The dangers of fat shaming


February 19, 2018


Tori Flick

Photo Credit: Tori Flick

The scale. It is a device that has been around for what seems like forever. Scales have been used in courthouses as symbols of justice, in kitchens as measuring tools, and yes, in doctor’s offices and gyms as a measure of health. Those first two uses fail to stir any significant emotion in the everyday person. However, that last use strikes fear into the hearts of even the strongest people. For some, the thought of gaining another pound, or not being able to lose existing pounds, is frightening. Is this because the scale itself is scary? Or, is it because the scale is associated with something scary?

The scale itself is nothing more than a glorified heap of metal and plastic set up to provide humans with information. The judgment that comes about while interpreting the information provided is what produces negative emotions. So, is there a reason for the negative connotation of the scale? Yes, there is, and it is called fat shaming.

Before we talk about why fat shaming is bad and why it needs to stop, it is necessary to define it. According to the Oxford Dictionary, fat shaming is “The action or practice of humiliating someone judged to be fat or overweight by making mocking or critical comments about their size.” In simpler terms, fat shaming is making someone feel bad about what they look like because of their weight. Psychology today author Dr. Jamie Long puts it even better in her article “Are You a Fat-Shamer” when she defines it as “An act of bullying, singling out, discriminating or making fun of a fat person.”

Shaming simply doesn’t work. When someone feels poorly about themselves, their self-esteem takes a hit. It creates a mentality of “If they don’t accept me now, why would they accept me when I’m skinny?”

Now that we have a strong definition, it is helpful to look at some examples. Fat shaming in its clearest form could be cracking jokes about someone’s weight or denying someone a job or service because of their weight. In its more disguised form, fat shaming could be allowing others to do the aforementioned things, offering unsolicited or offensive weight loss advice, or, according to Dr. Long, feeling “superior in comparison to overweight or obese people.”

At this point, some may be wondering what the big deal is. It is good to want our friends, families, and even strangers to be healthy, right? While that is true, unless you are a medical professional, you cannot accurately rate the health of an individual. Consequently, my argument centers on effective methods of encouraging health, not defining what health is. This actually brings me to my first point.

According to the previously mentioned Psychology Today article, Angela Sutin, a psychologist at the Florida State University College of Medicine, conducted a study which found that people who were fat shamed had a higher probability of gaining weight. On top of this, the study found that the participants who were obese at the beginning of the study were likely to stay obese throughout.

So, what can we learn from this study? Shaming simply doesn’t work. When someone feels poorly about themselves, their self-esteem takes a hit. It creates a mentality of “If they don’t accept me now, why would they accept me when I’m skinny?” Once this mindset takes hold, it is hard to muster up the motivation to lose weight.

Another reason why fat shaming does way more harm than good is that it fails to acknowledge that weight is not always a choice. For example, consider produce prices. According to Carla Williams and the ABC News Medical Unit, a study conducted by the American Dietetic Association found that in order to satisfy the 2005 Dietary Guidelines, poorer families would be forced to spend anywhere between 43 and 70 percent of their food budget on fruits and vegetables.

For a poor person, it might seem better to buy cheaper junk food and have some income left over than to spend everything on expensive produce (let us not forget that produce is not government subsidized). Because of this, it is no surprise that a large segment of those with a lower socioeconomic status are overweight or obese.

Similarly, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, those counties with poor populations of greater than 35 percent have higher obesity rates than wealthier areas. In fact, the rates are 145 percent higher. Because poverty is often connected to extra weight, it is not fair to assume someone is overweight because of poor judgment.

‘In non-Western cultures, fatness often was associated with high status.’ … Therefore, extra weight was considered attractive.

The second way in which weight is not always a choice has to do with medical conditions. According to WebMD, some conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome and depression, can lead to weight gain. In addition to these conditions, certain medications have been known to cause users to gain extra pounds. Thusly, to assume a person chose to be overweight is wrong. People do not get to decide if they have a disease, nor do they have control over medication side effects. It is completely unfair to shame someone for their weight, because doing so may actually shame them for uncontrollable health conditions.

The last issue with fat shaming is that it enforces false beauty standards. In the modern-day West, thinness is seen as beautiful and desirable. However, this hasn’t always been the case, especially in other regions of the world. In fact, according to Natalie Angier from the New York Times, at one time, “In non-Western cultures, fatness often was associated with high status.” To be heavyset meant that one was wealthy enough to afford a more luxurious lifestyle. Therefore, extra weight was considered attractive.

This goes to show that beauty standards vary with culture and time period. To shame people for not fitting the current beauty standard — in this case, thinness — is ridiculous, because there is no set rule for what is beautiful.

All in all, as obesity rates rise in the U.S., so does the count of fat-shaming incidents. Fat shaming does not motivate people to pursue health, because it makes them unhealthier than before. It damages physical health, mental health and societal health. If fat shaming is the norm, then America is a society that tears people down rather than building them up.

So, before you go make that fat joke, or insult someone on their weight, take a second to realize that the person on the other side of the conversation is a human. They are a living, breathing being that deserves all of your respect, no strings attached. It is your duty to be their empowerment, not their punishment.

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