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Why People Shame Fat People

It seems to me that there are two kinds of fat shaming: about what and how much a person eats and about their size. Why does fat shaming happen? The simple answer is because we all let it happen. We need to call this abuse by its name and stop it in its tracks—make it taboo—or it will continue. You can start by not shaming yourself.

Shaming someone about what or how much they eat is common place: Are you going to eat all that? Do you really think you should eat so much? Why don’t you eat something more low fat or low calorie? You know you shouldn’t eat that! Let’s assume that some people who say these things love you and care about your health and well-being. If you don’t tell them that their words are hurtful—and totally unhelpful—how will they know in their ignorance that they’re making things worse? They won’t. So feel free to speak up and let people know the hurt they’re inflicting. Then there are others who say such these things because they, themselves, are afraid of sweets, treats and overeating—and of becoming fat. When they admonish you, they’re projecting onto you their fears and contempt for their own desires: How could you do that really means I’m scared of doing that. They’re projecting onto you their terror of making the “wrong” choices—of eating unhealthfully or in excess and that’s what motivates their abusive comments to you.

Something similar happens when people deride your size. Honestly, you have to wonder about folks who would do that. Do they think they’re giving you news, that you’re clueless about your weight, and that this bulletin will suddenly awaken you and change your behavior? If so, they are willfully ignorant, not to mention severely lacking in empathy and social skills. Sadly, some people feel helpless about how to support you getting healthier, and words simply pop out of their mouths without their thinking about their impact. They have difficulty sitting with their lack of power to change you and haven’t reflected enough on the subject (or asked you about it) to see how they might be of true assistance. These people are often educable, so educate them you must.

Then there are the people who are terrified of gaining weight or becoming fat because they’ve been there before, are struggling mightily not to return, or because they see how poorly fat folks are treated. Once more, in this case, they are out of touch with their anxiety and, instead, project it onto you. What they’re really saying is, I hate fat on me, so I hate it on you too. They’re trying to get you to feel the same disgust that they feel. Please, don’t buy into it. Rather than take in people’s comments, immediately go into curiosity mode and consider their motivation. Put the responsibility on them, not you.