor effective.

Landon Tan, a certified financial planner, suggested that all of these images should not be in the financial planning industry at all. But since both food and money are necessary for survival, it stands to reason that there is some overlap between how they are handled, however imperfectly.

When done carelessly, these comparisons imply that all health outcomes—financial and physical—are based solely on individual choices. But things out of your control, like genetics or generational wealth, play a big role. And if we don’t point out the limits of individual choice, it can lead to shame.

But shaming people doesn’t help anyone achieve their goals – physical or financial. And avoiding the so-called fat phobia in your personal financial goals is not just semantics.

Anti-fat bias leads to lower employment and wages for larger individuals, and in most of the United States this form of employer discrimination is completely legal. This is part of what some call a “fat tax,” which financially penalizes fat people.

Health is complicated. It’s money too. And when the two collide, drawing the line between what’s helpful and what’s harmful can be a challenge. If we here at Money Scoop ordered it all it’s scary, a huge part of the world of personal finance would have to change overnight.

And hey! Maybe that’s not so bad. But this bulletin doesn’t own the infinity gauntlet (thank goodness, because that’s a lot of pressure 😓). So in the meantime, be critical of the metaphors out there and be prepared to call your financial advisor (or coach).—Miriam

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