TW: fat shaming; shaming language and techniques used as examples
The body positivity movement has gained some traction in the mainstream eye in recent years. While this has its pros and cons, I think one of the biggest wins is that more people are becoming aware that fat shaming isn’t just wrong – it’s actually downright abusive.
My stance on fat shaming of any kind is that it is not okay, no one deserves it, it’s not motivational, and has in fact been proven to be demotivating and correlates with an increase in weight in shamed individuals rather than a decrease. I will not argue that point – fat shaming is wrong and abusive, there are numerous studies that back up what fat people have been saying for a long time about how fat shaming impacts them, and that is a non-negotiable fact.
However, it’s my personal believe that most people who engage in fat shaming are not doing so because they care or truly want to motivate someone. Fat shaming is abuse that comes with a really good cover story – it can be easily rationalized as “tough love.” It can be excused with, “But I’m just worried about your health!” or “There’s an obesity epidemic and I just want everyone to be healthy!”
Actually, no you don’t.
It doesn’t require much of a leap in either logic or empathy to make the connection that negative behavior and negative talk doesn’t usually produce positive results. Occasionally you get a “I want to prove the haters wrong!” type, but I would bet that even a person like that would prefer positive reinforcement to negative reinforcement. Positive behavior and positive talk is much more likely to produce positive results.
What I think is actually happens way too often is that fat people become a target for hate and abuse because the anger and disgust people feel toward them is too easy to justify. Fat people are supposedly all unhealthy, promoting unhealthy lifestyles, lazy, and unattractive. Since it’s their own fault that they are the way they are, because being fat is seen as a choice, then it’s okay to shame and abuse them.
If someone tells me they’re spewing hate and shame and negativity at someone because of their body type “for their own good,” I call that abuse. And I’m VERY quick to call people out on that. I’m also very quick to say, “I don’t believe that you do care about that person.”
In order to convince me that you do care, you need to show me that you can for someone’s mental health as much as their physical health. Putting someone down is not good for their mental health. Having to live in a world that thinks your body is gross and that you’re lazy and stupid isn’t good for your mental health.
I know, because I used to be fat. I used to buy into diet and fitness culture. Even after losing weight via diet/fitness, I didn’t magically feel better about myself. I internalized fat hate so much that I always felt like I wasn’t thin enough, and was terrified of regaining the weight. Which I absolutely did, because the diet and work out regimen I was putting myself through wasn’t sustainable.
Then I discovered fat acceptance and started learning to accept myself. It wasn’t about giving up or making excuses to be unhealthy – I was actually in good health at the time. It was about learning to feel good about myself the way that I am, rather than thinking I can’t possibly be happy unless I’m a certain weight. It was about understanding that I have value as a person beyond what I look like, and that what I weigh shouldn’t dictate how others treat me or how I treat myself.
It was about looking at the toxicity in diet and fitness culture – it thrives on making people, particularly women, feel bad about themselves. No matter how much weight you lose, there’s always something to change, always some flaw to focus on. There’s a whole industry that’s based on making people feel insecure, and I decided I no longer wanted to participate.
That same industry perpetuates abusive behavior toward fat people. And so, sadly, does the healthcare industry. When medical practitioners endorse negative attitudes about fat people, then anti-fat attitudes will follow. It essentially sanctions abuse by viewing fat people as willfully flawed drains on society.
The final reason that I don’t believe anyone who fat shames is because most of the time they will fat shame fat people for eating junk food or not exercising, but won’t shame thin people for unhealthy habits. Because they’re thin.
So it’s not about health. It’s about fat hatred.
And that’s abuse. Socially acceptable, medically sanctioned abuse.