Friday, March 21, 2014

Fat Shaming & Fat Acceptance

Maybe it's just me but there seems to have been a recent increase in the volume of social media relating to fat shaming and fat acceptance.  In fact, maybe not just recently and maybe it's more wide-spread than just social media.  Reality television, health insurance, corporate employers and more seem to have an opinion on obese people or they do or say something that spurns a firestorm of "fat talk" on social media.  First, I feel like I want to define those terms.  According to Wikipedia:

Fat Shaming: (see also Weightism, Weight Stigma, Weight Bias and Weight-Biased Discrimination) Discrimination or stereotyping based on one's weight.

Fat Acceptance: (see also Size Acceptance, Fat Liberation, Fat Activism and Fat Empowerment) a social movement seeking to change anti-fat bias in social attitudes.

Both Wiki sites of course go on and elaborate on the topics but I think the above summaries give you the general idea of how these terms are defined by the general population.  I do want to note that Weightism is not just limited to those who are obese but can also be directed toward those who are underweight.  I define these terms a little differently, mostly because I am fat.  In my opinion, fat shaming is the intentional and malicious act of saying or doing something with the specific desired result of causing emotional or physical harm to another person solely because they are fat (or very thin when that's the case....I guess that would more aptly be coined "thin shaming").  I have a more difficult time personally defining fat acceptance probably because I'm not really sure what this "movement's" end result is supposed to be.  Many people fall victim to discrimination and for such a variety of reasons, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and so many more; fat people certainly don't have the market cornered for being told they don't belong in society and there are just as many movements and coalitions for the equality of each group.  Can't we all just get along?

How many large corporate companies have developed and adopted a "wellness program" as a strategy to make the employees think that they have their health in mind?  It's really nothing more than a tactic to get the employees to willingly and fully disclose their personal medical information (disguised by the benign sounding term "biometrics") to ultimately be used to either charge a higher cost for those who don't meet the set health standards or shame those employees into undergoing lengthy and ill-equipped "coaching" programs in order to avoid paying the higher cost.  It's the same with health insurance.  When there is a "discount" offered to someone who fits within the proper weight range for their age and height, what it really comes down to is a surcharge for those who don't fit in that chart.  On television, you see families on shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and I think it's wonderful that they all appear happy regardless of size but those shows really seem to bring out the fat haters.  If you are offended by them, whether it's because of their size or because of how they act, then don't watch it.  Shows like The Online Dating Rituals of the American Male and The Millionaire Matchmaker have the more dangerous element of hidden fat shaming....it's a spectacle and an oddity when the matchmaking is for a fat person or maybe the dater is only interested in meeting "fit" or "athletic" people or say that they are looking for someone who "takes great care of themselves".  Even seemingly body-love encouraging shows like Girls, where one of my personal idols, Lena Dunham, is shown in almost every episode in some level of comfortable nudity prompts so much negativity from people who think that if your body isn't tan, toned and tight you shouldn't show it without clothes.  I really hope that Ms. Dunham doesn't let those people's comments affect her, what a shame that would be (Lena, you keep it real, girl...do what you do because I know there are millions more who think you're perfect just the way you are.....I would love to have your figure!).

I don't think that anyone deserves to be made to feel less-than simply because they are outside of the social and/or medical definition of "normal".  I recently read a really good article on Huffington Post (Best Weight Loss Results Come From Fat Acceptance by Dr. Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D.) written by a board certified bariatric physician that does an exceptional job of explaining the role of fat acceptance in the lives of people who are looking to lose weight.  I have come to define fat acceptance on a personal level as a desire to be able to go about life in my everyday activities without having anyone else judge or belittle me because I am fat.  I honestly feel like this is an unattainable idea because, let's be honest, I even judge myself for being fat.  On an intellectual level, I understand that the fat acceptance movement is all about equality but it leaves me wondering how many of the people crying out for acceptance actually accept themselves?

I can't pretend to speak for anyone other then myself so I won't try to.  As a fat person, I believe that trying to be happy at a weight that classifies me as morbidly obese is a double-edged sword.  Yes, of course I want to be happy, doesn't everyone?  But I also want to be able to live my life to it's fullest and at my current weight, I am unable to do that.  As a fat woman, I don't like the way my body looks so I can't pretend that I think others should like it either.  I have a really difficult time believing that anyone who fits the medical definition of obese or heavier ever really loves their body.  I know plenty of women who fit into what medicine would define as their "ideal" weight that hate the way their body looks.  I think fat acceptance or body love needs to start with each individual person.  There has to be some truth to the philosophy that someone who looks to hurt others does so because they have a need to make themselves feel superior or better....because they aren't happy with themselves.  But there is a darker side to fat acceptance when someone uses it as an excuse.

Fat acceptance and body love shouldn't be an excuse for ignorance of health.  I fear that some people believe that fat acceptance is about fat people wanting to stay fat and expecting others to be happy for them and celebrate it with them.  I think that is just as dangerous as fat shaming, just in a different way.  Only your doctor can tell you, from a medical perspective, if your weight is leading you down a path to health issues and, if that's the case, then it's your responsibility to make a choice to do something with that information.  If you know that your weight is making you unhealthy, or if it's making your life more difficult that it has to be, no amount of acceptance is going to make you happy or make your life easier.  But fat shaming will make it harder.

I never thought I'd find myself quoting a Lindsay Lohan movie, but it really has never been put more perfectly than "I don't hate you because you're fat, you're fat because I hate you."  Fat shaming has negative consequences that reach far beyond those it was intended to hurt.  Some obese people ended up that way as a result of stress-induced overeating, depression or a number of other psychological conditions.  And when they feel worse about themselves as the result of someone's thoughtless and cruel comments, they can resort to that behavior to try to make themselves feel better.  I don't want to get too much into the huge topic of eating disorders here, that is a topic in and of itself but when a person makes a comment on social media with the intent of making a fat person feel bad about themselves, they have to know that it will be read by many, many more people.  Some people will agree with them, some people will boldly speak out against the defamatory statements but the majority of readers will stay silent.  I believe that those who stay silent do so because they take those comments personally, fat or thin.  When someone makes a broad and unkind comment such as "fit people shouldn't have to look at fatties", who's defining the term "fatties" here?  Anyone who reads that comment will define it in their own terms and unfortunately, many of those will unconsciously include themselves, whether they are overweight or not.  What about the people who worked really hard and were able to go from obese to healthy but still see themselves as "fatties"....they take those comments to heart, too.  And when an obese person begins to lose weight, and people start to take note and tell them to "keep up the good work" because they're "looking great", the people making those remarks that they think are encouraging don't understand the negative undertones; the unsaid "boy, you were really lazy" before and used to "look awful".  I'm not saying that they intend to mean that, but that's what many people struggling with weight loss and the quest for a healthy lifestyle actually hear.

So the next time you feel obligated to make an unsolicited or negative comment on someone's new profile picture, recent weight loss effort or if you just think they are "too fat to live" (which a stranger actually said to me once in real life, not on social media), please think twice and keep it to yourself.  Your comment may be the final straw that pushes someone over the edge and into life choices much more unhealthy than mere obesity.

1 comment:

  1. About those unsolicited comments about how you're looking better...After losing about 50 lbs. the daughter (she was about 22 years old) of a good friend said "Wow, now you look human". What the Hell?? Did I look like an alien before? I'll remember that comment for the rest of my life.

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Be nice, now.