Fat-Shaming: Shame on me? Shame on YOU.


Recently in Wisconsin, a viewer took it upon himself to address the “weighty matters” of news anchor Jennifer Livingston’s “irresponsibility” to her community by carrying extra weight. She laid an eloquent and classy smack-down to said viewer, addressing instead his need to bully someone he did not know, had never met and even admitted in his letter he did not watch.

Funny that despite this disconnection, he still felt compelled to write her a critical letter with one main objective: to shame her into losing weight.

Because Jennifer didn’t “fit” into this narrow paper-doll mold the rest of media anchorwomen find themselves in, she needed to be “reminded” of her community responsibility to teach young girls everywhere that fat is bad, fat makes you a lesser person despite all the other qualities you may have. He framed it with the BS “health” argument, saying that she had a responsibility to show young kids, “particularly girls,” that the obese lifestyle is bad for you. In order to do this effectively, in this guy’s mind, one must ONLY see thin newswomen.

Here’s a newsflash for ya. Most newswomen are thin and, by most standards, “attractive.” So are our actresses. Our models now weigh 23% less than the average American woman – this is what the media serves up to “young girls” everywhere. And you know what’s happened? Obesity has skyrocketed. This is good news for the diet industry, which has profit margins that climb steadily along with America’s collective waistline.

Not so good news for those “young, impressionable” girls – who end up fighting off eating disorders like anorexia and binge-eating in a cruel, pointless endeavor to be as perfect as those photo-shopped beauties they see on magazines.

This reinforces to girls and women everywhere that they are only as valuable as their appearance, and that is the most irresponsible message we could ever send them. A more effective and productive message would be that a girl/woman has value based on her individual qualities and merit, rather than her dress size.

But people who would shame a fat person see themselves as superior to fat people, and well within their rights to judge someone harshly based on one simple but obvious aspect of their lives. As if any of us are ever judged solely on one trait anyway.

But to guys like this one, it doesn’t matter that Jennifer is articulate or intelligent or in any other way qualified to do the job of news anchor, because of her *appearance* she has failed not only herself but the community she serves.

This is fat-shaming at its worst, this idea that if fat people are “made aware” of their condition by the criticism of others they’ll do what they need to do to lose the weight.

Um, thanks? I had no idea I was morbidly obese until this very moment. I just woke up one day and BOOM… I was fat. Whew, I’m so relieved I had a conscientious stranger to point it out! I’ll be sure to tell my doctor, because I’m sure she missed it too since she OBVIOUSLY never addressed it with me. Husband, kids, family, friends… yet NO one has bothered to tell me in all this time how irresponsible and unhealthy I am. Clearly because I carry all this extra weight, I must eat at McDonald’s every day and Pizza Hut every night, right? I must have skyrocketing blood pressure and diabetes because I wake each day to a dozen donuts and wash it all down with a Big Gulp. I was just one hot mess waiting for that ONE stranger to whip my butt into gear by shaming me into making better choices.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, something that our media seems blissfully unaware. Fat-shaming doesn’t work, and actually makes the problem worse. I’ll give you two examples:

When I started my sophomore year, I entered – for the first time – a co-ed P.E. class overseen by a former football coach. The standard uniform for our class was a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. At the time I was what you would now consider a size 16/18, so the largest shorts I could find in 1985 still fit me like a cigar band around an overstuffed sausage. Walking out into the gym and up the bleachers around other 15-year-olds, particularly the males who relished tormenting me, was like entering one of the nine circles of high school hell.

Little did I know it was about to get much worse.

Though I carried 40-50 extra pounds my other classmates didn’t, the coach made it an imperative to judge all of us based on my ability (or inability) to do the exercises he directed. He sent us all out to run a mile. I’ve never run a mile in my life and as such I fizzled out about halfway through. (Maybe a quarter, I’ve blocked much of this memory.)

My coach decided he’d make an example of “my laziness” by essentially throwing me to the wolves. The entire class ended up penalized by my inability to perform a task that I was physically unprepared to master. It was one thing to be the outcast because I didn’t fit in and it was a jolly good time to make fun of me. For this coach, this wasn’t good enough. He wanted me emotionally ostracized; hated because I was “different.”

I tried to appeal to his sense of decency but, as it turned out, he didn’t have one. He berated me further. “Don’t you WANT to lose weight?” In his mind the fact the other kids hated me had everything to do with me and my choices, instead of his using it against me to shame me. He had no empathy, and, in fact, set the example for his entire class to bully someone based on their limitations. Yes, I wanted to lose weight. Yes, I wanted to run a mile without stopping. Yes, I wanted other kids to stop teasing me. But what I wanted most, what I needed most, was GUIDANCE… not shame… to get me there.

I was an adolescent girl with a shit-ton of problems, not a willing volunteer for boot camp.

The whole ugly affair actually led to my dropping out of high school. I couldn’t see it getting any better. I didn’t have the support of the administrators, who could have changed my classes and found a better fit for me to meet the P.E. criteria. Looking back, though, I don’t know if it would have helped. At the time I was so effectively shamed I’d never fit in the high school scene I no longer cared to try. I dropped out and waited until my 18th birthday, when I could take my G.E.D. and get a diploma without losing my soul to the hell that was high school.

Here’s a visual aid to put things in perspective. This was me in 1986:

What I wouldn’t give to be “that fat” again.

Fast forward a year or so and I’d meet the man I would eventually marry. Dan was the son of a marine, who understood well the macho “motivational” tool of shame. He wasn’t crazy about my extra weight and made sure that he’d say whatever it took to get my ass in gear to lose those 40-50 extra pounds. But here’s the dirty little secret about shame as a weight loss motivator: the more you are shamed, the more you hate your body. The more you hate your body, the less likely you are to do what needs to be done on the long journey towards fitness.

Those 40 pounds became 60, then 70, then 100… until finally I was 185lbs over the “ideal” of 165.

Before:

After:

Fat-shaming does not work. The target audience either won’t care because they are perfectly happy being fat OR they will further bury themselves with food as their self-destruction of choice. So it will ping off their happiness shields OR it’ll penetrate like a sword – but not with the results you intended. If someone is fat because of self-loathing, then your shame will only compound the problem and MAKE THEM FATTER.

Many times an overweight person isn’t just fat because they eat too much, generally they are using food as a coping mechanism for something that is wrong somewhere. Making them feel shame only exacerbates the problem.

When I married my second husband, he signed on the dotted line knowing I came “as is.” And a funny thing happened over the last 13 years. He gave me acceptance and support and that 185lbs excess went down to 170, then 150, then 120. The trend of accepting the world’s shame and punishing myself for it has reversed. Instead I find value in myself and as such, I make better choices and am healthier for it, both physically and emotionally.

Before:

After:

I’m not losing the weight overnight but that’s not how it works anyway. I’m in for the long haul, much more so than some idiot that passes me on the street and makes their condescending remarks. You have the luxury of holding off giving me value till I reach a goal weight, but I don’t. I have to value myself every step of the way or else I’ll never make it where I want to go. Weight loss is a process… a long, grueling, back-breaking process. The more “obese” someone is, the longer the journey, and quite simply it cannot be cannot be diagnosed and treated by outer appearance alone, especially by laymen who have never walked in our shoes. Therefore, shame (i.e. unsolicited criticism) is a unnecessary and ineffective roadblock that ultimately serves your needs and not mine.

So see, you can’t claim some sort of moral superiority when you shame us. It’s a bullying tactic, not a motivational tool. You’re positioning yourself as the superior, judging someone based on one key element while dismissing everything else that makes that person the beautiful, flawed, unique individual he or she might be.

There is more to the story than some before/after photos. You can’t possibly know the struggles of another person upon first sight. I have had guys shout to me, “Go on a diet!” while I rode a bike. It didn’t matter that I was TRYING to lose weight, just that I wasn’t there yet. Why be so results-focused on someone who may be making the incremental changes they need to in order to be healthy, especially if you’re going to use “health” as your platform to shame someone?

I’ll tell you why. You don’t care about our health. We are an EASY TARGET and you’re a LAZY BULLY. Whenever you see a fat person, you don’t have to work as hard to figure them out. They come with some handy-dandy labels and built-in comedic value that helps you dismiss their value as a human being. Best of all our society supports you entirely as you do so. But here’s the thing…assessing a fat person as lazy or stupid or unhealthy or inferior is just as bigoted (i.e. wrong) as saying all black people are X, all white people are Y, all women are Z.

It’s condescending, and, frankly, rude.

The only difference between a fat person and a thin person is they wear their perceived “flaw” on the outside. Imagine one of your flaws, and we all know you have some, being the unmistakable body suit you have to wear every day. Imagine it as a label you had to proclaim no matter where you went, that would make you an object of scorn, that you couldn’t hide. Would *you* willingly give up your value over that one trait and accept the shame of strangers? Would you suddenly shift focus and change so people you didn’t know would be more comfortable with your existence?

A fat person is merely fat; it doesn’t make them inherently bad or lesser than anyone else. Their choices are their own responsibility, and you can’t possibly know what those choices are just by the fat they carry. Frankly you don’t care to know dick about why they do what they do. You just sneer down your nose at them, hoist all your condemnation on their already-burdened shoulders and then toodle on your merry way with zero accountability you may be part of the problem.

You want to talk about irresponsibility to your community, that’s it.

You can hate me because of my weight, you can even make your snide judgment calls on how I may adversely affect the world around me, but frankly your bullying shame tactics say more about your character defects than any of mine.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It’s not my baggage. You can keep it.

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14 thoughts on “Fat-Shaming: Shame on me? Shame on YOU.

  1. Hear, hear! One thing that I’d like to add is that the guy who called in is probably fat himself and would have no problem with a fat man being a news anchor.

    And you are so right about the fat shaming. My fat shaming is internal, so that’s an even tougher battle to fight, and I am determined to win it. My weight is only a small percentage of who I am. I’ve got it goin’ on and so do you, Ginger.

    • That’s the other part of the problem. The fat-shaming is usually an echo of what we’re doing to ourselves. This guy is clueless. Right now we have a media that is obsessed with thin women, yet our obesity crisis rages on as girls and women punish themselves for not being “perfect” – as if there was such a thing. So having ONE example of the every-woman isn’t going to make the problem worse. In fact, if my history is any indication, it can help other girls realize you CAN be happy at any size, you DON’T need to diet yourself to death an you can have value, rather than a price. (Which is a blog for another time.)

  2. Look I know you women hate to hear the truth, but there is such a thing as a “universal standard of beauty:” and it isn’t you. Men really don’t care about your intelligence, your wit, your charm, your job, etc. All men are genetically programmed to seek the conventionally attractive women.

    The idea that men somehow used to like bigger women is a myth. There has been and always will be a universal standard of beauty.

    From Psychology Today:http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201010/the-truth-about-beauty

    “There is a vast body of evidence indicating that men and women are biologically and psychologically different, and that what heterosexual men and women want in partners directly corresponds to these differences. The features men evolved to go for in women—youth, clear skin, a symmetrical face and body, feminine facial features, an hourglass figure—are those indicating that a woman would be a healthy, fertile candidate to pass on a man’s genes.

    These preferences span borders, cultures, and generations, meaning yes, there really are universal standards of beauty.”

    I’m sorry that is not fat shaming, that is pure scientific fact. Men don’t want heavy women and we will never hesitate to let you know it. I’m sorry but 60% of the female population that is over weight is not genetically inclined to be so when in 1982 only 10% were.

    • Your moniker is the only thing that you offered that was remotely factual. But thanks for contributing. Your anonymous, misogynist comment actually proves my point.

    • “Men don’t want heavy women and we will never hesitate to let you know it.”
      Plenty of men have evolved past the point of using aesthetics as the only criteria to find a compatible partner. I would say it’s a shame that you haven’t, but it’s actually a good thing you’re so outspoken with your fat hate because that tells me you aren’t a compatible candidate for most women. You see, we don’t want misogynistic assholes who think with their dicks instead of their brains, and we will never hesitate to let you know it.

      • Okay, I provided a link to psychological studies that show there is a universal standard of beauty. Fact

        I provided a statistic that in 1982, obesity was factors of magnitude lower than it is today. Fact

        For providing these facts, which admittedly make you uncomfortable, I’m called a misogynist. That is like a Republican calling Obama a Socialist when he points out uncomfortable facts to them about the economy and taxation.

        Obesity is not a higher form of evolution, it is a recognized national health problem and you women are perpetuating it by passing on social myths about beauty being a social construct of the patriarchy.

        I was raised by a real feminist. A woman who served in the Army in 1972 before it was cool to do so. My sister and her daughters, all progressive feminists. But also in that home, we were taught the value of having a healthy lifestyle and body weight and we were also taught not to attach lame culture labels like “racist” or “misogynist” to people in debates.

        I’ve never harmed a woman in my life. I’ll never accept that vile term which modern feminists toss about with such glib casualness towards any male member of the human species that doesn’t place a woman on a pedestal and worship her like a some venusian deity. You want to be treated just like a man is treated? Well guess what? This is how we treat each other. By telling each other the blunt hard truth, even when it may not be to our liking.

        Being a woman does not make you immune to social standards or expectations or immune to honest criticisms backed up by scientific fact.

        This society has 2 halves, not one, and ladies I’m sorry but men DO get to have an opinion and say in things about standards of beauty. You don’t have a right to dictate to men what we should find attractive in a woman. None at all.

        You say plenty of men have “evolved” past aesthetics. That is a lie. Your men may love you for you and that is fine, but secretly in their heart of hearts, the part of the male psyche you will never be allowed to see because of the severe punishments you will rain down on your significant others, they wish you were more aesthetically pleasing and any man who says different is a liar.

        I remain anonymous to protect myself from online harassment and retribution at the hands of vindictive and vengeful women who may not like what I have to say. Which is a very real concern in our world today.

  3. Dear Not a Woman Hater:

    The more vehemently you decry you are not misogynist reminds me of someone saying something blatantly racist and then crying out, “But I have black friends!!” to justify their bigotry. You are, in fact, bigoted. Your argument is that “we women” need to realize that our value is based solely on our attractiveness. You said it yourself when you said, “Men really don’t care about your intelligence, your wit, your charm, your job, etc.”

    This was my entire point altogether. No man who values women on such superficial means gets to shame me. I have no respect for men who are that shallow.

    This blog was written in response to a man who called out a NEWSCASTER based on her RESPONSIBILITY to be average weight. Her weight has nothing to do with her job when that job is to relate the news. That has nothing to do with being attractive. What makes this misogynist is that male newscasters are not held to the same standard. If you don’t take a female as seriously as you would a man based on their sexual attractiveness, then that means you hold no value for women as equals. (Do yourself a favor and go watch Miss Representation, to demonstrate just how skewed women in the media and politics are viewed, then maybe you’ll get how completely unfair this was.)

    If a woman is not attractive, and you value her less because of it, then you ARE a misogynist. You treat women like they are there for your decoration and value them ONLY based on their attractiveness. You felt the need to call me out on my unattractiveness, and that was trying to “shame” me that my viewpoint is “wrong” just because it doesn’t agree with yours. I’m not at some bar trying to pick you up (nor would I be,) but your post was largely based on how people are attracted to one another on a personal level, which has nothing to do with my post at all.

    This has dick to do with sexual attraction. The newscaster in question IS MARRIED. This was in response to her ability to do her job. Your “psychological” study is irrelevant based on that point alone. Secondly your source is NOT authoritative. There are also counter studies that suggest that men find all SORTS of women attractive, thereby invalidating the “universal standard of beauty” argument. There may be a cultural standard of beauty, but that is subjective. And most of all it is not the topic of discussion here. One does not have to be “pretty” to do one’s job, unless of course, one is a woman. This is the point you are arguing. As women we are not people with brains and talent, we’re some kind of window dressing for men, and only as valuable as men find us. That mindset is MISOGYNIST. You have stripped all women of their human value outside of their physical appearance. How is that NOT hateful?

    Allan Johnson: “Misogyny …. is a central part of sexist prejudice and ideology and, as such, is an important basis for the oppression of females in male-dominated societies. Misogyny is manifested in many different ways, from jokes to pornography to violence to the self-contempt women may be taught to feel toward their own bodies.”

    To shame someone because they aren’t what YOU think they should be is hateful, and that you think this is perfectly acceptable just because I’m a woman and you need to “educate” me to get my head out of the clouds makes your opinion irrelevant to me. You said it yourself. You’re never going to hesitate to tell me that men don’t want me because I’m heavy. Um, who asked you? Do you HONESTLY think that you or anyone else gets to determine my value or my worth but me? And what makes you so superior, giving you the right to do that?

    Oh, right. Because it’s the “truth.”

    It may be your truth. But it’s not mine.

    Newsflash: I don’t owe it to you or anyone else to be “pretty.”

    I don’t care if you don’t value me based on my weight, because I don’t value your opinion based on your superficial, neanderthal attitude. I prefer men who are strong and evolved enough to value women for more than a dress size or some number on the scale. I’m 43 years old and have been blessed to know that they exist. They’re not telling me they love me based on fear, they’re loving me because I’m lovable. You’re going to miss that because you think as a woman I’m here for your sexual gratification, and as such I owe it to you to be attractive. That’s your loss, frankly. I’m more than my weight, which – if you really want to be taken seriously for trolling my blog as if you had any valid points to make – you’d give the respect you somehow think you deserve.

    But ya didn’t.

    There are many reasons that obesity is skyrocketing, but it’s not because of fat acceptance. In reality the reasons are varied and complex, and the weight-obsessed/thin-obsessed media is an ACCOMPLICE to this, not a deterrent. Telling a newscaster it’s her fault girls are fat because she dares to be obese on TV is short-sighted and shameful. I’m telling you that shaming someone into losing weight only makes them fatter. The “standard of beauty” has gotten thinner and thinner and all it’s done is make people go to either one extreme or the other. Health should be the standard, but instead insecure girls are starving themselves to death to be a size 0 to appease the likes of men like you.

    I’m telling them they don’t have to. I already know that there are better men, kinder men, smarter men, braver men, who are secure enough in who they are they can accept others on the same level. They can love “for real,” and aren’t just dogs in heat looking for the next hot thing.

    The fact of the matter is, you can’t shame me because I do not accept your shame. I know this will probably shock you but I don’t care if you don’t think I’m pretty. I know you think just because I’m a woman I have this burning need you to love me, but honestly I’m kinda glad you’re so outspoken about your fat bias. My weight has the added benefit of being an asshole-deflector. I’m not going to get hooked up with some guy who would leave me the minute I gain a few extra pounds, or fall out of the narrow little definition he has of being “attractive.” I don’t live in fear of not being loved, because I accept and love MYSELF.

    As such I attract men who find me valuable based on the whole of me. The men who love me allow me to be me. You may be right there is a certain “standard” of beauty. But I prefer men who set their own standards. I want one in a million, not a dime a dozen.

    I feel sorry for you and for any woman who thinks that your limited value of women is OK. I’ve been there, and all it did was make me fatter and more miserable. Too bad you missed that too, since I spoke about it frankly and honestly in the blog. But like you said, because I am not thin and pretty, you don’t care about anything else I have to offer.

    Personally I think that’s far more shameful than my weight. Frankly the fact that you’ve had to come back and post under another (equally anonymous) moniker and faceless avatar proves that the one who owns the shame here is you.

  4. I know a few guys who prefer heavier women and have always dated them. They say they like a women they can hold on to and don’t care for the skeleton look. Great guys 🙂

    • When I first got onto the Internet in the 1990s, I tried to hide behind the anonymity and adopt the “perfect” thin persona in order to be accepted by men. The men that liked me? Well, let’s just say they weren’t Channing Tatum. When I finally “came out” as a BBW – I got hit on by really REALLY good looking men. It blew me away that the guys I was taught by society would never want me, were the ones who wanted me the most – the way I was. It was an important lesson I never forgot.

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