Fat shaming. It is a term, or at least a concept, that most people have run into once in their lives. It is the idea that belittling, teasing or bullying an individual about his or her weight will lead a person to feel so bad about themselves, the only option is to lose weight.
Sounds logical right?
Let me be the first to tell you—fat shaming is wrong, but this type of cyber and cultural bullying runs rampant, be it in the national PETA “Save the Whales” campaign or closer to home in the Strong4Life ads, which directly shame overweight children or in a variety of posts on the internet.
One website in particular thought the internet and the rest of society was not doing enough to shame the overweight public into submission, and as a result, Return of Kings, a “men’s rights” website, decided to take it upon themselves to create “Fat Shaming Week.” This Twitter campaign was designed to let the general public tweet their frustrations, rude comments and “advice” directly at overweight women to “promote a culture of fat shaming.” Their defense was, “Mocking someone for lazy and slothful behavior is one of the best ways to motivate them to change and appear more pleasing.”
There is so much wrong this campaign, starting with the very principle on which the campaign is based. I find it appalling anyone can think fat shaming is something that needs its own week to happen, as if the magazines in the grocery store do not consistently boast ways to drop three sizes in two weeks, as if I do not get applauded by the other gym patrons for exercising as an overweight female, as if being overweight is not the most common reason kids are bullied at school. Fat shaming is part of our culture, and doesn’t need its own week for it to happen.
Beyond this, fat shaming isn’t even an effective way to make others lose weight. A 2013 study from PLOS found that overweight or obese individuals who reported being victims of weight discrimination (fat shaming) in 2006 were over two to three times as likely to become obese or remain obese by a 2010 check-in (Sutin & Terracciano, 2013). In short, fat shaming makes the general public gain weight, not lose it. So why then is fat shaming so socially acceptable?
As Madelyn Fernstrom, the NBC News health and diet editor puts it, “It’s almost like obesity is the last of the acceptable groups to be teas[ed]. Being biased about the overweight or obese is still very socially acceptable.”
If fat shaming does not lead to weight loss, what do the products of fat shaming look like? I’d like to say nothing more than ineffective, offensive blabber, but personally, even I can tell you that’s not true. Fat shaming looks like Erin Gallagher, a 13-year-old Irish teenager who killed herself because of slanderous comments about her weight. Fat shaming looks like 69 percent of elementary school girls saying that the images in magazines influence their concept of the ideal body shape, and 47 percent saying the pictures make them want to lose weight (Martin, 2010). Most recently, fat shaming looks like Rebecca Ann Sedgwick, a 12-year-old girl who jumped from the roof of a cement factory because over 10 other girls made her believe that because of her weight, she didn’t deserve to live.
Personally, my fat shaming looks like depression and an eating disorder due systemic bullying since the second grade.
Fat shaming is not a way to make the public healthier; it is a path to mental deterioration. I have almost died twice because other people didn’t like the amount of force the earth had exert to keep me above the surface, never because I’ve had a BMI above 25. Fat-shaming benefits no one, except for maybe those who are so ignorant as to believe that health is defined by the size of your jeans.