Edinburgh based plus size style and fat positive blogger AmandaApparel examines some causes and effects of fat shaming and explains why fat positivity is the answer.
CW: This post discusses fat shaming, weight loss, abuse, and eating disorders.
In her book Hunger, Roxane Gay (2017, p. 172) writes, “Fat shaming is real, constant, and rather pointed. There are a shocking number of people who believe they can simply torment fat people into weight loss and disciplining their bodies or disappearing their bodies from the public sphere.” Fat shaming, weight stigma, and fatphobia play an obnoxiously active role in my day to day life, and in the lives of other fats. As you may recall, I’ve opened up about my experiences with fat shaming in restaurants, in marketing, at the doctor, and on public transport.
Fat shaming can occur in a number of ways. I know I’ve CERTAINLY experienced it in more ways than I can recall, but there are a few recurring fat shaming techniques. Fat-calling (like cat calling) has been a big one for me. People (read: men) will shout at women in an aggressively “flirtatious” manner, and then suddenly shift to calling them a “disgusting fat f**k” because she ignored their initial remarks. Yes, this is a thing. Yes, it has happened to me. Health concern trolls tend to lurk on social media by following various fat positive hashtags and will proceed to play the role of Dr. Instagram and tell me how I’m killing myself and I’m promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. Others have wished horrible things on me including cancer, rape, and death. These comments are obviously sinister, while some may be thinly masked as well-intended. For example “you’d be so much prettier if you just lost some weight” or is one I think most fat women have encountered. No matter how well intended comments like this may be, they’re still shameful and harmful.
I have to wonder what people hope to achieve by fat shaming. Some may simply be bullies and trolls who seek to humiliate and harass fat people, but I believe that the primary goal of those who participate in fat shaming to “motivate” their prey into losing weight. Frustratingly, much of the research about the causes of weight stigma focuses instead on the causes of fatness (Puhl and Heuer, 2009; Fruh et al, 2016; Lozano-Sufrategui et al, 2016). While I think there is a discussion to be had about this topic (and a blog post to be written, TBH) I don’t believe the solution is to dissect WHY people are fat. Instead, I believe that fat positivity is the solution, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Now, fasten your seatbelt because what I’m about to tell next you will SHOCK you: fat shaming actually causes weight gain, not weight loss (Puhl et al, 2017). *GASP!!!* Additionally, people who are the target of fat shaming generally exercise less, avoid visiting the doctor, and are more likely to have disordered eating (Setchell et al, 2016). Weight stigma triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol which may cause severe fatigue, muscle weakness, high blood pressure (the irony of which is NOT lost on me), headache, and more (Rodriguez et al, 2016). Fat shaming negatively impacts aspects of both physical and mental health and is heavily linked to depression (Dickins et al, 2011; Nutter et al, 2016). This is particularly disturbing when so many trolls/bullies/fat-shamers claim that they’re just “concerned for the fat person’s health.”
While the effects of fat shaming are overwhelmingly negative, the effects of fat positivity are overwhelmingly positive. Participating in fat-positive spaces online can promote both physical and mental well being (Dickins et al, 2011). This was absolutely the case in my experience. I was drawn to the plus size blogging world because I saw bodies like mine represented, and not as the butt of a joke or as a villain. This visibility is the key to normalising fat bodies (Afful and Ricciardelli, 2015). Anti-fat bias can be significantly lessened simply by repeated exposure fat bodies in the media or on social media, befriending fat people, and working with fat people (Fikkan and Rothblum, 2011). One study describes how participants who have positive views of their own bodies were more likely to have positive views of others’ bodies, including fat bodies (Carels et al, 2013). Another study notes that working for social change instead of self acceptance only may improve a person’s body experience and psychological well-being (McKinley, 2009).
Working toward a societal shift from fat shaming to fat positivity is precisely why I write blog posts like this one. Why would I be so gung-ho about fat positivity if it hadn’t dramatically increased my quality of life? I can’t offer a 100% money back guarantee that fat positivity will work for you the way it’s worked for me, but I dare you to give it a shot. It just might change your life!
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