Different Perspectives: Obesity Stigma

Emily Clarke and Daniel Kilkelly, Staff Writer and Editor-in-Chief

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We’re Fat-Shaming
By Emily Clarke

In a culture that considers thinness a prerequisite for beauty, being outside the acceptable parameters for weight and body tone not only gets a person labeled ‘ugly,’ but comes with judgments about their personality. The word ‘fat’ is synonymous with ‘no will-power,’ ‘lazy,’ and ‘incompetent.’ These judgments and assumptions all fall under the umbrella of the term fat-shaming.

Unfortunately, fat-shaming is extremely common and openly accepted by our society. Although we rarely take it seriously, fat-shaming can be not only emotionally damaging, but is discriminatory as well.

Overweight individuals face discrimination in the workplace, finding it more difficult to be hired, and once hired, earning lower wages than their more slender peers. They find it difficult to be taken seriously in the doctor’s office, where diet and exercise suddenly become the magic cure for any ailment. They face rude comments and poor service in restaurants, clothing stores, and airports. No person should be treated like less than human for a single aspect of who they are.

Fat-shaming is based on the fallacy that a person’s appearance can tell you everything there is to know about him or her. We all like to say “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” And yet, we do.

It’s impossible to know every detail of someone’s personality and character by their weight. There are plenty of ‘fat’ people who exercise regularly and do their best to eat well. One look won’t tell you someone’s story, or where they are in their journey with their body. Some people are in the middle of the struggle to lose enough weight to become ‘healthy,’ while others have no plans to lose weight—and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Health is the biggest argument used to support fat-shaming in that being overweight or obese is unhealthy and glorifies being unhealthy. There’s no question that being overweight or obese can be unhealthy and result in health problems. However, a person is not obligated to ‘become healthy’ or change if they do not feel the need to do so. Besides, whether or not an overweight person wants to lose weight, they deserve to love themself and be appreciated for who they are beyond their appearance.

Even if you think that people are under an obligation to lose weight to make them more aesthetically acceptable to you, fat-shaming is unlikely to further your cause. Research published in 2014 from the University College London found that the shaming and criticism pointed at overweight people is not motivating or helpful in any way; in fact, it antagonizes weight gain and causes individuals to seek comfort in the exact source of their shame.

In this way, fat-shaming is not only hurtful and discriminatory, but hindering the progress of those who would like to return to a healthy weight.

There’s also the idea that everyone who is overweight is uncomfortable with their body, and by extension, losing this extra weight will suddenly make these people happy. This simply isn’t true. This idea is a sign of an extremely dysfunctional relationship between our society and bodyweight. We have this idea that less weight equals more happiness.

However, I’d argue that there’s no one unhappier than the woman obsessed with becoming thinner, an obsession that many clinicians might call an eating disorder. Happiness doesn’t come from weight or size. Happiness comes from having a positive self-image that has little to do with appearance. True satisfaction with life comes from doing the things we love, having fulfilling relationships, and making the most of every day we are given.

Fat-shaming tries to take this happiness away from us. It does nothing to help others lose weight, and instead antagonizes the problem. Everyone deserves to feel loved and be allowed to love themself, no matter their weight or size.

We’re Indulgent of Obesity
By Daniel Kilkelly

When it comes to weight issues, the United States tends to stick out in the world, as two-thirds of us are considered obese.

This is a polarizing issue.  Many say that no one should be ashamed of their bodies, regardless of the weight.

Others consider fighting obesity just a matter of willpower, sticking the labels ‘weak’ and ‘lazy’ on those with weight problems.

A better way to address the issue might be to admit that it’s not one or the other, but a mix of both. Fat-shaming can be seriously hurtful and not particularly helpful to people.  They may grow defensive at the accusations rather than inspired to lose weight.

Then again, we can’t keep tolerating this enormous health issue like it’s just a matter of beauty in the eye of the beholder.

The best way to address obesity and fat-shaming is sympathetic, but not indulgent of unhealthy behaviors.

The United States leads the world in obesity rates, according to the Everyday Health article “Are We as Fat as We Think?”  The obesity rate is 66% in adults in the US, compared to 37% worldwide.

The article also points out an uncomfortable truth; in 2010, being overweight caused 3.4 million deaths worldwide.

When this many people are dying from weight issues, it’s time to stop coddling them and recognize obesity as what it is: an eating disorder.  At present, it is not considered to be one alongside anorexia and bulimia.

An article on Psychology Today, entitled, “Is Obesity an Eating Disorder?”, addresses this, saying we should work on prevention in the same way we do for bulimia and anorexia.

However, attacking people because of their weight will likely only result in them becoming depressed, frustrated, and likely hungry for some comfort food.

Instead, it needs to be addressed with sympathy, and productive solutions need to be enacted.  We can’t keep pretending that it’s okay to be morbidly obese.

Unfortunately, this runs into a pretty sturdy problem.  Reducing calorie intake is not just a matter of willpower.

In an article on Scientific American, entitled, “Is Obesity an Addiction?” explores the concept of fats and sugars on par with drugs and alcohol.

The article begins by speaking about experiments conducted on rats given access to high-calorie food and healthy but bland food.  They almost exclusively ate the fatty stuff.

Another experiment had the same scenario, but applied shocks; a light would go off above the food, and then moments later a shock would be applied.

With the healthy food, rats ran when the light went on.  Yet the obese rats kept eating the fatty food and took the shock.

“Their hedonistic desire overruled their basic sense of self-preservation,” the article said.

Consider fat-shaming to be that blinking light and electric shock.  It won’t be effective in deterring people from eating unhealthy, because, much like other studies with rats and cocaine, scientists have discovered that fatty and sugary foods activate the same reward centers in the brain as drugs.

Obesity is a serious medical issue.  There’s a reason why alcoholics can’t just will their problem away, and it’s the same reason why people have such a hard time reducing their food intake.  It’s a matter of addiction.

If rehabilitation is required for drugs, then why not for food?  We can’t expect people to get exercise and go on diets alone. Not when their own bodies are working against them.

That’s why we need to be more sympathetic to their plight, and help them along.  Fat-shaming is painful, but indulging their disorder is equally hurtful, and neither is okay.

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