Fat shaming affects us all.  Where did the idea of ridiculing others based on weight start? To get to know the history of fat shaming one has to be aware of human’s internal need for hierarchical determinants of power.  In the book Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat body in American culture, fatness was considered an admirable trait. Indicating one’s wealth and power by weight was common in the Renaissance time period. This association was made due to socioeconomically well families having the ability to afford the luxury of food, when the poor could not. This caused the heavy set to be seen as the ideal body size. In contrast, now we see the heavy set to be poor and/or lazy. Inflation, with the help of fast food, has caused a shift in our societal views. Now the poor can afford the junk food, causing their families to be overweight, whereas the thin wealthier individuals can afford the organic foods, in turn making them healthier. Our predetermining’s for one’s body size should not be based on wealth. Despite the problems in our Governmental systems, the issue of Body shaming comes from implicit associations about our own bodies. This article is aimed to educate anyone who stumbles upon this encyclopedic literature. The issue of Body Shaming is too important to not be discussed amongst comfortable peer groups, or with family members. The goal is activism, with a concentration on one’s awareness of harm to others.

For many women and men, western views of the feminine body have been conceptualized as this thin, lean body. “Fit” most would say.  As Jennifer Webb, and associates, described in their article of You better not leave me Shaming, these Western idealizations only fuel the intolerance of fat embodiment. The implicit associations (ideas that bigger individuals are lazy) projected towards heavy set individuals can cause hopelessness and ostracizes one from society, making them deviant among cultural beliefs.  As explained by Webb, and associates, these anti-fat attitudes come in 3 dimensions. Her explanation best explains the histrionic view paths of our society:  “Anti-fat attitudes constitute one approach to conceptualizing explicit weight bias. As originally defined by these deep-seated weightism beliefs are identified as occurring along three dimensions. Dislike attitudes reflect endorsements of strong contempt for fat individuals. Willpower beliefs are rooted in Americans’ dominant socio-political ideology centering on valuing self-determination and personal control such that fat individuals are deemed wholly responsible for their “excess” weight and are thus deserving of their consequent stigmatization. Finally, fear of fat attitudes stem from Western society’s pervasive degradation of fatness and represent intensified apprehension over the prospect of gaining weight as a marker of inhabiting a socially marginalized body” (Webb). Being made isolated only makes individuals want to fit in. The drive to be normal weighs on an adolescent, increasing their feelings to change. The definition of body shame that Webb gave in her research states: “Body Shame is an acute affective experience stemming from perceptions of having failed to achieve narrowly-defined cultural standards of body size” (Webb).  The definition pins down the feelings of body shame rather than the actions of others doing the shaming. This excerpt describes Webb’s’ research perfectly. Explaining that the actions of others affects your perceptions and schemas of yourself. However; those stereotypes others inflict upon you will not change your body, only your mindset. Stereotypes with fat talk leads young women to ruminate on their imperfections. Leading to mental health diseases that pose problems for individuals down the road.

Living in a society that stigmatizes ones every look can be depressing, but if one does not fit that image it could be debilitating to keep up. With fat shame comes fat talk. How someone says anything could have an effect on a person if factors play in: irritability, the tone of voice etc. On the contrary; fat talk is using devaluing words about weight that make the receiver of the conversation feel uncomfortable, or less than they were before the conversation arose. For example: Sally says “Micah you should put an undershirt on. The whole team can see your rolls.” A passive aggressive version of fat talk: Sally says “Yea you’re cute, for a big girl.” Discretion– Sally is a fictional character.  The point of the matter is the vernacular and prevalence of the fat talk takes meaning when used repeatedly. The meaning behind the talk takes shape when bystanders do nothing to stop it. This talk makes your peers susceptible to negative mindsets, with a desire to change or “fit in.”  As discussed by Jennifer Lee and colleagues in their autoethnography Stigma in Practice: Barriers to Health for Fat Women. They bring attention to the devaluing attitudes associated with weight in western society. Focusing on how it leads to eating disorders. They state:  “Sociocultural idealization of thinness variables (media exposure, pressures for thinness, thin-ideal internalization, and thinness expectancies)…attained “risk status” for eating disorders and/or disordered eating symptoms”.  In addition, in cultures where overweight and obese people are stigmatized and women who are underweight are celebrated, many young women express dissatisfaction or disgust with their bodies. Polivy and Herman (2002) state, “This dissatisfaction often has emotional overtones of self-disgust. Body dissatisfaction, in fact, may be regarded as an essential precursor (and continuing accompaniment) of Eating Disorders. The more intense this dissatisfaction, the more likely that one will undertake attempts to lose weight” (Lee). This idealization of what society thinks not only affect your mental health, but your physical health as well. Doctors with implicit biases concerning weight mistreat the heavy set.

Stigma in Practice brings attention to Health disparities pertaining to bigger individuals. Lee points out in the research that overweight women with cervical or breast cancers are more likely to die than non-fat women from the same cancers. Lee explains that this phenomenon has occurred because practitioner’s biases believe overweight individuals have poor health, so their predetermining factors for cancer are overlooked due to the ideology that poor health leads to death. The stigma of weight within this Western cultural belief is infiltrating our physicians. Creating an implicit bias among them leading to their misdiagnoses. The problem needs to be deep rooted, pulled and cleaned out of our western views. The stereotype will only grow worse with a continuation to enable these belief systems.

Living in the western world view of “thinness” and body shame can alter your mindset, your healthcare provider’s views, and a loved ones associations of how the weight affects you. Despite the stigma of the “fat body” there are ways to overcome “the haters” that I have stated for reference: “Overcoming the oppression of the fat body is a powerful first step to loving yourself. What that entails may be a journey of endless discovery. Despite what society thinks turn the other cheek! This system craves hierarchy; why shouldn’t you? -Be the best-.  Own yourself, in order to stop the fat talk -speak up- and care about your neighbors. The world can be cruel, but don’t let that stop you from your goals of success. You got a lot to accomplish, show them what they devalued. Ultimately, Unconditionally Love Yourself.”

Works Citied

Lee, J. A., & Pausé, C. J. (2016). Stigma in Practice: Barriers to Health for Fat Women. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 2063. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.02063

Webb, Fiery, & Jafari. (2016). “You better not leave me shaming!”: Conditional indirect effect analyses of anti-fat attitudes, body shame, and fat talk as a function of self-compassion in college women. Body Image,18, 5-13

References for Further Study




Ashlyn Brown is currently a student at Old Dominion University majoring in Psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is a thick girl with style and grace who is learning to love herself each day. She enjoys reading, She could create movies in her head all day, along with reality television. She hopes to grow in her understanding the meaning of Bodylore and its commandments. With her growth she intends to help others blossom, while learning the hacks of the life and body. May our journey be a safe and powerful one.