Fattertainment: Body Shaming for Fun and Profit

In movies and on TV nowadays, you very rarely see people being made fun of at the expense of their race or gender. Sexual orientation is improving too, though decidedly not as much. You know who are still hilarious, despite the passage of time and the supposed increased levels of sensitivity? Fat people. We’re so hilarious that it has become deleterious to our mental health.

Ha! Look at that fat boy! He just can’t stop eating! He’s so fat he got stuck in a pipe! Now he’s going to be boiled alive for his gluttony. Let’s sing about him! Hilarious.

Look at that kid, performing for his friends. His existence is amusing enough. He’s lucky to have such normal friends who can really appreciate his body for what it is. Hilarious.

I see what he did there! That used to be an actual song about someone who stuck up for himself and stood his ground. Now that he’s fat, I guess the only think left to sing about is sandwiches. Hilarious.

Speaking of sandwiches, did you know that the only time a fat person can joyfully express their fatness in dance is while they are eating? Unfortunately, we become quickly out of breath and collapse to the ground. Hilarious.

What’s wrong, Shiloh? Can’t you take a joke? Why are you so sensitive?

Guess what, folks? I have SCIENCE on my side. Science that says this pervasive media blitz of fat shaming DOES BAD THINGS.

There is such a thing as fat stigma. It is when people are blamed for being fat because they are lazy, or don’t care about themselves or their health. The same thing happened to those infected with HIV/AIDS in the 80’s and 90’s. People were blamed for a condition that they had no control over. Not just blamed, but VILIFIED. HIV positive is synonymous with “lesser” in the same way fat or plus-sized is.

A recent study has revealed several important facts. First, assumptions about why people are overweight translate into negative attitudes about the people themselves. Secondly, these negative attitudes lead to discrimination, and verbal and physical bullying. Lastly, these misperceptions have deleterious psychological consequences, including depression and decreased life-satisfaction. Fat stigma extends past the internal experience; overweight people are more likely to experience employment discrimination, and have problems with personal relationships. They are even more likely to receive sub-standard healthcare. Overweight people who are stigmatized and experience discrimination are 2.5 times more likely to become obese when compared to people who were not victimized for their weight. People who started the study obese were 3 times more likely to stay obese when subjected to fat stigma.

These problems start early in our lives. Caregivers often provide kids with confusing messages. I myself was always required to clear my plate. My husband had to eat quickly, because if he didn’t he wouldn’t get the same amount of food as his sister. My grandma got me a Spanx-like control-top pair of shorts to wear under a dress when I was 11, so I wouldn’t look “bulgy”, and was constantly telling me to slow down and chew my food. Don’t get me wrong, my grandma was the raddest old lady, kind and compassionate; she was just parroting societal norms.

Social media reinforces these societal norms, as evidenced by the earlier videos. Another article from the American Journal for Public Health breaks it down into numbers. When examining primetime TV shows, heavier characters are less likely to have positive interactions with other characters. For women, 32% of women categorized as heavy have positive interactions, compared to 51% of characters labeled as thin. The numbers for men look similar. Besides interactions, overweight characters are portrayed as less attractive, less competent, less polite, and less charming. Millions and millions of people watch these shows every day.

One of the key things we can do for our mental health and spiritual well-being is to work to remove the stigma associated with our physiques. My body is not comical. My body is not grotesque. I do not deserve being mocked neither for choices I made that caused me to gain weight, nor external or psychological factors. I try not to see movies and watch shows where fat characters serve as comic relief. I choose to say something when someone is making a fat joke or a derisive comment. I like to think I am making a difference.

How do you promote body-positivity in your life and community?

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