Fat: it’s big news.  In today’s world, everyone wants to talk about every body, be it big, little, or oddly shaped, and fat is right there at the top of the agenda.  There’s the fat shamers (those whose purpose it is to shame ‘fatties’ into becoming ‘thinnies’) and the fatosphere (people who write blogs for and in support of fat people).  Then there is everybody in between and it seems that no-one wants to be left out of the debate.  So with all this going on, and with the fat acceptance activists doing daily battle with the fat shamers, the real question remains: is it okay to be fat?

Fat Shaming

Fat shaming (heckling and harassing obese people) is becoming increasingly popular.  The idea is that shame will motivate overweight and obese people into doing something about their situation.  It is suggested, too that the whole concept of fat shaming stems from the idea that people don’t lose weight because they are lazy, lack willpower, and have little or no self-discipline[1].  These ‘shamers’ come from all walks of life, from government campaigns designed to encourage people to lose weight, to the media who aim to stigmatize fat people, right down to the general public who use things like Twitter’s hashtag #fatshamingweek in a way that makes fat shaming seem almost like a hobby, something to take fun from, rather than anything productive.  But does fat shaming actually work?  And perhaps more importantly, is it morally acceptable?

The Shame of Fat Shaming

In a UK-based study last year, researchers found that fat shaming does not work and actually, can lead to weight gain.  Around 3,000 people were asked about their own experiences of fat discrimination.  Five per cent of those people claimed that they had experience of fat discrimination and when monitored over a four-year period, they gained an average of 2lb.  Compare that to the remaining 95 per cent of participants – those who claim to never have experience discrimination due to their weight and who actually lost 1.5lb over the four years, and it becomes clear that fat shaming and weight discrimination does quite the opposite than intended[2].

Fat shaming, ultimately, is a form of discrimination and it is one of the last few discriminations that seems not only allowed but is actively encouraged within society today.  It is surprising that it is considered quite so acceptable when we, as a nation, have long since realized that discrimination is morally unacceptable.  Berating anyone in an attempt to change them, including overweight and obese people, is wrong and couple that with research results like those in the study above, and it is clear to see that fat shamers should be ashamed of themselves. 

Fat Acceptance

At the other end of the spectrum, though, is the fat acceptance movement and the drive towards body pride.  Of course, the idea here is that we need to accept each other as we are – fat, thin, or anywhere in between, but actually the movement is based on something much more solid: the claim that being fat is not actually synonymous with ill-health and it most certainly doesn’t mean lazy and lacking in self-control.  In fact, in much the same way that the color of someone’s skin cannot tell you about their personality or their health (ignoring, perhaps, cases like jaundice!), the amount somebody weighs means nothing in terms of who they are and how long they are likely to live. 

Fat acceptance is hardly a modern drive, and there is actually some evidence to back up their claims.  The movement started all the way back in the 1960s[3] and since then, there has been a trickle of evidence to suggest that being overweight or obese does not necessarily implicate ill-health.  It is this evidence that has led to groups such as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) and Health at Every Size (HEAS) campaigning on behalf of those overweight or obese, fighting against fat discrimination, and arguing for eating for wellbeing, as opposed eating for weight loss or a particular body shape. 

There are risks, they claim, to this weight discrimination, especially when it comes to medical treatment.  One example of this is given by Lily O’Hara, a health promotion expert.  She argues that using the Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a terrible way to bracket people as ‘metabolically healthy’ or ‘metabolically unhealthy’, and that it actually mislabels around 51 per cent of healthy but overweight people as unhealthy.  Equally (or perhaps more) frighteningly on the other end of the scale, O’Hara suggests that the system classifies 23.5 per cent of thin people as healthy whilst missing some potentially serious health-risk indicators[4]

 Fat, and All Its Unhealthy Implications

Perhaps using the Body Mass Index as an indicator of ill-health is unreliable, and maybe O’Hara and company are right: being fat doesn’t necessarily mean that you are unhealthy.  That said, though, the stream of evidence that shows being obese can have a massive effect on your health and wellbeing is much stronger than the trickle of the opposition.  There is significantly more research to show that being overweight leads to an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, sleep disorders, and ultimately, premature death[5].  Of course it’s possible to be fat and healthy but those people are not the rule, rather the exception to it.  As Dr. Geof Raynor, a public health specialist, claims: “you can also live a normal life addicted to heroin”[6].  So why is food addiction considered any differently? 

There can be no denial about the fact that fat shaming is wrong.  Not only does it bring shame on us as a civilized society but as a movement, it cannot back up its own claims with results.  Accepting ourselves and accepting each other as we are, regardless of color, gender, age, size, or shape is one of the greatest and most important things that we can do as a society but in doing that, we need to be careful that we do not overstep the boundary between acceptance and promotion.  Acceptance is good but promotion of unhealthy lifestyles can be dangerous and so, in the words of You-Tuber Boogie2988, “It’s not okay to be fat.  It’s also not okay for people to be judgmental” [7]

 

 

[1] National Association of Advanced Fat Acceptance, 2014, The Issues, [online].  Available at: http://www.naafaonline.com/dev2/the_issues/index.html, accessed: 07.08.2015

[2] Rachael Rettner, 2014, ‘Fat Shaming’ Linked to Weight Gain, [online].  Available at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/11/fat-shaming-weight-gain_n_5806278.html?utm_hp_ref=tw, accessed: 07.08.2015

[3] Dian Rickman, 2014, ‘I’m Fat, So What?  It’s Not an Ugly Word’: Why the F-Word Might Just Finally be OK, [online].  Available at:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-health/10768343/Im-fat-so-what-Its-not-an-ugly-word-Why-its-OK-to-be-large.html, accessed 07.08.2015

[4] Marilyn Wann, 2013, Big Deal: You Can be Fat and Fit, [online].  Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/01/03/opinion/wann-fat-and-fit-study/index.html, accessed: 07.08.2015

[5] Jeanie Lerche Davis, 2007, The Impact of Weight on Your Body, [online].  Available at:  http://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/impact-of-weight-on-your-body, accessed 07.08.2015

[6] Dina Rickman, op. cit.

[7] Boogie2988, 2014, It’s Not Okay to Be Fat, [online].  Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mH32YrDsnIU, accessed: 07.08.2015

 

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Fat Shaming vs. Fat Acceptance: Is it okay to be fat? by UrbanSculpt staff writer Victoria Froud, MA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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