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Fat Shaming Doesn’t Help Victims “Get Skinnier”

If you’ve been unfortunate enough to read arguments in support of fat shaming, you’ve probably found that one of the most common claims regarding the arguments is that it somehow helps the victims. Yes, a degrading, horrible practice that is widely recognized as a leading cause of depression and anxiety disorders, is helpful to the victim. But the individuals in support of the claim go beyond this. Using some pseudo-philosophical pseudo-stoic reasoning, they say that the shaming and hardship the victims face will embolden them to “get skinny” and deter them from practices contributory to obesity, thereby making their health better. This seems to be an aspect of an overarching argument thrown against millennials: our generation is too delicate and lily-livered, so we must be made susceptible to hardship in order to succeed. Even if we were to hold this claim as an undeniable fact and turn away from the absurdity of assuming that an illness is entirely the victim’s fault, it is to note that their claim still doesn’t stand. Fat shaming is, in fact, counterproductive to helping obese people become ‘skinnier’ and may instead make obese people more prone to diseases and health issues, including multiple metabolic and heart diseases.

Past studies published in research journals such as JAMA Psychiatry have already proven the idea that individuals who face fat shaming are influenced by the opinions of their peers about their weight and may develop an image or view of themselves accordingly. The implication of these findings is that victims internalize the insults thrown against them as accurate representations of who they are. This is significant when peers legitimize their views, alongside the fact that being biased about weight is still very socially acceptable. The result, hence, is severe: victims are prone to suffering a self-fulfilling prophecy. They are more likely to resign to the idea that the negative image of ‘being fat’ is an inescapable form of their identity.

Studies have already proven that there is a strong correlation between fat shaming and illnesses such as depression and social anxiety. Depressed and socially anxious victims will not, for example, engage in activities that society deems acceptable, such as going to the gym to reduce their weight, or going out and doing some physical exercise such as swimming, because of the fear that they will be stigmatized for their weight. Fat-shamed individuals might, therefore, feel socially isolated from the rest of the social community, resulting in a reinforcement of the self-fulfilling prophecy that originally caused the problem. Empirical evidence for this can be found in research that shows how body-shamed people tend to become more obese over time instead of becoming skinny. Hence, this is a vicious cycle perpetuated by the fact society enforces an end goal but provides no means to attain it.

Note that this isn’t simply an abstract psychological effect that can’t be measured- it has very visible physical effects. Victims suffering severe isolation are much likelier to behave in self-harming behavior, including suicide, as compared to skinny people who are less prone to stigmatization. At the same time, the resulting physical effects can be indirect too, but equally harmful. A new study in the journal Obesity shows that victims who internalize the insults the most tend to have a greater probability of being prone to diseases. Talking about the research, the researcher revealed “The data revealed that people who reported higher levels of weight bias internalization were three times more likely to have metabolic syndrome than people who reported low levels of weight bias internalization… People who felt the most stigmatized were also six times more likely to have high triglyceride levels,” indicating that there is a high correlation between heart and metabolic diseases and weight bias internalization. This can be accounted for in the levels of stress, social isolation, and alienation from healthier activities that victims face.

There is one more danger to the health of victims who face abuse, coming directly from medical professionals themselves. Doctors who ascribe to the idea that fat shaming can be motivational tend to overlook significant symptoms and potential diseases the obese individual might face. In one study, it was deduced that fat shamed victims are 1.69 times more likely to suffer from “undiagnosed medical conditions (e.g., endocarditis, ischemic bowel disease or lung carcinoma), indicating misdiagnosis or inadequate access to health care”. This can attributed to the fact that doctors regard most of the victim’s problems as a result of their obesity, something the doctors feel they can ‘motivate’ them to work on. Another possible cause is the microaggressions that doctors subject obese patients to. A simple ‘tsk’ when a doctor is measuring the weight of the obese individual can go a long way in affecting the victim’s mindset, deterring them from attempting to go to the doctor in the future. Hence, fat shamed victims are prevented from utilizing the only recourse that they have to their situation.

Given all of this, it is absurd to consider how prevalent the ‘motivational’ claim is in modern society, considering the fact that there is so much evidence that exists to the contrary. The effects of this claim, however, are detrimental. The quality of life, the mental state, and even the direct physical condition of victims of fat shaming is contingent upon how many people believe this claim. Sadly, social acceptance of this view is still widely present, despite the fact that there have been amazing strides in popular discourse against this idea (the condemnation of the people who ridiculed an obese person trying to dance is an amazing example). In sight of all of this, it is vital that this claim is tackled: the lives of some individuals may depend on it.

Photo: Channel 4

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I spend my free time listening to obscure 1960's rock bands that, sadly, never made it. Also 18 year old Pakistani finishing his last year of high school!

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