Obesity & Body Shaming: There is a Difference

by Melissa on March 13, 2014

Let’s talk about obesity…and while we’re at it, let’s talk about body shaming and body image, too, yes?

Obesity is a very real, very dangerous problem in our country. The statistics surrounding this fatal condition is alarming, and awareness needs to continue to be raised. I could write pages and pages and pages on obesity like I am for grad school, but for the sake of saving time and keeping my readers sane, I’ll give it to you in bullet form.

  • As it currently stands in the United States, 35.7% of adults and 17% of children are obese. That’s roughly 78 million adults and 12 million children ages 2-19. [Resource.]
  • 26-41%  of obese preschool children and 42-63% of obese school-aged children go on to become obese adults. [Resource.]
  • $147 billion was spent on obesity related health care in 2012. [Resource.]
  • A child’s risk of becoming obese is 10% in a household with no obese parents, 40% with one obese parent, and 80% with two obese parents. (Parental dietary choices, habits, and physical activity levels are directly correlated with those of their children!!!) [Resource.]
  • 1/3 of all cancers are preventable as they are directly correlated to obesity. [Resource.]
  • Obesity is directly related to heart disease, stroke, cancer, sleep apnea, joint disorders, muscle disorders, diabetes, asthma, fatty liver disease, and much much more.

For your viewing displeasure…(this is pretty eyeopening). Obesity is currently a very real epidemic.

I will never deny the terrifying epidemic known as obesity.
But I have a massive bone to pick. When in the world did so many people become health professionals?? No…really!? When did people become so knowledgeable that they can tear a woman (or a man) apart and call her obese without a taking a single anthropometric measure or perform a single nutritional, physical, or functional health assessment???

People, listen to me. There is a difference between “society holds a specific body type to the highest standard of beauty” and “obese”. A major difference. This is where the term “body shaming” comes into play. Using the term “obese” for anyone who is outwardly heavier than the standard “ideal” is just ludicrous. Body shaming has become an insanely large problem in this society, and I’m particularly tired of it for two very different reasons.

First, just because you have a right to speak your mind, it doesn’t mean you should open your mouth. Especially if you are voicing an uneducated opinion. Have some compassion and decency for others! Speaking from experience, all those nasty comments people have for those who don’t live up to their aesthetic “standards” are the very things that many of those on the receiving end tend to think themselves. It usually tears them down even more!! Have a filter. Be nice. Be compassionate!!! Be. Decent. Lift someone up once in a while!!! It is possible to lift someone up whilst telling him/her there is a problem. While, yes, sometimes calling someone a belittling name can motivate them to make changes, most times it just tears people down. It feeds the problem. Negative reinforcement does not work for everyone nor does it work every time for someone for whom it does work on occasion. People were not put on this earth for others to feast their eyes upon! Someone else’s health should never ever be about anyone’s viewing pleasure. Yes, there comes a point where obesity is very apparent in someone else’s case. Excessive fatness – the medical definition of obesity – is not, however, always visually apparent. Someone can be thin and over fat – this is called body composition. In terms of health, obesity has nothing to do with the way someone looks. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and someone of thinner stature can absolutely be obese. Being physically fit does not require a chiseled body. People should be unapologetically themselves – obese or not. Shaming someone with hurtful words and degrading opinions is not the way to solve anything.

Second, I believe there needs to be a bit of discussion on body shaming versus truth. I recently read an article regarding an obesity campaign in Georgia that used media ads to portray the childhood obesity problem Georgia currently faces. Here’s the one that really struck me:

It’s heart-wrenching to me to watch this. What I see, as someone with an education in nutrition and exercise science, is very different from what a lot of others see. There was a poll embedded in this article, and what did half of the readers see? Body shaming. What do I see? I see a child genuinely questioning why he’s fat. He is overweight. He is,  yes, probably obese. This is a case where it is visually apparent. Even more so, though? What I see a child faced with future health disparities if the problem isn’t addressed. I see another addition to the statistics above. I see a child looking back at his morbidly obese mother and asking why he is the way he is. Parental influence. There comes a time when personal responsibility needs to be addressed and when body shaming cannot be an excuse anymore. It absolutely, 100% should never be a way to avert a legitimate problem! Denial of a health problem like obesity can be dangerous, and it’s time we start raising awareness of when a situation is body shaming and when it’s legitimate concern over a health problem. Our future and the future of our children do depend on it. By telling someone to “put some clothes on, I just ate” is not the way to do it.

For those of you wondering, yes, this post was sparked by Taryn Brumfitt’s response to Maria Kang’s recent, and very much retouched, image. However, it’s been a topic on my mind for quite some time, as it’s been a topic of conversation in my health promotion and disease prevention course. It has sparked some amazing discussion, and I think that discussion needs to continue to grow.

We health professionals are faced with quite the fight. Not only are we faced with the health disparities themselves, but we’re also faced with the fact that most people are so incredibly misinformed.

QOTD: What are your thoughts on body shaming versus truth and personal responsibility? (Personal responsibility itself is a whole other topic for another day.)

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