Wednesday, January 27, 2021

How effective is “fat shaming” in gaining health?

January 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Body Image, Eating Disorders, HAES, Obesity

While preparing to read this article I took many deep breaths and prepared my research to help promote an honest, respectful, heart centered dialog to get answers to the question; How effective is “fat shaming” in gaining health?

Why the deep breaths? Well, I remember when many people felt it was okay to use the offensive “N” word to describe black people. (Yes, I’m THAT old.) And, once the world changed and that became totally unacceptable, many folks have admitted how ashamed they are to have ever used that word. Well, that is how I feel that I ever believed: A. Fat = Unhealthy and B. Fat shaming is a useful, effective and non-cruel way to “help” people gain health. I no longer believe either of those statements.

Here is the article my fellow eating disorders activists/advocates posted on Facebook today,

Fat-shaming may curb obesity, bioethicist says

So Daniel Callahan in his paper in the Hastings Center Report, is trying to find a solution to help obese people be healthier and he feels that shaming will help them be healthier and lose weight (which he equates with better health). I’m glad he wants to help obese people be healthier but I don’t believe shaming anyone is going to create more health for them, and he is assuming that all obese people are unhealthy.

Having studied eating disorders for about 13 years now I’ve changed my perspective a LOT about the role of fat in health as well as my perspective on what helps “fat” people to GAIN health (not to “lose weight”). Why do I care? I have been the parent of a child with an eating disorder for over 13 years now. She got lots of messages (even at birth when the anesthesiologist called her “thunder thighs”) that her larger body (which is genetically just exactly as it is meant to be) was not okay and needed to be smaller to be healthy. These messages did exactly what the science says it will do – they backfired and she got less healthy in many ways. The causes of developing a life threatening eating disorder are not clearly known. It is believed that for those with the biological pre-disposition that dieting and body shaming can be contributing factors.

As her mom I trusted the doctors that she needed to be “thinner” to be healthy. I have since learned that this is in fact not true. That is something that many reading this will likely take issue with.  Before you start hollering at me saying things like, “But what about heart disease?  What about diabetes?” Obesity is not an illness.  Please read some of the websites I’m sharing below.

In studying, I found the science to help change my thinking. From the ASDAH site you can read studies that back up statements such as these:

  • “Multiple studies are suggesting that a focus on weight as a health criterion is often misdirected and harmful.”
  • “Singling out larger children and youth for weight-related interventions in schools increases both anxiety for the child and stigmatization, prejudice, and harassment towards the child.”

And from The Body Positive site:

Current treatments can cause health problems, e.g., dieters are more likely to binge; weight cyclers are more likely to develop hypertension; as a population, the more we diet, the fatter we get (iatrogenic issue).

After you have read through both of those sites then we can have a respectful discussion.  Please look at the science.  When Galileo said the world was not flat everyone thought he was crazy.  When Bill Gates said he wanted a computer on every desk in America, people thought he was nuts. Please consider that there is so much we do not yet know.

As a follow-up on this article, I am happy to report that Chevese Turner, Founder of The Binge Eating Disorder Association has extended an invitation to Daniel Callahan to attend the 2013 Binge Eating Disorder Conference. And he is considering attending.  You can see her Facebook Post here.

Thank you for opening your mind and considering the possibilites.

Becky Henry

Hope Network, LLC

It is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar. ~ Anis Nin. 1949


One Response to “How effective is “fat shaming” in gaining health?”
  1. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that shaming people into weight loss is effective and it actually does improve health. I’m pretty sure that most people would agree, and psychological studies would support, the idea that shaming and stigmatizing are mentally destructive actions that lead to feelings of self-loathing and low self-esteem. However, let’s say these aggressive and psychologically corrosive tactics are effective and we have a thinner, healthier lot of people who society smiles upon the more appropriate appearance of.

    The question is, and you’d think a “bioethicist” would be addressing this, is it ethical to essentially bully people into conforming for the sake of society? Further, let’s assume the answer is “yes” and we decide that the ends justify the means.

    The logical extension of this would be that anything we do which is abusive in order to whip people into a more socially acceptable and less costly state would now be fair game. Is it okay to lock up, browbeat, and relentlessly punish children with ADHD in order to reduce the added costs to society of dealing with them? I’m pretty sure that would be effective in the long run and it’d be a lot less trouble than trying to find effective means of teaching and treating them.

    Mr. Callahn uses the example of smoking to justify his viewpoint, but smoking wasn’t vilified or bullied into submission because people cared about the effect on the smoker. Rather, it was done because secondhand smoke is noxious and irritating to those around the smoker. While people may not like the look of fat people, they aren’t at risk of gaining weight by being in proximity to them (unlike those near secondhand smoke). If my overeating made other people fat, he’d have a point. However, it’s a thin analogy at best and a weak justification for calling a posse to form an anti-obesity lynch mob.

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