Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fat Shaming

I am fat. There is no getting around this simple truth or trying to sugarcoat it. I am one of millions of overweight and obese Americans and am trying not to be ashamed of it anymore. I have struggled with my weight since I was a child, using a variety of healthy and unhealthy methods to lose weight and jumping in and out of clothes sizes and BMI numbers.

What's the point of being ashamed anyway? It never seems to do any good except to make me feel bad about myself. I don't think it does a favor to anyone else who is overweight, either.

It's not like being of a regular weight is integral to being beautiful or even a guarantee. Adele, for example, is an overweight celebrity and she's gorgeous. There are plenty of plus size models who are gorgeous as well (although most of them are of average weight, rather than underweight like most models are). Often, it is a matter of presentation more than actual weight. If an overweight person presents themselves in a way that compliments them, it goes a long way. It is only a problem if it affects your health, but this isn't necessarily true for all overweight people.

Shame is not a motivator. It is not going to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps it might encourage disordered eating, yo-yo diets and even eating disorders, but not a healthy lifestyle. You have to want to take care of yourself and you're not going to do that when you're full of self-hatred.

For those who argue that this shame is only to keep people healthy, I say that they don't know what they are talking about. The problem is not weight; it is unhealthy patterns. Overweight and obese people who adopt healthy habits are at equal risk of health problems as regular weight people who adopt healthy habits. Fat shaming fails to address the many causes of being overweight and obese, the sentiment being that it's just easier to shame us and let us figure it out.

Unhealthy lifestyles are the problem, not weight. No one ever mentions the fact that being underweight can lead to just as many health problems as being overweight (regardless of whether it is on purpose or not). Also, no one ever mentions that dieting counts as an unhealthy behavior or that it is more likely to make you gain more weight in the long term than lose it. How convenient.

Fat discrimination is one of the last accepted forms of discrimination. According to Harvard's Implicit test, one quarter of people tested a strong preference of thin people over fat people (this included the overweight and obese participants). Even campaigns that are supposedly meant to help us shame us. I can't help but feel that this is not out of a desire to help us, but out of one to make us feel badly about ourselves.
The media loves to make those who don't conform to their standards of beauty feel ashamed of their bodies. By definition, this includes fat people. They send the message that we shouldn't change for our health, but to look beautiful to others and to be accepted. Now, a lot of this is for monetary purposes. The diet business is huge in this country. Other industries that are fueled off public insecurity include the makeup industry, the fashion industry and the tabloid industry. However, a lot of it is because the media recognizes the public need to have a socially acceptable Other. Fat people fit the bill. Rather than being actual people, we are characterized only by being lazy, undisciplined and gluttonous. Occasionally, they'll throw us a bone and shame skinny people (feeding off public envy). All skinny people have eating disorders, naturally (and, of course, by this means fat people can't have one). They aren't "real" women, either.

A lot of people see "fat" as an insult. Jennifer Lawrence even went as far as saying calling people fat should be banned. I disagree. Overweight and obese people are, by definition, fat. That isn't the problem. The problem is shaming people for it.

Yesterday, I went to Forever 21. I was heartened to see that they had quite the array of plus size clothing. It's a sign of progress. Many stores don't include them, not wanting fat people to represent their clothing. This often limits overweight and obese people to plain, baggy clothing. This is another way of shaming us. Admittedly, I flit from wearing plus size clothes and regular size clothes, but this is still a legitimate issue for me.

Fat shaming probably won't stop any time soon. Still, it's a real problem for millions of people. Fat shaming isn't just hurtful: it's useless and counter-productive, doing more harm than good.

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