The Big Problem with Fat Shaming
Check out the homerun letter Jill Merrigan writes in response to this article on Boston.com
Dear Eric Wilbur and editors at Boston.com,
The problem is not with Pablo Sandoval’s weight but is with the inappropriate emphasis and attention you have given to Sandoval’s weight. As a registered dietitian who works with medical weight loss and eating disordered patients, I can tell you that the picture and headlines on Boston.com on Monday February 22, were heard by many, not just Sandoval. Using the word “fat” does not only impact the person it is describing, but also anyone who sees it.
“Fat shaming” is the same as bullying and discriminating – in the simplest terms, it is criticizing someone for how they look or what they weigh, and this is really no different than criticizing someone for their race or religion. It sends a message to the greater public that being good at something is determined by their weight and how they look. For example, your article commented on Sandoval– “The man is fat…Had Sandoval performed anywhere close to how he did in San Francisco over seven years, perhaps this wouldn’t all be as a big of an issue” indicating that he might play better if he weighed less.
The problem with “fat shaming” is that it is dangerous – creating real risk for eating disorders, and sending a message that the world is watching and judging everyone, men and women of all shapes and sizes, based on their weight. So while Pablo Sandoval might be able to handle the media’s critique (or maybe not, we don’t know him) – it is important that you consider what your readers are hearing. The proof is in the pudding, no pun intended. A study completed in 2009 by the Center for Advancing Health that included more than 14,000 high school students determined that being overweight or believing one is over weight (regardless of whether it is true or not) increases risk of suicide. 1 Another literature review completed in June 2010 and published in the American Journal of Public Health highlighted a positive association between weight based victimization and eating disorder symptoms and bulimia. 2 In 2014, the Journal of Obesity published a study proving “fat shaming” greatly reduces an individual’s chance of weight loss and typically tends to weight gain and obesity. 3
While obesity may be a nation-wide problem, what is important is focusing on the individuals’ health and not how they look. The focus should be on a healthy lifestyle. Everyone has their challenges – whether it is weight, mental health, relationships, cancer, finances…the list is endless and no one has the right to criticize someone publically especially when they don’t know their broader story.
1 Swahn M, et al. (2009) Perceived and actual overweight and risk for suicide attempts: findings from the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Journal of Adolescent Health.
2 Puhl, R. M., & Heuer, C. A. (2010). Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health. American Journal of Public Health, 100(6), 1019–1028. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.159491
3 Jackson, S. E., Beeken, R. J. and Wardle, J. (2014), Perceived weight discrimination and changes in weight, waist circumference, and weight status. Obesity, 22: 2485–2488. doi: 10.1002/oby.20891