That's the reaction a mother felt when seeing the results of her seven year old daughter's state mandated BMI screening. Even though the letter specifically and emphatically says only a doctor can fully determine if she was obese, and that BMI is often not an accurate indicator of obesity, that word in that letter is "triggering so much concern, shame, and anger".
Obesity is an issue. It can lead to a myriad of health issues like diabetes and heart disease.
But obese people are also the last socially acceptable group to bully and stigmatize. last month, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller tweeted: “Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth.” In Georgia, billboards of overweight children are going up with messages like "Chubby kids may not outlive their parents," for example. Or: "Big bones didn't make me this way. Big meals did."
It's called "fat shaming". The idea being that stigmatizing, bullying, and discriminating against obese people will somehow make them motivated to lose weight. After all, they're just "concerned about their health", that's all.
But guess what? Fat shaming DOES. NOT. WORK. In fact, studies have shown it to have the OPPOSITE effect.
"Whether children or adults, if they are teased or stigmatized, they're much more likely to engage in unhealthy eating and avoidance of physical activity." Research by Puhl and her colleagues at Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity suggests that weight discrimination is pervasive — at schools, in the workplace, in the media, among health care providers. Yet efforts to combat it frequently founder: Only one state, Michigan, outlaws weight discrimination, and the anti-bullying policies proliferating in schools often lack specific content related to teasing of overweight children.More from Dr. Puhl:
Puhl, who has studied weight discrimination for more than a decade, was lead author of a 2007 study of overweight children that concluded their quality of life, due to stigmatization by peers, was comparable to that of people with cancer.I've mentioned that fat-shaming is still socially acceptable. That after all, "it's for their health". And so everyone becomes an expert:
She also has examined how obese people are portrayed in ads, news reports, movies and TV shows. Too often, says Puhl, they are depicted in needlessly negative ways — slouching on a sofa, eating junk food.
"We need to be sure we are fighting obesity, not obese people," she says.
Among other initiatives, the Rudd Center has compiled a gallery of photographs portraying obese individuals "in ways that are positive and non-stereotypical" — strolling outdoors, shopping for fresh produce.
Puhl says her research indicates Americans would support legislation to prohibit weight discrimination, particularly in the workplace.
“Many people, from your sister-in-law to ethics professors, think that the road to weight control runs directly through shame and humiliation,” bioethicist Art Caplan, the head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and an NBC News contributor, said in an email. “Common sense says that this is not likely to be true. Now this important study demonstrates that discriminating and shunning those who are fat does nothing to help them lose weight.”I know from personal experience what it's like. Stares, teasing, snide comments. In college, for example, there was a graduate assistant with the band that was several years older, and had been teaching in the schools for over ten years before he went for his Master's. A bunch of us were in the band office, and we were discussing something about some of the outfits we were required to have. I made a comment about sizing, and he went and made a real nasty remark. Had I been the person I am today, I probably would have shoved him against the wall and put a little fear of God into him. As it was, I gave him a look. As did everyone else in the room. Among some of the band people, I may not have been as popular as most, but I was one of them. And the grad was not well liked to begin with. And the secretary was also obese. And she was respected and loved by all. But I would still hear offhand remarks. And jokes. Not mean spirited, but still.
And then there's family. Oh yes, my brothers, oh so concerned, incessantly saying something. Making me want to scream. In fact I DID scream. Here I am, pushing 600 pounds, screaming at my brothers to SHUT THE FUCK UP I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT DO YOU NOT REALIZE THAT I KNOW I'M FAT YOU ASSHOLES LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE! But they're just concern--I DON'T FUCKING CARE I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT!
Yep. That's the way it is.
In fact, ETHICS PROFESSORS have advocated fat-shaming in the form of "social pressure" as a way to "motivate" people to lose weight. "But can there be social pressure that does not lead to outright discrimination—a kind of stigmatization lite?" Seriously. He thinks there can be.
But what happens when people fat shame other people? The people they're "trying to help" do the EXACT OPPOSITE.
That's right. A new study out authored by Angelina Sutin, a psychologist and assistant professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee, Fla, says that "weight discrimination INCREASES the risk for obesity".
From the introduction:
There is a pervasive stereotype about obesity in American society: People who are obese are often perceived as lazy, unsuccessful, and weak-willed . These beliefs about individuals with obesity are often translated into negative attitudes , discrimination , and verbal and physical assaults . Such bias can have severe psychological consequences, including increased vulnerability to depression ,  and lower self-esteem , , self-acceptance , and life satisfaction . A broad range of research now demonstrates that the effects of weight bias are not limited to psychological functioning but extend to nearly every aspect of an individual’s life, from employment ,  and salary disparities ,  to personal relationships  to healthcare delivery , . In addition, as with other forms of discrimination , , weight discrimination may have consequences for physical healthFor those who scoff and scorn when we compare the shaming and discrimination we get to that which other groups have gotten, let me say "fuck off". Just because fat-shaming is still very much socially acceptable doesn't mean it's any less discriminatory or hateful.
And what did the study find? That there was a direct correlation between weight discrimination and the chances for increased obesity. EVEN among non-obese people who were exposed to weight discrimination.
Weight discrimination was associated with becoming obese between baseline and follow-up: Among participants who were not obese at baseline, those who reported weight discrimination were approximately 2.5 times more likely to be obese by follow-up than those who did not report weight discrimination (see Table 1). This effect was specific to weight discrimination; the other types of discrimination were largely unrelated to reported obesity. That is, none of the other types of discrimination assessed were associated with becoming obese between the two assessments.And further:
Given the complex etiology of obesity, creative approaches that span diverse disciplines are needed to combat its spread. Weight discrimination, which is often justified because it is thought to help encourage obese individuals to lose weight , can actually have the opposite effect: it is associated with the development and maintenance of obesity.It has been suggested that the labeling of obesity as a disease will help remove some stigma. Maybe. But I look at persons suffering from other diseases and the stigma associated with those diseases and I'm not so sure.
One thing I AM sure of is that for the individual, the decision to finally begin to permanently lose the weight is a big one. It is one that can only be made when the person is READY to make that decision. I was at 600 pounds and basically heading for an early death. It took a harsh realization for me to finally make the decision.
And once that decision is made, it's not an easy thing to do. After all, you don't NEED cigarettes to survive. You don't NEED alcohol to survive. But you do need food to survive. And that's what makes losing weight so hard. And to hear someone who has never struggled with weight, who has never battled a food addiction, have the presumption to offer UNSOLICITED "advice"?
It's a slap in the face. It's the world saying "You're not good enough". To struggle, and to hear people talk about how "easy" losing weight is, or that "all you have to do" is whatever they suggest, is to be constantly told that you are inferior because you keep struggling and losing the weight is so hard, but all of society is telling you that it's so easy, so you MUST be inferior.
That's not a good place to be. Especially when you need to make important life decisions. Because it can lead to the wrong decisions. Bad choices. Self sabotage. And ultimately you withdraw into your depression and self hatred and just don't care anymore.
So the next time you want to "offer advice", or think that you can motivate someone by doing a little fat shaming, remember that you are actually doing the opposite and contributing to that person's continued obesity and feelings of worthlessness.