I think we have all witnessed or experienced fat shaming in our lives. Maybe it was at home, maybe it was a comment of a person on TV, maybe it was in public, maybe it was an insult to a guy on the footy team, maybe it was directed right at you.
The way we talk about obese people in Australia is far too casual. Rude taunts roll of the tongue. It is often acceptable and unremarkable when someone makes a comment about a person’s weight. “Look at that guy, he could lose a few kilos,” “that girl shouldn’t be wearing a top like that with everything hanging out.” For the person that makes those comments they are just words and maybe even “harmless” if the victim doesn’t hear. The reality is that they do hear you. They see you staring. They know you are talking about them.
Comments about my weight really got to me quite young. I felt it all the time at dancing when I was young. When teachers and parents were looking at costumes and trying to pick one that would be “flattering” for everyone when they knew that there was no one costume that would suit all figures. The same thing happened when I lost a lot of weight. People saw it as an invitation to put their two cents in that I was now “too thin.”
I listened to a really insightful podcast on Monday about the impact of fat shaming and body shaming on individuals. The common theme that kept arising is that “healthy” doesn’t look the same on everyone. Being obese is multifactorial. It is not because a person is lazy and makes poor choices. There is so much more to it than that. Simplifying obesity to “calories in and calories out” is actually just ignorant. It discounts the person emotions, their lifestyle, their work, genetics and physiological make up.
It has been made pretty clear by the media that being “fat” is not desirable. Let’s be honest they aren’t selling us “fat pills” for guaranteed results in seven days. We are taught to idolize those who are “skinny” and “fit” not those who are overweight.
Two out of three Australian adults are overweight. In terms of risk for disease this is frightening. We know that being overweight increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes and other metabolic disorders. This can be information that is unsettling and confronting to face. I am sick of people saying that losing weight is as easy as having a “calorie deficit” because it is not. It is oversimplifying something that is extremely complex.
“Being overweight is a common thing, we need to be kinder and we need to be respectful and we have to understand that there are lots and lots of reasons why people gain weight in their life.” – Sophie Medlin, Registered Dietician.
The reality is, if so many people are overweight then why does the fat shaming continue to happen? We need to support each other not tear each other down. It comes back down to that saying that was drummed into my head as a child, “if you have nothing nice to say then don’t say anything.”
There is a difference between voicing concern and being plain cruel. By observing a person and making a comment based only on their physical appearance alone we are taking a reductionist approach. It says nothing about the behaviours they engage in and their relationship with food and their body. A “skinny” and “healthy” looking person might drink every night, only eat take away and smoke cigarettes every day. On the flip side, a person who appears “overweight” might eat a balanced diet, never smoke or drink alcohol and go for a 30 minute walk a day. There is more to people than their physical appearance. We are complicated beings. We are multifaceted and everything about us is connected. This is why taking care of our mental health is as important as taking care of our physical health (this is a conversation for another day).
Our health should not be dictated by a number on the scale, the size of our jeans or whether we appear to be an “acceptable” size by society. We should not be judged by the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the amount of exercise we do and if we choose to put sugar in our coffee.
What happens behind closed doors is your own business. From the outside people can’t see what is going on in your family, at work, in your mind and in your relationships. They don’t know whether you have had a major surgery that has increased or decreased your weight. They don’t know if you are starving yourself behind closed doors. They only see your physical being. We don’t have to broadcast our behaviours therefore there should not be an entitlement for people to make comments on things that they really don’t know or that someone doesn’t want to share.
We were each given a body. Our bodies are all unique both on the inside and out. There is no one standard that we should all be held to. We have a responsibility to those around us to be respectful and compassionate. We need to be empathetic, present and understanding. If a person wants to make a change to their weight, for whatever reason, it needs to come from them. Imposing your opinion where it is not warranted and making comments about people you don’t even know is unacceptable. Something needs to change. We need to be united and not polarize people based on their physical appearance without even knowing their story.
“Those who are overweight should in no way be blamed for their weight. We should treat everyone with the same compassion and consideration.” – Rhiannon Lambert, Registered Nutritionist.
Image by Dr Libby (Instagram - @drlibby) - PhD Nutritional biochemist, author & speaker Biochemical, nutritional, emotional approach to health.