Why Not Fat-Shaming?

On behalf of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, Joanne Ikeda made an unambiguous statement:

The whole ‘war on obesity’ has focused a whole lot of attention on fat people and the general impression of the public is they can be shamed or scared into getting thin…Which is absolutely ludicrous. If every fat person who has been shamed was motivated to somehow get thin, believe me they would be.

Coming from a diametrically opposite philosophical position, comedian Benji Aflalo recently said:

I like fat-shaming. What’s the problem? Doesn’t everybody?…I fat-shame myself all day–I can’t fat-shame anyone else?…I don’t fat-shame people to their face. I just do it behind closed doors, because it’s fun.

Not every case of alleged fat-shaming is so clear. Some controversies exist in a murky middle ground. Earlier this year, Facebook came in for a share of criticism because of its “I’m feeling fat” status option and emoticon. A group of fat acceptance activists charged the social media site with enabling its users to make fun of overweight people, including those with eating disorders, and even accused the emoji of promoting self-destructive thoughts. They started the “Fat is Not a Feeling” movement and created a petition at Change.org.

A few days later, the petition had gathered over 16,000 signatures, representing only a tiny fraction of Facebook’s billion and a half active monthly users. Still, the site discontinued the “I’m feeling fat” emoticon. The move stimulated plenty of discussion about whether it is healthy for such a widely-used social medium to bow to pressure from such a small percentage of its users.

Weight Bias Can Do Harm

One of the most knowledgeable people in this realm is Rebecca M. Puhl, PhD, of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. An entire report on weight bias that asks the question, “Are we fighting obesity or obese persons?” is available as a downloadable PDF.

It recommends that medical professionals should ask permission to get a patient’s weight, then use appropriate, sensitive weighing procedures in a private setting, recording the weight without comment or judgment.

Doctors, nurses, and anyone else who weighs people are urged be more aware of the reality and consequences of weight bias. A respectful demeanor is recommended, along with avoidance of shame or blame, and a focus on specific heath behaviors that need to be implemented.

Dr. Puhl explains that millions of people are affected by the stigma and prejudice that accompany weight bias, and the wrong approach can lead to serious psychological consequences as well as adverse effects on physical health. Many patients who have been fat-shamed have reacted by avoiding checkups and letting dangerous conditions develop, and this of course is detrimental to their health and quality of life. Professionals are also reminded to be conscious of the social and economic inequalities that impact the lives of the people for whose care they are responsible.

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