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Responding to Fat Shaming

The subject of being bullied, teased or shamed in childhood for being fat comes up often on my Food and Feelings message board and in talking with clients. If you have let these experiences from long ago shape how you feel about your body and self today, it’s time for a new take on the subject. By understanding the mistaken meaning you applied to these interactions and by correcting your impressions, you will feel more confident, secure, and fearless today.

Many people who are fat were teased, bullied and shamed for it in childhood. Maybe it was your parents or a relative who did the shaming—an uncle or grandmother, your sister or brother. Or a neighbor, the kids at school, or your first crush and his or her friends. I’m not going to minimize the pain and suffering of being teased or bullied. It is one of the most awful experiences a child or adolescent can endure. For some victims, sadly, it’s enough to cause them to end their lives. Others turn their hatred inward and self-harm in obvious or subtle ways. Some remain fat consciously or unconsciously, stuck in a time warp as if needing to prove their shamers right. Some starve themselves or purge in terror of becoming fat or fatter or the target of jokes and other cruelties.

If you were a victim of insults because of your weight way back when, how are you carrying around what was inflicted on you today? What meaning did you make of what was said or done to you: being fat is bad or unacceptable, you are disgusting or unlovable because you were fat, you’ll never be okay unless you stop being fat, that there were or are other defects about you that make you fear being vulnerable?

If you want to be emotionally healthy, it’s crucial that you put these memories into perspective, create an identity that is not defined by weight, and know that you are strong and smart enough to take the slings and arrows that others shoot at you and turn them away. You were a powerless child or adolescent back then. You are an adult now with mature emotional resources and power equal to that of others. You may not have had recourse back then when you were teased, but you have numerous self-empowering options now: telling people that they’ve hurt you and that’s not okay, walking away, getting validation for your hurt from others, reminding yourself that there is something wrong with people who intentionally wound others, laughing at the stupidity and ignorance of those who attack you, and reassuring yourself that these people are insignificant and meaningless in your life. Your days of having to take being shamed are gone forever. Don’t waste the power you have. Start using it today.