Why Do People Fat Shame? Perhaps They Don’t Know Any Better

Why Do People Fat Shame?None of us would knowingly walk up to someone and say “Hey, you are a big fat pig!” But we often fat shame without even realizing it. Why do people fat shame? Maybe they don’t realize that by trying to be sensitive to a person’s self-image, that they are making the situation worse. Maybe they are subconsciously trying to make themselves feel better about themselves by demeaning others. Maybe they really are trying to compliment a fat person, but put their foot in their mouth instead. I looked into fat shaming, because it’s been in the news lately, and here is what I have found.

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What is Fat Shaming?

Fat Shaming is the action or practice of humiliating someone judged to be fat or overweight by making mocking or critical comments about their size. “The star endured fat shaming and cyber-bullying for the weight she gained while pregnant” This is from Google Dictionary

Retail Fat Shaming

This week, Macy’s and Forever21 are catching a lot for flak for unintentional fat shaming.

Writer and CBS correspondent Alie Ward called out Macy’s in a Sunday tweet for selling plates printed with three concentric circles that outlined portion sizes, with “skinny jeans” in the smallest ring, and “mom jeans” in the widest one. Her tweeted photo with the caption “How can I get these plates from Macy’s banned in all 50 states” has drawn almost 6,000 retweets, and the thousands of comments include many complaints along the lines of this one: “Macy’s just casually promoting eating disorders and body shaming.”

Macy’s, with shares down 22.7% from the start of the year, responded to Ward directly on Twitter that very night, noting that it was removing the plate, and writing that, “[we] agree that we missed the mark on this product.”

Why Do People Fat Shame?

Forever 21 has also had to apologize for offending customers this week after it packed low-carb Atkins bars in their shipments. Several shoppers accused the retailer of including the unsolicited diet products in online orders for plus-size clothing in particular, although the company confirmed to Shape Magazine that the Atkins bars went to all online customers as a free test product. The retailer added in a statement that it has removed the bars from future packages, and “we sincerely apologize for any offense this may have caused to our customers.”

Why Do People Fat Shame?

From Market Watch

You can see that this is a little different from INTENTIONAL fat shaming, like the ridicule Nike received for using plus size mannequins in their stores, or Gillette using an obese model in a swim suit for their advertising. They got criticized for “promoting an unhealthy lifestyle”. What they were really doing was paying attention to their real customers, and not jumping on the fat shaming, status quo band wagon of the “skinny is beautiful/fat is ugly” mega-dieting pop culture.

Harmful Effects of Fat Shaming

  • Depression. People who are discriminated against due to weight are at a higher risk of depression and other mental issues.
  • Eating disorders. Fat shaming is linked to an increased risk of eating disorders, such as binge eating.
  • Reduced self-esteem. Fat shaming is linked to reduced self-esteem.
  • Others. By causing stress, weight gain, increased cortisol levels, and mental problems, weight discrimination may raise your risk of various chronic diseases.
  • Risk of Suicide. Of course with a risk of more depression, there is a higher risk of suicide.
  • Causes Overweight People to Eat More. Studies show that when you have poor self-esteem from being fat, and food is your comfort zone, you will likely comfort yourself by eating, and enter into the vicious cycle of hating yourself for eating, and eating because you hate yourself.
  • Linked to increased risk of obesity. Studies have also shown that fat shaming puts you at higher risk for obesity because of all the issues above.

This is from Healthline

Why Do People Fat Shame?Body Shaming Disgraceful One-Liners

  • I feel so fat and ugly today. Implies that fat and ugly are one and the same.
  • Should you really be eating that? It’s nobody’s damn business who is eating what. Eat what you want. It’s kind of like telling a vegetarian to “Eat a hamburger” because they look to skinny.
  • You might be more comfortable in something a little less figure-hugging. Implies that what you are wearing is unacceptable for a fat person.
  • You’re not fat, you’re beautiful. Implies you can’t be both.
  • “You’re so brave” for exercising or wearing certain clothes. Why? Because our fat shaming culture thinks I shouldn’t be showing my fat self at a gym, or wearing revealing clothing? Is a “normal” sized person brave for being at the gym or wearing a revealing outfit?
  • Do I look fat? Again, implying that “fat” is “bad”.
  • Real women have curves. All women are REAL women, the skinny, the fat, the short, the tall.
  • Have you lost weight? You look great! Implies that you looked like crap before when you were fatter.
  • You have such a pretty face for your size. This is typically just sneaky fat-shaming.
  • You’re so lucky you can eat whatever you want. More crapola from the diet culture.
  • You look so skinny in that! Implies once again that you look fat in other clothing, and therefore “bad” in other clothing.

Fat Shaming Attitudes and Demeanors

Fake Concern: Just worried about my health.

Mock Surprise: This is a good one… People are surprised that a fat person like me could attract a hot looking hunk of a husband that I have. How could that possibly be when I’m so fat?

The Wanna Be Wardrobe Expert: Thin people telling fat people what they should wear and how they should wear it.

The (unqualified) Dietitian: Fat shaming by telling me what I should and shouldn’t eat.

The (unqualified) Exercise Trainer: Always being told that I should get up and get moving, that I should get outside, that I should walk 30 minutes per day.

Why Do People Fat Shame?How to Stop Fat Shaming

  • Do not use the phrases “you should” or “you shouldn’t.” You should wear this, you shouldn’t eat that. You are not their mother!
  • Do not use backhanded complements. “You have a pretty face for someone your size” No, just say you have a pretty face.
  • Do not give diet, exercise, or health advice unless asked for it. PERIOD.
  • Stop using the word “fat” as a bad thing. In fact, try to take FAT out of your vocabulary altogether.
  • Everyone is beautiful in their own way. Don’t say “you LOOK beautiful”, say “you ARE beautiful.”
  • Make your complements less about looks. Say “I like how you handled that phone call.” “Your desk is so neat and organized!” “You are a good friend.” “You really smacked down that room full of engineers by stating that regulation!”
  • Avoid putting adjectives in your complements. Instead of saying “that dress is flattering, pretty, etc.” say, “I love your dress!” Then you can be specific about the dress, “I love the color and I love the cool buttons!” “You have great taste in clothes.”
  • Be genuine. Avoid being fake. Be sincere.
  • Use the “Golden Rule”. Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Why Do People Fat Shame?How To Change the Fat Shamers

Change the subject. Depending on how well you know and/or like the person, you can make the subject change obvious or subtle. When they say “A person your size should not wear that dress,” you say, “Speaking of dresses, did you see the sale at Target?” Or pointedly say, “Wow we are having nice weather today!”

Give it right back. Don’t let them get away with it. When they say, “Should you be eating that big fat hamburger?” Say, “Should you be eating that salad? Have you heard about the increased amounts of salmonella in the lettuce crops these days?”

Rephrase the “compliment” and say it back to them. When they hear how silly their logic is, they might be more careful about what they say. When they say, “You have a pretty face for someone your size.” You say, “Are people my size not supposed to have pretty faces?”

Ignore it. The ugly, on-purpose shaming should be ignored. Why stoop to their level? Why allow them to think that what they said bothers you? If you blow it off, they are less likely to keep it up.

Tell the person how you feel. If it’s someone you really care about, take them aside and say, “I feel sad/hurt/self-conscious/etc. when you say I’m a jolly little elf/cute for a fat person/etc. Please stop calling me a jolly little elf/cute for a fat person.” (Can you believe my doctor, many years ago, said I was a jolly little elf? I had to tell him to stop it.)

Educate people. Tell them that what they are saying is fat shaming. Your friends and family will understand and hopefully change their habits.

Why Do People Fat Shame?In Conclusion

People can say some really stupid things. We are all guilty of saying something dumb at the wrong time. Try to be more mindful of what you say to one-another. I would say that 90% of us mean well by what we say to people. So, by the same measure, cut each other some slack One could very easily twist everything into a fat shaming episode. That’s just not the case. Be brave and shed light on it, but also grow a thick skin. And try not to do it yourself.

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Please leave your comments and questions below, and thank you for reading!

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  1. Shane Fegan

    This is a sensitive topic, and one that I was exposed to at an early age and saw many times during my school years.

    To my mind, fat-shaming is often a deflection tool for those doing the shaming, to cover up their own insecurities.

    Quite often, it can reflect that individuals fractured lifestyle at home, broken family, poor upbringing, etc.

    However, it can also be a bit of a spoilt brat tool as well, to influence others and exert playground power over followers.

    Nowadays, with the amount of online focus, shopping catered for people of all shapes and sizes, companies that hint at anything resembling fat-shaming stand out from the crowd and tend to be made accountable, which is great.

    • RhondaLeigh

      Great points, Shane.  Too, it seems like the companies that are trying to embrace real size inclusivity are being fat shamed themselves.  Look at the social media uproar that Nike took for its plus size mannequins?  And the same for Gillette using an obese swimsuit model.  Those companies will be glad they came down on the right side of this, since plus size women will spend $20 Billion on clothing in the next few years.  Thank you for reading and commenting!  RhondaLeigh  

  2. My Daily Pointers

    I have always been a curvy woman.  Puberty hit and BAM!  I had hips!  It was often a struggle for me growing up because I felt that I was being judged because of my weight and not by my personality or talents or skills.
    It wasn’t until I was in my mid 30’s that I realized I can rock this body!  Now I make it my mission to help other young women out there feel good about themselves no matter what.  That they are more than a few extra pounds,  that they are beautiful and smart and talented and have somuch to give to the world! 

    I HAVE fat.  I am NOT fat.  There is a difference.

    • RhondaLeigh

      I like that…can I quote you?  I have fat, I am not fat.  It is my mission also to help women like myself to look in the mirror and say, Hey!  I look like a million bucks!  I want women to put all that body image and culture conditioning aside and let the joy of living come through.  Thanks, Daily Pointers, for your point today!  RhondaLeigh

  3. Anthony Hu

    Thank you for your post. You educate us about fat shame, which I am not aware of. It is not right to say someone “Hey, you are a big fat pig”. Certainly the retail fat shaming should be banned. As described in your article, there are so many harmful effects of fat shaming, which is not good to individuals and entire society.

    The causes of fat are so many. There are genetic and illness, which are beyond individual’s control. It is so nice that you provide detailed procedures on how to stop fat shaming and how to change the fat shamers. We need to work together make this world a nicer one.

    It is kind of you sharing this useful information. 

    • RhondaLeigh

      Anthony, I totally agree with you that we need to work together for a better world.  It comes down to the Golden Rule;  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  If we all take that to heart, and act out of love instead of hate, things will get better in our world.  Thanks for reading and commenting!  RhondaLeigh

  4. Feochadan

    That Macy’s plate made it onto network news up here in Canada.  I couldn’t believe that they would think that putting something like that out would EVER be the least bit funny or acceptable in any way.  Many of the phrases you used, I have heard many times by well intentioned people.

    I am so very glad to see you do a blog on how this effects the obese person.  Hollywood is much to blame as the pretty/skinny person is always seen as the “good guy/gal”, whereas the overweight person often in a much dimmer light.  We are bombarded with this attitude from all sides and it needs to STOP.

    I very much appreciated your comments near the end as to what to say to such people and also how non-fat people should be phrasing their complements.  This is a true help in our society when people just don’t think of how their words can hurt and the negative effects it has on an overweight persons’s mental health.

    Well done!

    • RhondaLeigh

      Hi Feochadan, thank you so much for reading my post.  I agree with you.  In researching this post, I saw so many awful things people say to each other.  It can really be harmful to both parties!  People need to think about the effects of what they say.  Thanks again for reading and commenting!  RhondaLeigh

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