What is Fat Shaming? Are You a Shamer?

“Imagine a world where people are supported in living happy, healthy lives, free of judgment about the size of their bodies…this is the mission of BEDA’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week.”

September 26-30 marks the annual Weight Stigma Awareness Week spearheaded by The Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). Weightism may be the last socially acceptable prejudice in our culture — occurring more frequently than gender, sexuality, age or religious discrimination (Puhl, Andreyeva, & Brownell, 2008). Not convinced? Click herehere, here, and here to read examples of disturbing fat-shaming incidents. Click here to view photographer, Haley Morris-Cafiero, brilliant photos in which she busts shamers being judgey wudgey.

Haley Morris-Cafiero's Wait-Watchers Series

Haley Morris-Cafiero’s Wait-Watchers Series

What is fat shaming?
An act of bullying, singling out, discriminating, or making fun of a fat person. The shaming may be performed under the guise of helping the person who is overweight/obese realize they need to lose weight or they will die, become ill, and/or never succeed in life or relationships. Fat shaming is an individual bias against people who are considered unattractive, stupid, lazy or lacking self-control.

Fat-Shaming doesn’t work
We now have scientific proof that fat-shaming doesn’t lead to weight loss. A study led by psychologist Angelina Sutin at the Florida State University College of Medicine found that overweight individuals who experienced weight discrimination were over two times more likely to become obese by the end of her study, four years later. Participants who were already obese were three times more likely to remain obese by the end of the study.

If fat-shaming doesn’t work, why do so many still discriminate?
Weight discrimination and stigma continue to exist, at least in part, due to the belief that this type of shaming has an admirable purpose — to motivate people to lose weight. Fat shaming persists quite simply because we aren’t doing enough to fight it. We’ve become numb to the nonsensical manifestation of ignorance and hate.

Are you a fat-shaming bully? Signs you are part of the problem:
– Feels superior in comparison to overweight or obese people
– Makes jokes about fat people seen in public or in the media
– Teases friends/family about their weight in an attempt to be “funny”
– Allows for family members to make fun of fat people
– Views thinness as an attribute of success, happiness, or self-control
– Critical and judgmental of others. Assumes weight is a lifestyle choice
– Makes assumptions of personal character/morality based on appearance/size
– Views diets as a quick fix and easy solution to weight issues (research shows diets=weight gain)
– Looks down on others who do not adhere to “clean eating”

Weight is not a behavior and obesity in and of itself isn’t a disease. Despite the AMA’s decision to classify obesity as a disease, there are numerous individuals who are obese with a perfect bill of physical health. However, obesity is linked to emotional issues (e.g., excessive shame and guilt). Scare tactics, shaming or discrimination aren’t acceptable interventions to combat the issue. Help efforts should focus on modifiable actions such as health/wellness screenings, physical exercise, television/video game time, meal planning, self-esteem building, balanced lifestyles, and healthy self-expression. Be a part of the solution by ditching any shaming behaviors and supporting compassion.

“Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” – Albert Einstein
[hr] Dr. Jamie Long is an eating disorder therapist in her Fort Lauderdale private practice. Follow Finding Cloud9 on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

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