Fat-shaming hurts and doesn’t even help


[Black and white writing on a grey background reads: “lots of folks think fat-shaming is perfectly acceptable. more than that, lots of folks think fat-shaming is actually a good thing, because with shame as a motivator, perhaps those darn fat people will stop being so fat.” – xojane]

In a recent study, it’s been shown that people who are overweight and experience body-shaming are even more likely to remain overweight or actually gain weight than those who don’t experience body-shaming. If you’re fat, this will come as no shock to you. If you’re thin, please read it. Like, pretty please?

The article confirms what has been my personal experience for almost 30 years: you telling me my body is repulsive doesn’t make me want to take better care of it. It doesn’t make me want to go for a jog or eat nothing but celery. It makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. And then, you know, feel better by digging into a tub of chocolate ice cream to numb the pain.

This may be news to some people, but it’s the truth as I’ve personally lived it for many years. I’ve been fat for most of my life, and the fact that I’m eating vegan and staying active has meant awesome things for how I feel but practically nothing for my actual size. We can’t keep equating size with an unhealthy lifestyle (whatever unhealthy means), because it’s just not possible to lump everyone together in the first place. And even if it was accurate, society has a disproportionate obsession with making sure fat people “know” they’re unhealthy. You know what is actually linked to medical conditions? Eating meat three times a day. Not eating at all. Driving our cars for 3 minutes so we don’t have to walk 10. Strangely, society isn’t always harping on about these things, largely because there’s something terrifying to people about a fat body. It’s called fatphobia.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to one idea, which is that we consider it OK to tell other people how to live, even if it isn’t affecting us. We feel like it’s OK to ‘splain to people, which is condescending and denies basic human dignity. If I wanted to live my life a certain way, wouldn’t I try to do that? What gives anyone else the right to tell me what I should value?

It’s not OK to tell people what to do, based on the limited information we have about others. It’s a form of oppression. It’s a way of putting ourselves above others, and that’s not OK. The moment we need to put ourselves above others, we need to ask ourselves why that is, really. Why do I need to feel better than this person? And most often, what we find is that the reason is very simple: because I feel like I’m beneath them. I don’t feel good enough. I feel less than. And this becomes clear in our own attitudes towards ourselves, if we notice those voices inside our heads that tell us we’re not good enough.

Tearing people down is a coping mechanism. It’s what we do to feel OK when we know we’re not OK. It’s a lot harder to dig deep and figure out why on Earth we’re not already OK than it is to call another person fat like that’s a dirty word. It’s harder to deal with our own demons than to focus on the people around us and all the things that are wrong with them. And it’s easier to target an individual, rather than a whole system that’s designed to oppress people, because systems are just so big and scary. But the problem is that by doing that, we never get to the bottom of all the pain we feel ourselves.

There have been a few really amazing and empowering articles that I’ve read over the past few years that have helped me to love myself. Some of them were related to feminism, some more specifically related to being fat-positive, and others simply connected to issues that I feel passionate about and see a place for myself within. Investing in yourself and coming to see yourself as competent, clever, valuable and beautiful is the quickest way to not have to feel less than, even if that’s what the world always seems to be telling you. You come to understand how important your place in this world is and it’s deeply empowering. A huge part of that is to simply be able to look nonsense in the face and be like, “Uhm, actually, no. You’re wrong. I’m quite all right just the way I am.” For me, that meant taking control of my body, which came to include embracing my body hair, eating foods that make me feel good and ditching grooming beyond the essentials (i.e. showering & dressing) so that I have more time to kick ass each day.

Another (perhaps smaller but also important) part is to surround ourselves with people who aren’t going to shame us for calling people out on their cruelties, whether they’re committed against us or someone else. When you’re surrounded by people who constantly reinforce what the media and most of society tells you, it’s pretty easy to feel irrational and seriously outnumbered if you resist it. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one who feels the way you do, and you must be wrong. But you’re not wrong. You feel the way you do and nobody knows that better than you do. You want the things you want and nobody knows that better than you do. And you’re worthy in ways that are uniquely yours and nobody knows that better than you do…or at least that’s the end goal, isn’t it?

The starting point is, and always has to be, recognizing that you’re worthy.

Because you are.


About Lia

Lia is a fat-positive social justice activist who's got a particular penchant for tough gender issues. She's a passionate vegan cook, dabbling crafter and avid gardener, and spends as much time as she can with good people in cafés, talking body and gender politics.

3 comments on “Fat-shaming hurts and doesn’t even help

  1. Pingback: The road less traveled: looking at male body image | Body Image Positive

  2. Pingback: What’s with tearing each other down? | Body Image Positive

  3. Pingback: When you’re trying to love something that isn’t yours | Body Image Positive

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