Not At All Surprising Study Shows Fat Shaming is Bad; or, You Too Can Fight Shame Culture
Now, I’m not inclined to say “I told you so.”
Yesterday, a University College London study published in the journal Obesity suggested that “fat shaming doesn’t encourage weight loss.”
To let the experts explain, Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health) said “Our results show that weight discrimination does not encourage weight loss, and suggest that it may even exacerbate weight gain.
“Previous studies have found that people who experience discrimination report comfort eating. Stress responses to discrimination can increase appetite, particularly for unhealthy, energy-dense food.”
Hell – I know I’m not the only person who’s been told I’m fat/ugly/somehow not good enough and responded by spending the evening in the company of my good friends Ben and Jerry. For me, personally, every time I’d have an insult thrown at me – and bearing in mind I worked in customer service on the high street for 9 years, was depressingly often – my instinctive reaction would be one of two things.
More often than not, I’d just go straight for the inevitable – taking a tour around the supermarket to pick up a bag of cookies, a sandwich, some sweets, ice cream, hell – whatever I thought would numb it for that day.
But sometimes, I’d decide “I’m not going to be a fat girl any more,” and starve myself for a couple o’days.
Eventually, I’d go crazy with hunger and end up – you guessed it – back in the supermarket with a basket of carbs. Either way, it’s destructive, unhealthy, and pretty much guarantees weight gain, in the end.
And that’s not all. The doc continues: “Weight discrimination has also been shown to make people feel less confident about taking part in physical activity, so they tend to avoid it.”
Again, I’m talking from experience here. I lived across the road from my gym for three whole months before eventually wandering in, because I figured I’d be laughed out of there quicker than you can say “I need help.” Although for what it’s worth, in four years of being resident in various gyms, never have I experienced anyone calling me fat whilst exercising – presumably because hell, what are they going to say? “Get some exercise, fatty”? Shhh. I’m on it.
Now, I’m totally behind this study. I’m all for things about body shaming being proven by science, because it makes me feel like I know what I’m talking about, and gives me numbers and studies to refer people to when pulling ’em up on bad behaviour. But let’s face it – it’s not a shocker.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone with a soul that saying something mean to someone is likely to make them miserable – and that comfort comes in many forms, one of which is food. But I think it’s a tad narrow to say fat shaming is a free-standing issue, all by itself.
We live in a culture that’s relentlessly, ruthlessly focused on how women (and men) look. We judge health, attractiveness and, often, ability, on looks alone – with fat/thin being just one dichotomy on which we figure out a person’s value. We’re constantly in pursuit of perfection, a Photoshopped ideal that just doesn’t exist in the real world – and we beat ourselves and each other down when we fall short. That’s the world we’re in.
This study suggests that “everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment” – but personally, I think that’s only one part of the wider issue. What we really need to do is move away from shaming on a wider scale, and stop perpetuating the myth that how you look is what defines you.
But that’s not something that other people can change. It’s something every last one of us needs to take responsibility for, by thinking about what you say. We may never eradicate the Samantha Bricks, Linda Kelseys, and Katie Hopkinses (who I’m pretty sure the Daily Mail are incubating in some kind of evil laboratory); and women’s mags will no doubt continue to perpetuate endless bitchy comments (although I will continue to cross them out like so.)
But we can make the decision not to perpetuate it in our own lives. We can decide not to snark, or bitch, or shame – and we can make the choice to be one of those people who has a positive impact on the way other people feel about ourselves.
That kind of attitude has a knock-on effect on the way you feel about yourself, because when you see shame culture and negativity as the shallow, flimsy, bullsh*t construct that it is – and when you choose not to engage with it in your relationships with other people – it becomes much easier to negate it in your own life.
When you do that, it’s easier to place value on your own body for how it feels, rather than how it looks. For what it can do, rather than what it weighs; for the value it really has, rather than the semblance of value shame culture places on it.
The impact of that is twofold.
Firstly, you’ll feel better about yourself generally. You’ll stop internalising shame, and your internal monologue will move from one of negativity, to one that’s generally pretty positive.
And secondly, if you’re looking at your body as something with a real worth for you, and you alone, it’s easier to make healthy, positive decisions. To make good choices, to choose to eat real food because it makes you feel great, and to exercise because it brings you joy. Good health, as a reward in itself, will follow, and even if you don’t achieve the desperately impossible ideal of perfection – even if, like me, you find yourself stretch marked and saggy (but still god damn gorgeous) – you’ll have that happiness and security deep down that makes your experience of living a positive one.
It won’t solve the problem entirely – up against the junk food industry, the media, and the fact that some people are, and always will be, asshats, shaming will continue to happen.
But hell – fight the good fight. Do the good thing. Fight shaming, fat or otherwise, by being one of the awesome people who takes responsibility for it. Be a person that lives a good life that results in good health – and help others in the process.
Vive la god damn revolution, and thanks to science for giving me the opportunity to say…
Just kidding. Y’all know I’m right.