It’s stunning how often other people feel as though they have every right to our bodies. Not every form of assault on a woman is inherently sexual in nature, but there is one form that uniquely attaches itself to social convention: how others so freely, so casually, so offensively comment on our appearance. Our blemishes, how tired we look, our weight gain and weight loss—everyone has an opinion, and they have no qualms whipping them out without even a moment’s notice.
Recently, there was a spike in the discussion on the propriety of fat shaming (spearheaded by the idiocy of a has-been former “celebrity” who we won’t dignify with even so much as a name) and its ability to force people into making supposedly healthier choices. The claim by the said pseudo celeb, who has a longstanding reputation for disrespecting and violating women, was that no one can afford to be overweight given the variety of diets and exercises made accessible by the good ole internet.
The problem here, of course, is that it presupposes that all weight gain is due to sheer laziness. It assumes that everyone who isn’t a sample size simply has an inability to stop putting food in their mouths.
However, current studies show that the most effective means of weight loss isn’t necessarily eating less. Eating too little, for one, sends the body into panic mode and triggers its contingency plan of storing fat to survive. A study conducted at the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Pennsylvania State University by graduate student Faris Zuraikat, which had to do with portion control, showed that weight gain was more a result of the quality of food rather than the quantity of it. Everything we had been taught before is constantly being turned on its head: carbohydrates aren’t bad, they’re necessary; high fat diets can lead to weight loss; it’s possible to eat a significant amount of calorie-dense foods in a day if you’ve managed to fast anywhere between 14 to 23 hours.
Likewise, it’s true that the direct cause of obesity is a perfect storm of inactivity and overconsumption, but it’s never as simple as that. There are a million reasons that could lead a person to ingest more than they tend to burn, and even the most simplistic view of it is more intelligent than simply jumping to “laziness” as an end-all be-all conclusion. Here’s a brief list of possibilities, just to start: depression, anxiety, other forms of mental illness, medications (anti-psychotics, steroids, beta-blockers, anti-seizure medications, some antidepressants, to name a few), medical conditions (such as arthritis, Polycystic Ovarian syndrome which affects at least 10% of women, Cushing syndrome which affects the pituitary gland, Prader-Willi syndrome which affects development and initiates constant hunger, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which affects connective tissues and restricts activity), personal injury, drug rehabilitation, post-pregnancy, quitting smoking, and insomnia.
There is a quote often misattributed to Plato that says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” and it holds true especially in these circumstances.
The reason fat shaming is consequently so ineffective is because it doesn’t see the person and his or her circumstances. It simply focuses on the weight, and diminishes the person’s worth to how high on the scale they fall. It doesn’t assess whether or not the person has tried any number of diets before (and speaking for many an overweight person, we’ve all tried at least three), and whether they’ve tried working out, and if they’ve ever been shamed by much fitter people for so much as trying.
Studies across the board will tell you that the greatest motivation for sustainable weight loss has and will always be the maintenance of health, and it’s usually driven by love. A love for those who will have to take care of you, and a love for those you have yet to take care of yourself. Negative reinforcement only works on a small percentage of people whose egos are at par with their insecurities, and only someone with that much ignorance (or a desperation to be relevant) would recommend that as a means of motivation. There is no pound of sugar as sweet or persistent as determination fueled by love, whereas an insult fades quickly and is easily dissolved once further disheartened. People pick up their feet because of encouragement, because of support, because there are others in their lives who believe that they are capable of taking charge of their own health. And as a result, the beauty isn’t in looking a certain way, but in understanding that while being healthy doesn’t have a single size, it does have a rhythm.
There is a quote often misattributed to Plato that says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” and it holds true especially in these circumstances. None of us will ever fully know why someone else looks or eats or feels the way they do, but if you need an article to tell you how much more beneficial it is to be kind than to belittle someone for something you don’t understand, that might actually be the thing worth shaming.