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To Shame Or Not To Shame? ‘Fat’ Is The Question

American talk show host Bill Maher came under fire recently for suggesting that body shaming overweight people should make a “comeback” in order to combat obesity. “We have gone to this weird place where fat is good. It’s pointing out that fat is unhealthy, that’s what’s bad” Maher said. “Fat shaming doesn’t need to end. It needs to make a comeback. Some amount of shame is good.”

Well thanks for that, Bill.

Fat shaming, for those unfamiliar, is the act of humiliating an overweight or obese person through mocking or criticisms, it generally involves the fat shamer making prejudicial assumptions about a person based on their physical size.

We live in a world where being fat is one of the worst things you can be. I mean, it was only last week that we stopped advertising diet products to actual children. We are bombarded with media stories of the ‘obesity epidemic’ and the problems associated with childhood obesity on the daily. Fad diets are shoved down our throats and people in larger bodies are shamed on the cover of magazines. The media constantly portrays anyone inhabiting a larger body as stupid and lazy. The dieting industry pays millions of dollars to indoctrinate you (yes you!) into hating your body for profit and it’s gotten out of hand.  I can’t even begin to imagine how heavier people feel being exposed to this every day. It’s inescapable.

But does Maher have a point? Could fat-shaming be the answer to our prayers in solving the obesity problem?

Obesity rates in Ireland have absolutely soared in the last decade. Ireland now has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe, with one in four adults classed as obese and one in four children overweight. This is obviously a very serious problem. Being overweight or obese can cause a whole host of health issues like heart problems or even cancer but is shaming people the right way to go about it? Speaking out in support of Maher during the backlash was former professional baseball player, Kevin Youkilis. Mr Youkilis claimed that he owed his “whole entire career” to fat shaming as it inspired him to lose weight after being constantly overlooked by scouts.  But all the evidence points to the contrary. A study by behavioural scientists at University College London found rather than encouraging people to lose weight, fat shaming led people to put on more weight. It has been proven that weight bias and weight stigma impacts detrimentally on both physical and mental health.

Obesity and weight gain are really complex issues. PhD Researcher at Ulster University, Fiona Quigley says “obesity is not a choice. It is a condition which makes it very difficult to maintain a lower weight.”  It’s not always as simple as telling someone to eat healthy and exercise more, either. Genetics, hormones, the environment and the economy can all be factors in a person’s weight. Even if it is a simple case of the person needing to eat healthier and exercise more, that’s not an excuse to bully and shame them for it because overweight people are still people.

James Corden responded passionately to the remarks by Maher, “It’s proven that fat shaming only does one thing” he said. “It makes people feel ashamed and shame leads to depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviour – self-destructive behaviour like  vereating. If making fun of fat people made them lose weight, there’d be no fat kids in schools.”

The internet erupted in support for Corden, with many people who are or were once overweight speaking out about their experiences. Most seemed to agree that fat-shaming is mere bullying under the guise of “concern for your health” and we all know bullying is never
a positive addition to anyone’s life. A few others, including Piers Morgan sided with Maher: “We don’t just tolerate obesity, we celebrate it. We put people of 320 pounds on the covers of magazines and say well isn’t this empowering.” “Stop celebrating being massively overweight” said the controversial former newspaper editor.

Morgan is right, fat acceptance has gained traction over the past few years as a result of the wider body positivity movement.  This is a good thing. Body positivity means enjoying a positive body image no matter your shape and size. Bill and Piers, are you really telling me that fat people deserve to hate their bodies? Body positivity is about loving who you are, it’s about changing mindsets, and it’s about recovering from living in a culture that tells you there’s only one acceptable type of body. It’s important and it’s necessary  ecause nobody deserves to feel ashamed of who they are. It’s a big time for body positivity. Plus-size icons Lizzo and Barbie Ferreira made waves all summer in their revolutionising of fat acceptance and self-love. Larger people are finally seeing positive  epresentation of their bodies and fat acceptance in mainstream media and I think it’s about damn time.

Life is too short to hate who you are and it’s also too short to be so full of hate that you shame other people for who they are. Fat shaming doesn’t do anything. It’s not motivating, it’s not inspirational and it certainly doesn’t make fat people any less fat. “Some amount of shame” is never good, it’s psychologically damaging, and it needs to stop.