Does Fat Shaming Work?

by Lauren Tharp
by Lauren Tharp

Fat shaming is the act of shaming an obese individual in an effort to make them lose weight.

Does it work?

Yes and no.

Mostly no.

As a fat woman myself, who’s making an effort to get healthier, I fully believe that the first step toward making any progress with weight loss is to first admit you’re fat.

Using cutesy euphemisms for your obesity isn’t doing you any favors in the long run. It’s just helping your brain to “accept” you as you are. And the way you are – if you’re truly fat (like I am!) – isn’t healthy.

It’s the same with any major hurdle we have to get over. First, we have to admit there’s a problem that needs to be solved.

For example, an alcoholic’s first step on the road to recovery is admitting that they’re an alcoholic. That their lifestyle is unhealthy. Why should it be any different for we, the obese? We need to recognize that our abundance of weight is a health issue – we need to admit that we are, indeed, FAT.

But that’s about as far as “fat shaming” actually works.

The issue with fat shaming isn’t being aware of our fat: it’s the shame.

Shame Isn’t an Effective Weight Loss Motivator

Honestly, why would shame be considered effective? Has it ever been effective?

Let me put it this way: when training a dog, positive reinforcement is the most effective method. Why would “training” a human – the greatest animal on earth – be that much different?

I, too, am not excluded from the fat shaming phenomenon.

While most people are complimentary of my looks (which is great, considering how darn hard I work to look good, no matter what my size is!), there have also been times when people – some of whom were friends! – took it upon themselves to shame me into losing weight.

I have been called “disgusting” to my face in regard to my body’s size. And while I was able to brush it off in the moment, I hate to admit that I later retreated to my bedroom and cried my eyes out.

But why doesn’t fat shaming work…?

The answer is stupidly simple: it makes the person feel terrible. And when have you ever felt like bettering yourself when you feel terrible?

To continue to point out the obvious here: most obese individuals also suffer from some form of depression. And shaming them makes that depression worse. In fact, in worst case scenarios, fat shaming can drive obese individuals to suicide, or, in some cases, give them a heart attack!

There Must be a Better Way

I’m not saying that obese individuals need to be handled with kid gloves. Speaking for myself, and for my chunky compadres: we’re just as strong and independent as the rest of you “normal”-sized people!

A little gentle ribbing is fine. Heck, you know we gently tease you about your rail thinness!

The problem comes when you get downright mean. When you bully us.

It’s a matter of basic human decency. Whatever happened to the “Golden Rule?” Treat others the way you would like to be treated! Would you want someone to outright harass you, to your face, over something you can’t immediately change?

I know. I know. Some of you genuinely care about us. Our weight worries you. You recognize that we’re unhealthy and you want to help! And that’s fine – great even! – but the way you help really does matter.

Look at the difference between these two sentences:

  • “You’re disgusting! Lose some freakin’ weight, you lazy slob! Why are you so fat?!”
  • “You’ve put on some extra pounds, and I’m concerned for your health. I want you to live forever! Is there any way I can help you make positive changes…?”

Both of those sentences were actually said to me personally. And both of those sentences basically say the same thing. But the second one was definitely more helpful and motivating.

You may have been told, perhaps even by a celebrity you admire, that “fat shaming works.” It doesn’t.

Fat acceptance doesn’t work either though. When you “accept” that obesity is “fine,” you’re an enabler. You might be kind in the moment, but, in the long run, you’re only “helping” your friend step into an early grave.

You absolutely MUST acknowledge obesity as a problem – you just don’t have to be cruel about it.

So What IS Helpful Then?

After you recognize and accept that you are, indeed, fat – whether you come to this conclusion on your own, or whether it was (hopefully gently) pointed out by a friend – it’s time to figure out why.

As I mentioned earlier, most obese individuals suffer from some type of depression, whether it’s a passing phase or a chronic mental illness.

I, myself, have Major Depression (among other things). But what really triggered my MASSIVE weight gain was being raped in 2008. I packed on the pounds like you wouldn’t believe! It was partly due to depression-induced stress/comfort eating, and partly a defense mechanism (I subconsciously wanted to make myself “unattractive” so that I wouldn’t be in danger from the advances of men).

It wasn’t until I underwent therapy and figured out why I was fat that I decided to make positive changes to my health.

Deal with your “why” first, then deal with the weight.

Mental blocks are the hardest. Physical blocks? Those can be overcome with effort and patience. Physical challenges are nothing compared to mental ones. They’re practically “easy” by comparison!

After that, it’s just a matter of making simple lifestyle changes. Eat well. Control your portions. Get some exercise in when you’re able. BAM! You’re on your way!!

Don’t expect to go from a size 28 to a size 8 overnight. It’s not gonna happen. Healthy weight loss takes as much time as it does effort.

Make your friends aware of this too. Let them know that you are trying to lose weight, but that it won’t happen instantly.

But make sure you actually DO try. Don’t just say “I’m trying” and then sit on the couch all day every day, bag of chips in hand. YOU have to make the effort.

Don’t expect your friends and family to be understanding and kind if YOU aren’t actually putting in the effort.

If you ARE putting in the effort, and making healthy, positive, changes to your weight, then I salute you! And your friends and family likely will too. Even if your progress is slow.

Most people who “fat shame” do so because they want to motivate you toward making those slow-yet-positive changes. They’re just doing so in the most negative way imaginable. They heard it works! They were lied to. Correct them, forgive them, and then tell them how they can actually support you.

Fat is a temporary condition, if you want it to be. You absolutely CAN make yourself healthier. A long, healthy, life CAN be in your future.

But, in the meantime, remember that you don’t HAVE to look “frumpy” just because you’re fat. I wrote an article about how you can look great – even as a larger individual – HERE. Don’t give into the temptation to live up to the “fat slob” stereotype!

Look great while you’re working toward your goals. Look even better after you succeed.

I believe in you.

And, if someone tries to shame you, feel free to point them to this article. I’ll set them straight.

This article was originally published on fashion