Harmful effects of fat shaming
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 70% of Americans are either overweight or obese. And many of those who aren’t overweight worry about becoming fat. An estimated 45 million Americans are on a diet trying to lose weight at any given time. Studies show that even little girls, aged three to six, worry about being fat. This focus on fat has not done anything but make the weight loss industry $72 billion richer.
Before the 1800s, fatness signified wealth. If you were plump, that meant you had the means to buy desirable foods, such as meats, white bread and sweets. Thinness was associated with poverty. But a century later, opinions flipped. Now the world thinks that thinner people are more successful, more attractive, work harder and have more money.
Fat shaming is so automatic in our culture, the behavior might not even register to the person engaging in it. Fat jokes have long been part of a comedian’s standard routine and are common in American culture. Sometimes fat shaming can be unsolicited suggestions to exercise or subtle weight loss advice. Even when a comment seems innocent, such as “you have such a pretty face,” it can imply that the rest of you might not be so pretty.
Some people have such a fear and hatred of fat bodies that their negative stereotypes can lead to discrimination. Women are especially affected, as they are more likely to see positive examples of higher-weight men in the workplace and media versus higher-weight women. Heavier women typically make less money and are pushed into lower-paying, more physically demanding jobs because of the idea that fat people are lazy or not as smart. It is even legal in all states, except Michigan, to refuse to hire someone who has all the necessary job skills simply because of obesity.
Overweight and obese people are more likely to have chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, joint issues and certain cancers, along with the medical expenses to treat those conditions. Obese people, especially those who deal with weight bias, suffer more stress, depression and anxiety. The most common reason children are bullied or teased is because of their weight. Self-loathing and poor self-esteem caused by weight issues just adds to the mental health cost.
Fat bias starts at a young age. Parents who comment negatively on their own weight status, go on noticeable diets or tell their children they can’t eat certain foods because it will make them fat are part of the problem. Those words and actions stay with a child into adulthood.
Body positivity has become more mainstream, but there is still a lot of fat shaming found in our daily lives. Changing your behaviors can help stop fat shaming. A few things you can do:
Stop talking about diets, especially in the workplace. Thin people as well as fat people struggle with food issues, and talking about good foods versus bad foods and weight can be triggering.
Don’t comment on anyone’s body — good or bad. Even an intended compliment, such as “Did you lose weight?” can perpetuate the idea that being bigger is bad. Body weight is a deeply personal subject and should not be a topic of social conversation.
Keep unsolicited health advice to yourself. Even when disguised as a concern, such as “I’m worried about your health,” it may cause more harm than good. You can’t tell anything about a person’s health just by looking at them. Telling someone to eat better or exercise more isn’t helpful, nor is judging or commenting on their diet or exercise behaviors.
Don’t assume fat people are just failed thin people. It’s not true that they are less disciplined, lazy or stupid. Thinking that if they would just eat better and exercise more they could be thin is destructive thinking. It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, even starvation diets and punishing workouts fail to provide a perfectly thin body.
Speak kindly to yourself. Your body deserves respect for all it does. Focus on goals other than weight.
Stir-Fried Vegetables in Black Pepper Sauce
1 ½ Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1 ½ Tbsp dry sherry
½ tsp brown sugar
½ tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch
½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tsp peanut oil, divided
4 cups mixed fresh vegetables, chopped (mushrooms, peppers, onions, asparagus, carrots, green beans, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, snap peas, etc.—your choice)
In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sherry, brown sugar, sesame oil and cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of water. In another small bowl, mix together the black pepper, garlic and 1 teaspoon of peanut oil.
In a large sauté pan or wok over high heat, heat the remaining 3 teaspoons of peanut oil until very hot but not smoking. Stir-fry the vegetables until tender crisp, 2-3 minutes.
Push the vegetables to one side of the pan, and add the garlic/oil/ pepper mix to the pan. Cook until fragrant. Whisk the soy sauce mixture, and then pour in pan. Cook until sauce thickens. Toss the vegetables with the sauce.
Nutrition Information: 100 calories, 5 g fat, 11 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 2 g protein, 240 mg sodium
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.