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Fat Shaming & Obesity Stigma – a deterrent to good health

Dictionary Definition: 

Fat Shaming (noun) – the action or practice of humiliating someone judged to be fat or overweight by making mocking or critical comments about their size.

Fat shaming – the majority of us have experienced this first hand. Whether we ourselves have been ‘fat shamed’, somebody shouting out a cruel jibe across the street, or we have witnessed another being fat shamed, such as the school bully mocking the ‘fat’ kid. Fat shaming has existed for a very long time and unfortunately, it isn’t going anywhere. 

Except now we have an obesity epidemic on our hands. 25% of Australians are now obese, and this number is rising every year. Do you think fat shaming individuals with obesity will help them to literally ‘shape up’? Or is fat shaming one of the reasons that the obesity rate is rising? 


Fat Shaming – harmless or harmful? 

Ever heard of the ‘Grabbable Gut’ campaign? If you don’t spend much time in Western Australia you may not have. This campaign showed a man (it was aimed primarily at men) ‘grabbing’ the fat on his stomach, asking the public “do you have a grabbable gut?”. This campaign was created with the idea that men would then see the image, grab their gut and then decide to make healthy lifestyle choices. 

Did it work? Well, that depends on who you ask. Facebook wouldn’t allow the ad in 2017 as they were concerned that it could upset people who are sensitive about their appearance. LiveLighter stands by their campaign that it did work to draw attention to the subject. Although it is no longer an active campaign… 


Fat shaming to fat stigma

Wikipedia: Fat Stigma

The social stigma of obesity or anti-fat bias has resulted in additional difficulties and disadvantages for overweight and obese people. Weight stigma is similar and has been broadly defined as bias or discriminatory behaviours targeted at individuals, because of their weight. 

Physically, fat shaming has been shown to increase blood pressure, levels of cortisol and inflammation (a strong correlation between fat stigma and higher levels of c-reactive protein has been demonstrated).

Psychologically, fat stigma can lower self-esteem, feelings of belonging, have a negative effect on a persons body image satisfaction, and can even contribute towards depression and suicidal ideation. 


A dangerous combination

Fat shaming can cause any individual great distress. No matter what age, gender or how ‘fat’ you are. And it isn’t as regulated by law as other sources of discrimination, such as gender, sexuality or race. 

Fat stigma is the effect that being ‘fat’ is having on a person’s life. Maybe they’ve been overlooked for that promotion at work or didn’t get a job because of their size. ‘Fat’ people may feel that they are under scrutiny when they order food in public as they feel that people will judge their choices. Fat stigma may even prevent a person from trying to improve their health at the gym as they want to avoid “looks” from others when they are pounding the treadmill. 

The most dangerous is the impact that fat stigma is having on individuals experiences in the healthcare sector. This is an area that you would expect would be understanding, knowledgable and helpful, but unfortunately in the experience of many, being fat can actually be a barrier to effective healthcare. Some people may even avoid seeing a healthcare provider because of their weight, leading to even bigger problems. 


What needs to change

Everybody. Family, teachers, friends, employers, GPs, colleagues, waitresses, checkout counter staff, the list is endless. Microaggressions against fat people have been happening for so long that even a ‘fat’ person may not notice the stigmatisation involved. 

If society can change its attitude then together we can work to understand the underlying causes of obesity, many of which are physiological, meaning that a person has little control over their condition. By eliminating fat stigma, more people would choose to access the healthcare that they need, opening up a conversation about obesity and how to deal with it. It may mean that more choose to exercise, as they no longer have the fear of being fat shamed.