In a recent episode of his show “Real Talk,” TV host and comedian Bill Maher said, “Fat shaming needs to make a comeback…some amount of shame is good.” With cancel culture on the rise, many expected for Twitter to explode calling for a boycott on his show. Instead, the Twitterati was divided. Some called him out for being ignorant while others agreed that fat shaming worked on them, which begs the question, exactly how harmful could fat shaming be?
What Is Fat Shaming?
First, let’s discuss what constitutes fat shaming. Officially, the dictionary defines it as the practice of humiliating and judging someone who is, by society’s standards, obese. Unfortunately, there is a stigma that follows obese people, that they’re lazy and lack willpower. Medical professionals do believe that most overweight people are at risk of developing medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory problems.
One doctor believes that it’s time to stop saying such a thing as “healthy obesity.” He believes there’s no denying that obesity is unhealthy, but he acknowledges that how bad it is depends on the individual.
Does Fat Shaming Help?
Anecdotally, it does. There are some people that are motivated by shaming to do what is right for them. They take the jokes and the bullying and use it as a way to encourage themselves to do better, such as losing all the weight they’re getting shamed for.
However, most psychologists would discourage this behavior because it doesn’t truly fully address the issue. It means that you believed the teasing and the joking, and now you think low of yourself. So you use this self-hate to get you to a point where you feel comfortable enough dealing with the people who mocked you. Still, the insecurity is there.
This is what the body positivity movement seeks to eradicate. Its goal is to make people, particularly women, be more comfortable in their bodies, regardless of how big or small they are.
Time to Stop
Psychologists from all over agreed that fat shaming is harmful to someone’s mental health. Many think pieces came out in the wake of Maher’s statements, most of it condemning what he said. At best, it was disgusting. At worst, it was harmful, they wrote. As one psychologist put it, it’s a form of bigotry. People fat shame not because they care about another person, but because they feel superior to that person as it feeds into the stereotype that bigger people are lazy and that all they do is eat and eat.
Fat shaming leads to various forms of depression and anxiety in the person being humiliated. In a worst-case scenario, it pushes the person to be more obese as they turn to food for comfort. This, in turn, could cause them to have an eating disorder. And while there are treatments available for binge-eating disorders, wouldn’t it just be a much nicer world if we all just learned to get along?
So, if you find yourself judging someone who is bigger than you, before saying anything, consider that you don’t understand what’s going on in that person’s life. What made them obese, whether it’s an eating disorder or it’s because of their genetic make-up, is really none of your business.