“I remember a conversation with my uncle when I was about 10 years old: We sat at my grandmas kitchen table and had dinner together when he told me, I shall watch out to not gain too much weight; Chubby girls will never find a boyfriend, who really loves them. Now, 20 years later, this still makes me angry. I always felt like, when I am weighing more, I am less worthy. That I am never enough.”seen on instagram @wenigstenseinhuebschesgesicht
What fat shaming can look like
In today´s society it became somehow normal to have prejudices against obese and overweight people. Obese people don´t only often struggle with their weight, or accepting their body as it is – but most of all with getting bullied for how they look and experiencing denial in many aspects of life. In Germany around one third of people with adiposity stage III claim to experience weight-related discrimination. Obese people are rumoured to eat too much/too unhealthy, to not move their body enough, to be lazy and to not take care of themselves. In conclusion, there is the rumour that overweight people bear the fault of their weight-situation themselves and if they´d like to, they could just lose weight.
Fat shaming happens everywhere: In families, in the education system, within social interactions and relationships and most of all in the media. But people affected even get judged by the healthcare system and at the gainful employment. Oh, and not to forget how we talk to ourselves!
“During my work break, I was sitting in our break area, eating a chocolate bar, when a coworker came in (who´s also a fitness-trainer), and said, he ´s jealous of me, because I am already married. If he´d be married too by now, he could let himself go, just like me, as well.”seen on Instagram @wenigstenseinhuebschesgesicht
“look how fat this person is”, “isn´t this quite high in calories?”, “when you´d just lose a couple of pounds this outfit would look so much nicer on you!”, “didn´t you want to lose weight”, “(insert any illness here) would be improve, when you´d just lose some weight”, “did you gain weight?”, “I can´t love someone in a bigger body”, …
“If you would just lose weight, your symptoms will go away.” Something that sounds that absurd unfortunately happens every single day in doctor offices. And it´s called “medical fat-shaming” (though it´s just an excuse for malpractice). It´s the result of medicals being trained to see obesity as a disease, that needs to be treated.
Medicals should be trained to acknowledge and work through their weight bias. Medicals and physicians need to reflect on themselves whether their blaming symptoms too quickly on a patients weight. But since in the US obesity just got acknowledged as a disease, this will still take quite some time.
Here are a few things you can do, when you have the feeling, you are not taken serious enough by medicals:
- ask the doctor if a thin person could potentially experience the same symptoms and if they´d give them the same advice
- Tell your doctor about how you feel about this treatment (in person or print)
- bring someone to the appointment that understands and knows about your concerns
- see another doctor and maybe a second or third opinion.
why do people fat shame others
In the centuries past, being thin and lean has been less fashionable than slightly overweight and curvy. So, why is it, that we consider being leaner as “healthier” nowadays? Back then having money to buy food and eating well has been a status symbol. Now, that food is accessible and affordable for almost everyone, having a gym membership, having sports equipment or being in a sports club and eating expensive super foods became a new status symbol. Thin is considered as a symbol of wellness and fitness.
The stigmatisation of people in larger bodies is often tolerated and propagated because it is assumed that the stigma and and shame motivates them to lose weight. Studies have also shown, that the thinner you are, the more likely you are to express bias against fat people. One of the main reasons here might be, that this group of people have never experienced themselves what it is like to be judged because of your body shape.
where fat shaming leads to instead of weight loss
Whilst some comments actually might be well-intentioned, the stigmatisation of overweight people has especially negative health effects and are not motivating or helpful at all.
- psychosocial effects such as little self esteem, increased shame, withdrawal from social interactions and mental illnesses such as depression and eating disorders.
- physical effects: it´s a vicious cycle of increased stress response to comments about their body which leads to increased cortisol, which again leads to weight gain.
- effects on their health behaviour such as avoiding doctor-appointments and decreased motivation for physical activity (sports-activities in public areas,…)
what you can do against it
- be a role model for your children in terms of body acceptance and body neutrality, when it comes to accepting larger bodies – start with yourself. Here´s a beautiful article about stopping to fat shame yourself.
- encourage a healthy lifestyle for your children, but do not correlate health and weight
- be aware of what you are saying about others as well. Stop using fat as a bad word.
- get informed about health at every size and the set point weight theory
- take the weight-bias IAT (click here), tbh I was shocked when I did it for the first time
A podcast I highly recommend: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-obesity-epidemic/id1535408667?i=1000532253037
Book I recommend: Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight : Bacon, Linda: Amazon.de: Books