body image

The World of Body Image: Fat Shaming

It’s unfortunate that many people in our society will experience fat shaming at some point in their lives. It might be from mean kids at school, or from family or friends, but what about when it’s from a health professional? Surely they’re meant to be the people we trust.

I recently attended a TED X event in Bristol. Those of you not familiar with TED Talks, they’re short films/talks, usually about 10 – 20 minutes in length. They’re about a range of topics and are generally positive, informative and motivational (some of my recommended talks are at the bottom of this post). TED X was a wonderful experience and I left feeling really positive and inspired, however the first talk wasn’t so cheery. It was from Dr Dawn Harper, a somewhat famous doctor from Embarrassing Bodies. She told us – and of course I’m paraphrasing with a huge injection of cynicism – that a lot of us were going to get diabetes, that we could end up losing limbs, and inevitably we were all going to die. Well, she didn’t say that last part exactly, but that’s what I got from it. She also told us that she was ‘genetically meant to be obese’ and implied that she was working much harder to not be fat than us lazy old lot. This is just my take on it, but the videos will be out soon so have a watch and make your own minds up.

To be fair to her, I thought Famous Dr Dawn made a few good points too. She said she didn’t suggest going on a diet, as to go on a diet implies that one day you will come off it. Her talk was also quite focussed on the importance of our NHS, which having lived overseas for several years I can really appreciate. However, I think there will always be strain on the NHS, regardless of people’s shape or size, because we are human. We can suffer heart failure even if we’re not fat and if we don’t then we’ll just get something else instead because bodies are designed to die. Sorry, I know that’s not what people like to hear, but it’s true.

But then Famous Dr Dawn made a bunch of people stand up and measure their waists. She told them they were abnormal and shit (OK I admit again, not those words) if their waist wasn’t under a certain size. TED Talks usually inspire and motivate people into doing stuff, but this just made me want to eat my own body weight in chocolate. How on Earth does this fear-mongering, shame-inducing judgementalism inspire people to be healthy?

Our society seems to pick on overweight people no matter what they do. If fat people don’t exercise they’re made out to be lazy layabouts, but if they do they’re laughed at. Try typing ‘fat’ into Google and I bet one of the first things to come up is ‘fat people jokes’. There are memes and GIF and all sorts out there ridiculing fat people exercising.

The NHS website is also a mass of hypocrisy. It has a community forum full of people whinging about diets, giving themselves a hard time (just like the diet industry wants us to do). There are posts which completely contradict each other about how fad diets don’t work, but just a short scroll down is ‘top diets review for 2015’ promoting a load of horrendous fad diets. Just to top it off, there’s a post from some bloke who tried all the fad diets; the 5:2 diets, Atkins, Cabbage Soup etc, all at the same time: each for 5 days. And this promotion of disordered eating is all on our trusted NHS website. Oh dear.

Other health websites offer ‘health calculators’ on which there are hundreds of comments from people scared about being fat. Worryingly a lot of these are teenagers or children asking strangers to validate if they are ‘normal’.

There are many, many websites I’ve found which enable you to compare yourself to celebrities or to ‘real women’. Some of these sites even have the emphasis on the dangers of being too thin, and seem to be promoting positive body image, so again they are hypocritical. Encouraging us to compare ourselves to other people is not helping, it’s only encouraging us to be more judgmental and discriminatory. It’s like saying, well it’s OK because I’m not that fat – I’m thinner than her! This still promotes a slim ideal as well as turning us against each other. Until we change the idea that being healthy is solely attributed to our weight, we are always going to have these problems.

There are so many more health hypocrisies in our society. There are billboards for fast food, followed by ones for gyms. There are body image blog posts surrounded by adverts for weight loss. There are huge piles of Quality Street boxes next to diabetes awareness posters (I recently saw a shared picture of this on Facebook – they were literally right underneath the poster). We’re congratulated for losing weight, even if it’s through unhealthy methods, then told we’re ‘anorexic’ if we’re slim.

I think that in order to help solve the so called ‘obesity epidemic’ we need to, firstly, stop calling it an ‘epidemic’ (it’s not the plague) and stop using the phrase ‘the war on obesity’. War is never good. We could try to encourage people to look inwards instead of judging themselves against others. Other people can help overweight people by minding their own fucking business. Your name calling, jokes, or ‘health concerns’ do not help. This is fat shaming, whether you call it that or not, so leave them alone. You be responsible for your own body and let them be responsible for theirs.

But who am I to say this? I’m just a fat girl who used to drink a lot of fizzy drinks and eat junk food. I had some health problems from travelling but I’m thankful I did, as I learnt to listen to how my body was feeling. I stopped eating anything processed. I don’t drink fizzy drinks, I try not to use sugar in anything – I’ll use natural alternatives whenever I can. And I try to eat veggies, I walk everywhere, and I do yoga… not of that any of this is any of your business, so I’ll stop explaining myself. But I will tell you that I have never once lost weight. My weight has remained stable most of my life but from a young age my doctor told me that I was not normal. I looked at the small slither of the ‘normal’ section of the chart and yearned to fit into that. I was bullied by both children and adults for my weight and felt worthless because of it.

So, what should we do? To the fat people: you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. You know how your lifestyle makes you feel, and if it doesn’t feel good then take responsibility and start doing something that does feel good. Try to ignore the hypocritical noise of the world. To everyone: butt out of everyone else’s health issues. To the doctors: please stop the fear-mongering, pill-prescribing and body shaming. People need to be motivated and inspired into being healthy, not shamed into it.

Famous Dr Dawn did make the good point in her TED Talk that our society has normalised unhealthy food such as sugary fizzy drinks and fast food, and it’s all different people buying those sorts of foods, not just fat people. Often junk food will be more cost-effective and quicker, so you can see how it can be hard to choose a healthy option instead. Our nation’s health is indeed a bigger issue which needs to be addressed, but not in the discriminatory way it has been so far.

It’s a noisy world of opinions and mixed messages and I’ll admit I’m just another one of them so I’ll stop waffling on now and will let you decide what you do with your body. I urge you to go and take some time to connect with yourself. Listen to your body instead of all that outside noise, and trust yourself, because you know what’s best for you.

Here are some of my favourite body positive TED Talks

Mel Ciavucco
Author. Blogger. Screenwriter. Feminist.
Likes cooking, yoga and cinema but not all at the same time.

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