By now you’ve probably heard about Maria Kang. She gained fifteen minutes of fame when her Facebook picture of went viral. It featured Kang in a skimpy outfit with her three children and the headline, “What’s Your Excuse?”
Last week she was at it again. She posted a Facebook rant about a lingerie company who asked plus-sized women to post photos of themselves in lingerie to show what “real women” look like. Her comments were deemed “hate speech”. Her profile was removed from Facebook for 48 hours; it remains unclear if it was because of her words or a technical error. Regardless, Kang is a well-known fitness enthusiast who uses the tactic of “fat shaming”.
Fat shaming is aimed at making obese people feel so bad about their bodies that they are forced to eat healthier, exercise, and lose weight.
In early October, a website that calls itself a “men’s rights” arena hosted their annual fat shaming week and posted articles on how to shame women about their body weight. One of the site’s writers claims it’s a push back against the “fat acceptance” movement.
It’s not Ethical
The internet is a free reign canvas for anyone to say whatever they want. It’s possible to experience backlash, but it’s also a guaranteed way to “go viral”. It’s possible that Kang, the author of Fat Shaming Week and others are just seeking fame (…and it’s working).
But, if they were attacking any other group of people, would it be allowed? If Kang was going after a certain race or if the website was attacking a religion or sexual orientation, it would not be tolerated. However, bullying the obese is still an accepted practice.
It Doesn’t Work
The science shows all those hateful words don’t even work; they just make the problem worse. A large scale study spanning four years and consisting of over 6,000 people found someone was two and half times more likely to become obese if they experienced weight discrimination. If he/she was obese at the beginning of the study and experienced fat shaming, the participant was three times as likely to remain obese.
A second study of more than 1,500 people analyzed data related to aging and health over a ten year time period. Participants were asked whether they experienced any discrimination. The survey also asked if they felt somewhat overweight, very overweight or not overweight. Discrimination was most prevalent is participants who were moderately obese and severely obese compared to the non-obese. Those people who were victims of weight discrimination were five times as likely to also face a sharp decline in the ability to function daily: like climb stairs and carry everyday items. The obese who were not victims of weight discrimination were only twice as likely to lose functional abilities. So, physical issues aside… it’s the weight discrimination that played a role in losing the ability to function on a daily basis.
It Doesn’t Solve the Problem
The American Medical Association declared obesity a disease in June of 2013. This means insurance companies will have to recognize and pay for treatments related to obesity. It is well known that being obese or even overweight causes many physical problems, but no one seems to be addressing the actual issue of obesity.
There is a large psychological component to being overweight, remaining overweight or becoming obese. People in any one of these categories use food to deal with their stress, boredom, anger, loneliness and depression. The fat shaming just causes exacerbates all those feelings leading to more eating.
People in this position may lack the self-worth to try and make a change. They may be afraid to make a change and fear the attention that healthy fit body brings. They may not even know why they eat and why they can’t stop. But, the truth remains… obesity is just as much a psychological problem as it is a physical problem.
There is no reason to treat a person with a weight problem with disrespect. If a loved one had an alcohol addiction, you would seek treatment-- not make drinking jokes. If your friend was having trouble catching his breath and performing every day activities because he smoked, you would encourage him to quit-- not publically shame him. You wouldn’t tell someone who is clinically depressed to snap out of it and just move on. You would make sure she received the right care and medication. There are several national campaigns against cyber-bullying. But, for some reason it remains okay to bully the obese.
It Doesn’t Address the Issue
According to psychologists, the number one obstacle to weight loss is emotions. There is no quick fix for emotions and no medicine that is going to change how someone feels. When bullying or discriminating someone for their weight, you are just enhancing those negative emotions.
If you have a weight problem, you can seek out a psychologist or licensed therapist to talk through those feelings so you are able to begin a diet and/or exercise plan.
If you know someone who is overweight, attacking him/her is not going to solve the problem. Instead, become an active listener and help find other outlets for negative emotions. In most cases, it’s really none of your business he chooses to eat or how he decides to conduct his life.
The power to make a change (whether you are overweight, of normal weight or obese) comes from within. No one can convince you to make a change; you have to decide it’s something you want for yourself.
Have you experience or witnessed fat discrimination? Let us know what happened and how you reacted by emailing the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle Fescues writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com. Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.