Fat Shaming Hurts More Than Its Targets
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 02:10
Honesty Box, the Facebook application that allows people to send you anonymous comments, was a really big deal during my freshman year of high school. I signed up for the app figuring that someone would use it to confess his secret crush to me, but in retrospect, it turned out to be a pretty bad idea.
There were no anonymous expressions of love. Instead, someone wrote, “What’s it like being a big whale every time you come into math class?” That hurt a lot, and six years later it is probably the most explicit example I have of someone calling me fat.
Georgetown students are, in general, very conventionally attractive. The average Jane or Joe Hoya is well dressed, manicured and thin. In fact, for a school that often prides itself on diversity, Georgetown lacks it almost completely in one area: the number of fat students. There are very few, and I am one of them.
It’s odd to live in an environment where I rarely see other people who look like me. Few students at my high school were overweight, but there were fat people in the grocery store, in church and nearly everywhere else I went in my day-to-day life. I don’t understand why there are so few fat students at Georgetown, and I think that our low numbers keep those who are thin from appreciating their own privilege.
I definitely understand that thin people can feel unattractive, be made fun of for their bodies or still have issues about societal standards of beauty. But there’s really not a comparison. When people look at me, they often think — based solely on my body weight — that I am lazy, out of shape, have unhealthy eating habits, have poor confidence, will never be found attractive or am just dumb. Not only have I had comments like that directed at me — though they’re usually behind my back — but I also get to hear jokes about other fat people all the time. It might simply be in a tweet, a passing comment about how someone should have reconsidered his or her outfit or a snide remark about someone’s weight gain or loss.
When my friends and acquaintances make comments like these, the next question in my mind is, “What does this person think about me when I’m not around?” I’m sure that if I asked any of my friends this, they would say that they aren’t referring to me — they know I’m not lazy or gluttonous. They just mean other fat people. To quote my good friend Joe Biden, it’s still a bunch of malarkey. You don’t know anything about people based on their body weight. You don’t know what they had for breakfast, how much they work out, whether they have a significant other or whether they’re happy with the way they look.
I could say this about any other form of discrimination, and you would wonder why it even had to be said. It’s pretty obvious that assigning negative characteristics to all the members of one race, sex or gender is a bad thing to do, even though people do it all the time. But fat-shaming is still a socially acceptable form of discrimination.
In February, a group in Atlanta launched an ad campaign to “Stop childhood obesity.” One advertisement showed a chubby child and read, “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.” That’s a bad joke from a middle school bully, not the line that’s going to change America’s eating habits. The obesity epidemic is more complicated than little girls who like candy and video games more than they like softball and broccoli, and painting it differently is misleading and only hurts their body image.
This is not just an issue for me and other fat people who face nasty comments and generalizations. Fat discrimination is also harmful for those who are not overweight. It creates an environment in which almost no one can feel comfortable in his or her own body. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 91 percent of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, with 22 percent dieting “often” or “always.” Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.
Through rhetoric that condemns and blames people for their weight, we’ve helped make a society in which people would rather starve themselves than deal with this discrimination. I’m not saying this is the only factor that goes into complicated diseases like anorexia, but it definitely plays a part.
People have to be more conscious of the way their words affect others. When you attack someone because of his or her weight, you hurt everyone who hears your words — the subject of your abuse, your friends who overhear and, ultimately, yourself. Your words have power. Use them carefully.
VICTORIA EDEL is a junior in the College. She is Guide editor of The Hoya.