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Fat shaming: The judgment’s in the jargon

Fat-shaming, like sexism, takes many different forms. Rarely do we hear blatant declarations that “fat people are ugly/lazy/etc.” With the dialogue of “health” currently trending in pop culture, it becomes easier for advertisers, writers, and producers to integrate the language of fat shaming into their finished products under the guise of appropriate diet and fitness.

That’s right people — I’m talking semantics. Those nitty-gritty, linguistically frustrating particles of speech that nearly everyone says not to bother with.

In the fights against sexism and fat-shaming, however, semantics are everything. In these realms, the way you say something, and the specific words you use to say it, paint you as an advocate or an enemy. Unfortunately, there is many a fat-shamer within our midst — Kathleen Parker in particular.

Ms. Parker is an opinion writer for The Washington Post, and on May 8 she released an article that discreetly, yet deliberately, fat-shames men and women across the nation. Entitled “The Sweet Tooth That Spawned An Epidemic,” the article contends that fatness is essentially a self-perpetuating problem, and that fat individuals have only themselves, and their lack of self-control, to blame for their size. Here are some of the real gems I pulled out:

“Close your eyes and picture 110 million obese people waddling around America’s sidewalks. You’ll probably want to keep your eyes closed.”

Silly me, I forgot — fat people are incapable of walking. They waddle, duh! Not to mention the mere sight of a fat person makes me want to close my eyes, obviously (please note my dripping sarcasm).

“42 percent of American adults will be obese by 2030… Of course, they probably won’t be waddling. They’ll be in their cars in the fast-food lane, as they are now.”

This statement is so flawed, it makes my head spin. Somehow Ms. Parker feels justified in contending that all cases of obesity are direct results of fast food consumption, never considering the role of other extenuating circumstances like a low Basal metabolic rate (BMR), having hypothyroidism, or taking certain antidepressants or corticosteroids. Can fast food play an instrumental role in weight gain? Sure. But using such a sardonic tone to openly criticize fat individuals does nothing but distribute shame and blame unnecessarily.

“No one wants to make overweight people feel worse then they do.”

Sorry, but I missed the memo stating that all overweight individuals must hate themselves and shame their bodies. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of men and women across the world loving their bodies and making their voices heard in the fight for fat acceptance (check out an awesome fat-loving feminist Tumblr here).

“Fat is indeed a plague, and most of us struggle to varying degrees.”

Let me take a look in my pocket dictionary. Plague: a contagious bacterial disease characterized by fever and delirium, typically with the formation of buboes. Interesting… I didn’t realize fat was a contagious bacterial disease! Using such an explosive, negative term simultaneously targets and stigmatizes fat individuals.

“At this point, we make the necessary disclaimer that some people are blessed with hummingbird metabolisms (and we hate them).”

A statement like this only serves to further the fat/bad skinny/good dichotomy, asserting that all fat people are definitely jealous of all skinny people. Which is, um, totally untrue.

Overall, the goal of Kathleen Parker’s article is to educate individuals about high fructose corn syrup, and the role in plays in the modern American diet. But somehow the medical message gets lost in translation amidst the crude diction, broad stereotypes, and blatant stigmatization of fat individuals. So listen up, Ms. Parker. If you’re going to write about health and fitness, write about health and fitness — and leave the judgment out. Being fat isn’t a disease. It isn’t a plague, nor is it a sentence to unhappiness or low self-esteem. Being fat is just another way of being — and it doesn’t take a medical professional to see that.


13 thoughts on “Fat shaming: The judgment’s in the jargon

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  1. Thanks for tackling this fat-shaming article, Hailey! Someone needed to call this woman out.

  2. umm .

    “Somehow Ms. Parker feels justified in contending that all cases of obesity are direct results of fast food consumption, never considering the role of other extenuating circumstances like a low Basal metabolic rate (BMR), having hypothyroidism, or taking certain antidepressants or corticosteroids. “,

    Sorry Hailey, I disagree wholeheartedly. Apparently only 3% of obese people are obese for a medical reason (and i don’t count anti depressant tablets here, because those alone won’t make anyone obese. I say obese, not a few extra pounds!). The bit about BMR is a huge amount of bullshit, i’m sorry. Sure, some people’s are slightly lower than other peole’s, some are extra high , but if it’s THAT low, then it requires medical attention, if it’s just not too fast, then that alone won’t make anyone fat. Sure, some people gain weight easier than other , some people stay thin without effort, but this is indeed not a life sentence.

    The one and only reason people get fat, is uncontrolled eating (either you don’t control the quantity and eat until you burst, or you don’t control the quality and east fast food, processed food etc, or both), plus sedentary lifestyle. This is very hard to digest for some people, and i’m sorry, but the fact is: if you don’t eat mindlessly (emotional and social eating) and move around a bit (not talking gym-addiction – just not sitting on your bum every day), unless you have a medical condition, you won’t get fat. There is no way that then you will get fat. And it’s just as simple as that, really. And that’s why diets don’t work, and that’s why there’s so many of them, because if you give this simple fact to people, many just won’t understand, because it’s not a quick solution, its an attitude change.

    Here’s another fact. Carrying around less weight makes a person more comfortable in their skin, easier to get around, lighter, more confident and just generally more comfortable in everything. I am not saying fat people can’t feel like that! And once again, i am not talking about some love handles or a tummy – i am talking FAT). Fat people should aim to lose weight, for their own benefit and for all our benefits, by attitude change, not by depriving themselves, and by living more active. Fat is not healthy or normal, look at the animal kingdom and see if you see any fat animals, other thn those bred by humans and fed with the same junk we eat. Anything that tackles obesity, either governmental, or articles drawing attention to the issue, are a good thing and should come more often.

    Sorry if i sounded controversial. But I do think people who jump at everything that they perceive as “fattist” should have a long hard look in the mirror and ponder over common sense a bit. Noone is slagging fat people off. Noone hates fat people, just like noone hates bald people or noone hates thin people. I am not saying don’t love your body. But also, if you love your body, do it a favour and dont let it carry all that unnecessary (and lets face it, unsightly) fat around. If you love your body, let it find its ideal weight (which may be 50 kilos, or 70 kilos etc). don’t burden it with all the junk inside. A person weighting 110 kilos does not love her body, thats for sure. If they loved it, they wouldn’t treat it like a bin for food.

  3. Erika, I respectfully disagree with many aspects of your comment.

    1. “The one and only reason people get fat, is uncontrolled eating…plus sedentary lifestyle.” Hundreds of medical studies have proven this to be untrue. Please look at this website for a more comprehensive list of why people “get fat.” http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/obe/causes.html. This website is a branch off of the US Department of Health and Human Services, so it is legitimate. You will see that uncontrolled eating and sedentary lifestyle are listed – as are medical conditions, medicines, age, genes, and lack of sleep.

    2. “Here’s another fact. Carrying around less weight makes a person more comfortable in their skin, easier to get around, lighter, more confident and just generally more comfortable in everything.” Unfortunately, you cannot classify this as a “fact” because so many fat people are completely confident in their bodies. Many fat individuals who “carry extra weight” are wholeheartedly comfortable in their own skin. Broad generalizations like this are unfounded and based on socially constructed stereotypes of how “fat people” ought to feel about their bodies.

    3. “Anything that tackles obesity, either governmental, or articles drawing attention to the issue, are a good thing and should come more often.” This is one comment you made that I completely disagree with. While it is important to draw attention to the medical dangers of obesity, such articles are NOT always a good thing – particularly if they use degrading, fat-shaming diction (as the Parker article did). Is the medical information vital? Certainly. But articles that seek to SHAME fat individuals are not necessary. Like I said in my post – state the facts and leave the judgment out.

    4. “But also, if you love your body, do it a favour and dont let it carry all that unnecessary (and lets face it, unsightly) fat around.” Erika, that phrase in itself is a fat-shaming phrase. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps that “extra fat” is unsightly in your opinion, but your opinion is not universal.

    5. “A person weighting 110 kilos does not love her body, thats for sure. If they loved it, they wouldn’t treat it like a bin for food.” Again, another huge – and this time incredibly offensive – generalization. Unless you have interviewed every 110 kilo individual, you cannot say with certainty whether or not every 110 kilo person loves her body. As I’ve previously stated – many do! Furthermore, saying that fat people treat their bodies “like a bin for food,” is crude and fattest in itself.

    Of course, you are entitled to your own opinions about what is/is not beautiful. And you are more than welcome to voice those opinions in whatever venue you chose. But be wary that your speech may come off as fat-shaming – as it did here – and there will be individuals who will “jump at” it.

  4. Hi Hayley

    Fair enough, we can’t all agree. Let me make something clear though – we can argue about percentages of how many people are fat because of medical etc reasons, and how many are because of their own fault (ie uncontrolled eating), but i dont want to. I think we both agree that the majority of fat people are overweight and through their own “fault” (hate the word, but can’t find better, maybe say self inflicted? ah, just as bad). Just wanted to clarify that i was not talking about anyone who doesn’t fall into this majority category. And that i do not condone people bullying others for whatever reason – fat, thin, short, bald, blonde, brunette, – not acceptable.

    “Unfortunately, you cannot classify this as a “fact” because so many fat people are completely confident in their bodies” – You didn’t read what i said properly. I didn’t say that carrying less fat will make you confident and comfortable. I said it will make you *more* confident and *more* comfortable. I am sure many individuals are comfortable being fat, my own lovely sister being one of them, for example. But many many, much more fat people are uncomfortable and want to lose the weight.

    About “unsightly fat” – perhaps you and i are not using the word “fat” in the same way. For me someone who has love handles or a tummy, on a chubby arm, is not fat. Someone who cannot sit down on the tube or train because won’t fit into a seat, is fat. And even though she is breathless and red faced and many people would gladly offer their seat to them, she can’t take it because she is too large – are you telling me she is comfortable and confident being fat?

    And finally, about the article you linked. I read it with an open mind but it very quickly infuriated me, I have to say. Let me comment on just the most outrageous things in there.

    “Our environment doesn’t support healthy lifestyle habits; in fact, it encourages obesity. Some reasons include: Lack of neighborhood sidewalks and safe places for recreation. Not having area parks, trails, sidewalks, and affordable gyms makes it hard for people to be physically active.” —> then it cites work schedules, oversized food portions, fast food restaurants etc. Jesus, when did my body become someone else’s responsibility? Noone is holding a gun to my head to eat that oversized food portion! Noone is holding a gun to my head to get into mcdonalds. Noone tells me I can’t go for a half an hour brisk walk after work – who cannot take half an hour out of their day to have a nice walk, clear their mind, listen to some music, and if you eat sensibly, that’s ALL it takes to stay in shape, you dont have to kill yourself in the gym. Honestly??!! “Food advertising” – errr… seriously? I am fat because of food advertising? ….

    “Family history” – yes, true, it does effect us all. but not to the extend we are led to believe. Lifestyle choices effect it much more. To cite it as a reason (or excuse) for obesity is actually disrespecting fat people, rendering them uncapable of being in control of their own body.
    “age” – sure enough, you do gain weight as you get older. But not 150 pounds!!! You may gain 20-30-40, which , if you had a normal weight before, makes you chubby,. Not obese.

    “pregnancy” – Give me a break. Of course pregnant women gain some weight, you’re carrying a child! But your baby in there only needs about 400 extra calories a day. If you stuff yourself sick when you’re pregnant, then it’s not pregnancy, it’s uncontrolled eating.

    “Health conditions” – this, and the “emotional eating” part is what i wholeheartedly agree with.

    And a last point – I didnt even know before today that there was such thing as fat-shaming – but it does sound vile and i certainly dont want to be one / come off as one! In my view, there are two kinds of fat people amongst the “self inflicted”. One that is totally miserable being fat and tries to lose weight (and lets face it, this is the majority, just look at diet book bestseller lists and ll the money and effort wasted on diets and magic pills..), and this person needs every support, every bit of encouragement and help , and this person CAN be helped by just telling them the simple truth, that stopping uncontrolled eating and moving their butt WILL stop them from being fat. Articles that highlight why it’s out of their control to be fat (or suggest it ever so subtly) are not helping these people. These articles are damaging these people terribly.

    Then there are the fat people, who are happy, healthy and confident in being a lrge size – well i applaud them as i applaud everyone who is happy, healthy and confident, irrespective of size. But then, these people don’t need the encouragement and they don’t need to be told how “it’s not your fault, its genes, its bmi, its the environment, etc” – because these people don’t care, being fat, chubby, whatever is their choice and if they are as confident as you say, they don’t need positive reinforcement of their actions / beliefs/lifestyles. .

  5. I so appreciate you and what you stand for! I struggle daily with my body image and get sucked into old ways of thinking, perpetuated by a society who thinks they are helping but are shaming, which drives us further into a negative cycle. Yours is a voice I need to hear more….I need to get upset at society and not allow any further shaming. I need to get rid of my own shame, and love myself where I am right now….stop waiting until I am good enough! I love that your commenters are free to share their opinions and their “SIMPLE truths” that stopping uncontrolled eating and moving their butts will stop them from being fat. Because it is the SIMPLE truth that self righteous, judgmental (and sometimes even well meaning) folks comments….subtle and not so subtle….triggers the shame I ALREADY have. I don’t know that another person or article or website or expert or guru or freaking demigod telling me that this SIMPLE truth of “stop uncontrolled eating and move my butt” is the ultimate answer to being good enough for this society! At any rate, I can discern which voices to hear on this blog and will try to understand that your message is not one that everyone gets or is ready for!

  6. Fat shaming IS vile… and you’re still doing it.

    The categories of “overweight” and “obese” as measured by the BMI scale are total crap. I’m 5’5”, wear a size 6 jeans (whatever that means), walk several miles a day, and eat a fruit and veggie heavy diet with lots of lean meat and the very occasional piece of cake or pizza. I don’t drink soda; just tea and water. I feel healthy and happy. The BMI scale says I’m 5 pounds away from being overweight. I know my body pretty well and if I gained five pounds, I wouldn’t notice any difference in my health or happiness.

    A few years ago I had a serious eating disorder and maintained a weight just under 120 pounds by throwing up every day (multiple times a day) and working out for 4-6 hours a day. My doctors told me I seemed very healthy; I was at the “perfect” weight for my height. When I was in recovery I tried to maintain a weight close to 120 pounds by eating healthy portions of healthy foods and working out for an hour a day. Guess what? It didn’t work. I naturally hover at that high end of “normal” on the BMI scale and occasionally cross into that “overweight” category. That’s the way my body was before the eating disorder and that’s the way my body is now.

    I also know a young woman, a vegan chef, who cooks all of her own meals, is completely straight edge (no drugs, no drinking, no smoking), does cardio and yoga every day, works and goes to school, and is a genuinely kind and fun person to be around. She is probably considered heavily overweight or obese according to the BMI scale.

    You’re equating fat with uncontrolled eating and unhappiness. That’s a stupid thing to do. I understand why you’re doing it; we’ve all been a bit brainwashed when it comes to the way we view fat people. But the truth of the matter is, my story and her story are not the exception. Fat is not unhealthy. Fat is not unhappy. Fat is not bad. It’s just fat.

    Also, why the hell do you care about the fat on some stranger’s body? You’re using your “concern” as a mask for shaming. It’s not cool. You should really find a new hobby.

  7. When shaming doesn’t work for those who are sizeist, then they tend to think they can hide their hate under concern trolling.. Hayley, sounds more like you don’t like being shamed for your self-righteous “concern”. You can insinuate all sorts of negative things about fat people, yet when you’re called on your hatedful behavior. You shrink away saying softly like your upset, “I don’t want to be a fat hater. Why are you all being so meeaaannn to me? I just was trying to help!”

    You can help by learning to be body positive. By not describing fat people as those who use their bodies as a food bin. By not falling into self-victimization when your held accountable for your hate speech. Fat people face discrimination every single day. Don’t think for a second that if you start acting like a child about to burst into tears, because someone called them mean, we’re going to give you any sympathy. That type of emotional manipulation, is something to be expected from a 5 year old, not a full grown woman.

    Nothing irritates me more than people who come to fat acceptance spaces, and starts whining about how either fat people are suffering, or “Waaahhaaahhh! A big meany called me Anorexic!” Thin people are privileged. Just like a starving person would find it extremely rude, to hear a well-fed person complain about the food they have available to them. It’s just as rude as a thin person, who has clothing companies lined up to produce clothing for them, who can step into the public space without fear of ridicule, who can go to the doctor and have their concerns heard without a lecture, complaining their world crashed down because they were called a name.

    Lest you think this is admitting I suffer as a poor poor fat person Hayley, it is not. It is me telling you I don’t want your help, I don’t need your help, and I don’t need your two faced fake concern. If you really cared about people, you’d try to make society better for them. Instead you made a point to come here, and share with us your condescending “Buh-buh being fat is BAD!” whinging. Think about that, you made effort to come here, and try to shame us. Then when that failed, you acted wounded and acted as if we were naughty babies not obeying mommy. That is NOT okay. Please, get a life, get a hobby, find something other to do than build yourself up on the pain of others.

    We deal with your kind all the time Hayley. We know who and what you are, and making big Bambi “I-I-I’m going to cwy!” eyes won’t save you here. You have none of our empathy for your self righteous plight.

  8. I don’t know it this is helps for anyone!

    But being comfortable in your own body is (for me and I think my friends) not connected with weight! It is about self esteem, and people that are petit or thin or have the “perfect” body are just as insecure! When you feel good about yourself as a person and tell yourself that you are pretty or cute or sexy you will shine!

    All of my friends are petite and I am big and tall! So I immediately stand out, but not in a negative way! With the curves and the height you are in a spotlight and I have to say I like it! I like attention and I love people telling me I look good! I say thank you instead of saying: “Oh it is nothing, or oh really?” like all my friends do! I always tell them, if someone gives you a complement say thank you!

    Ofcourse there are people who think I am ugly and fat. But I mean doesn’t everyone have a certain type of people they like? So if you don’t like me, fine. Just stay away!

  9. Thanks About-face. I’m living with obesity. Not hating it or loving it. Just accepting it because it is what it is. I know I can change, but I don’t care to. Sometimes people “settle” because they feel it’s all they deserve.

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