Politics is a nasty world. People constantly sling mud at each other, and with the invention of social media, increasingly angry and hysterical voices around the globe are chiming in with their two cents. Ironically, that is exactly what we are going to do now. However, this is an issue that is the realm of the fitness world. This is an issue where people who have mastered their health need to be involved. The issue? Fat shaming and body positivity.
What is “Fat Shaming”?
As with many things that are fiercely debated online, there are differing ideas as to what “fat shaming” generally is. According to MacMillan dictionary it is:
“Unkind and usually public criticism of someone for being overweight.”
The term is bandied around by all sorts of people, and internet outrage is aplenty around this subject. Famous fat shaming incidents include taking photos of overweight people in the gym and putting it online. Others include en masse harassment of overweight people via social media. Milo Yiannopoulos, a self proclaimed provocateur and easily the most erudite of all fat shaming advocates, claims that fat shaming is compassionate at its core.
What Is Body Positivity?
The definition is:
“A feminist movement that encourages people to adopt more forgiving and affirming attitudes towards their bodies, with the goal of improving overall health and well-being.”
The term body positivity has been conflated with many other movements, these include the fat feminist movement and fat acceptance movement. The body positivity movement can be seen as an attempt to extricate the negative feeling associated with being overweight in an attempt to remedy the situation in a positive way. It attempts to see the mental health implications of negative reinforcement, and treat the problem holistically.
Why Body Positivity Might Not Be So Positive
As mentioned, the term body positivity has become a use all phrase for trends that are harmful to health. Whilst it is absolutely true that the mental health of a person can be harmed by negativity, name calling etc, the simple fact remains that being overweight is bad for you.
The fat acceptance movement uses some dubious scientific claims that being obese can be healthy. This claim is flimsy at best, and only says that some obese people have normal levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, fasting glucose levels and insulin resistance. All other studies show that this may be true temporarily, but it will not last. It just means there are obese people who, right now, are not that unhealthy. This doesn’t prove much.
Carrying excess body fat leads to a huge amount of health problems and an earlier death, this is almost indisputable. This is the simple reason why the body positive culture is not right. Being overweight is bad for you, and it is in your own interests to remedy that situation. Feeling good about yourself is fantastic, but you should not prioritize that to the risk of your physical well being. Misusing studies to disavow a scientific consensus isn’t going to end well.
Yes, pressuring people to look a certain way isn’t going to work, since people all look different. However, pressuring people to be healthy is only in their benefit. And that really is the aim here. Body positivity needs to be propagated upon the fact that carrying too much fat is really, really bad for you. This however, doesn’t lead logically to “Fat Shaming”.
Why Fat Shaming Is Stupid Too
The problem with this “solution” to obesity seems to be in the confused nature of the tactic. On the one hand, extremely provocative language is used, “fatties”, “whales”, “hambeasts” etc, then secondly it is claimed it is all done out of pure compassion.
For this to be anything more than just mean spiritedness, the claim that derogatory language works has to be backed up.
The aforementioned Milo Yiannopoulos mentions in this article that
“desire to improve self-worth” was one of the most important motivating factors encouraging people to lose weight.
While that is obviously a true and verifiable statement, it does nothing to address the methods of fat shaming. Aside from a few anecdotal examples of people who were bullied and decided to lose weight, there is little to no evidence that the method of bullying, name calling or public criticism helps at all. Here are two studies to confirm that the opposite might happen, here and here.
Simply put, even if fat shaming does come from a place of compassion, the methods used aren’t proven anywhere. This then leaves everyone with the distinct impression that you enjoy calling someone names. To make the jump from not condoning being fat to verbal abuse is a stretch. So, for us to agree that fat shaming is good, there first needs to be conclusive evidence of the methods. Of course, we can blame the liberal sciences for not researching this properly, but that does nothing to prove that it works.
To add a simple observation to this, think to another point in your life where a stranger calling you names has motivated you to make a positive change?
The prescribed method for creating change in someone’s life is never to hurl abuse at them. Why is losing weight any different?
If you want to claim that it is the best method, fine, but until it’s proven, it is just espousing a possibly false method that can have negative consequences. If helping people is the main concern of “fat shamers” then maybe they should start acting accordingly.
What Should Be Done
As we have seen, what has emerged is a predictable set of extremes that are both loud, angry and wrong. As is generally the case with debate on the internet, subtlety seems to be dead, and a desire to fix any problems is buried with it. So what needs to be addressed?
Who Should ‘Fat Shame’?
According to this report, doctors are being told to have a frank discussion with their patients about their weight. This makes perfect sense. Being obese is a health issue, just like smoking or over drinking, and your doctor took the Hippocratic oath to inform you that you are killing yourself.
Another route that is backed up by studies is that family members should form a positive framework where you are encouraged to control your health. If you have an overweight family member, it is in their best interests to be healthy, so by being encouraging and supportive, you can assist them in that journey.
This is where doctors and family members should not tread on eggshells in the fear of offending their patient/family member. As mentioned above, insults aren’t proven to work, but help, honesty and education can.
Most Diets Are Bad
The food that is available in the shops is generally filled with crap. This isn’t a revelation, we all know it, the industry knows it, but everyone keeps eating it. Although with the organic movement, and many other healthy food conscious people gaining ground people are becoming more aware of what they are eating.
The bottom line is that in general, most people are horribly uneducated about food. They don’t know what macros are, they don’t know how to track calories, and vegetables are something that go on pizza. Educating people about how to eat, teaching them from childhood has to be implemented if the obesity epidemic is going to be tackled.
The problem is that eating sugary and processed foods is addictive. Brain scans confirm this, so we should therefore tackle this “food addiction” with the same virulence that any other addiction is tackled. If we go the extreme example, calling a heroin addict names or telling him heroin isn’t harmful won’t work. However, rehab, support and education, these help. The core principle remains the same, teach yourself and your children the basic tenants of nutrition to live a healthy lifestyle.
No one knows how to exercise
This is another thing we are not taught. Echoing the points above, educating people on the benefits of exercise, and the right ways to do it is of paramount importance. Learn how to exercise, teach everyone you can.
Stop Politicizing Everything
It makes sense that we study societal pressures upon individuals. It is clear that society can influence us negatively. However, in this situation, analysis, rhetoric and college campus debates solve nothing. Figures like 70-75% of people are overweight are common now.
These are the facts, and it must be faced. To wait around for governmental initiatives, or for the attitudes of people to change is useless. There are real steps that can be taken now. If you have close family members or friends who are overweight, then offering your help is the way to solve this problem. Calling them names or ignoring the problem is not going to help.
To conclude, fat shaming and body positivity is another in the list of fruitless stances taken by internet celebrities. Turn these debates off, they are not helping anyone. Instead, focus on yourself, your family and your friends. Be positive, up building, and help people to create a healthier life for themselves.