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.
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.
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.