in my opinion: we need to talk about fat shaming
Back in May, Jordan Baker dared to write an article for the Women’s Weekly discussing the fact that obesity, a burgeoning health issue in the developed world, may not always be caused by something as simple as a healthy propensity for processed foods and aversion to physical activity. Speaking to a medical specialist, Baker made note of the fact that up to 70% of body size variation can be dictated by your genetic makeup. She also spoke to a woman who, having struggled with her weight for three decades, has not only tried every “cure” for obesity (pills, exercise, diets), but has also suffered from depression and bulimia.
I only read this article last week; a week previously I came across another article on weight – however this article had a slightly different message. It preferred to suggest that most of us females are actually fatties in denial. A study referenced by the article stated that one in four obese women is swanning around with a misjudged sense of body image – they think they’re healthy, but they’re not. Seeing yourself differently to how you really are physically is of course a real condition called Body Dysmorphic Disorder, however it is more commonly seen and discussed in cases where the patient is underweight, as with anorexia sufferers.
While this is the case, why is it that anorexia and bulimia are seen as severe psychiatric disorders, which much like depression, are a little more complicated to recover from than asking yourself a few New Age-sounding self help questions, such as, ‘Do I honour and respect my body the way I should’? Whereas those who are suffering what is seen to be the same disorder, albeit at the other end of the spectrum, are given a scolding? Rather than acceptance that they may be psychologically unwell (or not unwell at all – the BMI scale has widely been disputed as an inaccurate indication of body fat), they are condescended to and judged – essentially, they are being fat shamed.
Both the above articles had differing messages but the comments on the two articles (around 200 combined) had an overwhelmingly similar message – stop “enabling” obese people; stop allowing them to think that being fat is okay. An acquaintance posted the initial article on Facebook; one comment stated ‘I call bullshit on “I can’t lose weight cos [sic] my metabolism is slow or hormone issues or thyroid problems”’ whilst another derided ‘fat pride’.
Obesity is something that people are not afraid to be blunt about – it’s almost as if being fat negates having any sort of emotion or awareness of the culture surrounding obesity. A few of the commentators above attempted to soften their message by saying they too had once been fat! And with hard work and dedication they now aren’t! Surely if they can do it, anyone can! Well, no – that’s not how it works. If losing weight was easy, obesity wouldn’t be the problem that it is – we’d all look like Megan Gale and never wear pants ever again. The point is that losing weight is fucking hard for a large majority of people, which is why it is an achievement you should be proud of. But that achievement shouldn’t blind side you – surely being fat in the past would create some empathy towards to the kind of treatment overweight and obese people are subjected to everyday?
It is worth noting how both the articles I referenced above were aimed generally at women, especially the one about ice cream quaffing deniers and it goes without saying that the weight-loss culture surrounding women tends to be more consuming and insidious than that surrounding men – there is a much larger focus on body image. However, fat shaming is experienced by both men and women, and even people who consider themselves quite open minded in other areas, such as attitudes towards same sex marriage, for example, are guilty of holding prejudices towards people they do not know in any capacity – just because of how they look.
The link between an unhealthy lifestyle and obesity is undeniable, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other reasons that people become overweight. This means that unless you know the person well and are witnessing firsthand how poor dietary choices and a sedentary lifestyle are leading to obesity, it’s best to keep your judgey mouth shut. And if it is a close friend or relative, and you do wish to say something, it better be coming from a place of love and concern – fat people are fat, not dumb – they’ll sense your judgment and/or disgust a mile away and that sure as hell isn’t going to make them feel like putting down the deep fried brie.
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