Fat-shaming is bullying, plain and simple. And by “fat-shaming,” I mean the act of making disparaging remarks to or about an overweight person(s) in order to make them feel ashamed of their physical appearance.
A doctor warning a patient that their weight is too high doesn’t fall into the category of fat-shaming, as far as I’m concerned. Doctors have a duty to look out for the health of their patients. It would be negligent, and perhaps even unethical, for a doctor to not say something to a patient whose weight is either putting them at an increased risk of acquiring a chronic health problem, such as type 2 diabetes, or exacerbating an existing health problem, such as arthritis or hypertension.
Outside of doctor’s offices, however, much of the anti-obesity commentary we are exposed to on a daily basis is obviously not inspired by a genuine concern for other people’s health. Many of the folks who engage in fat-shaming don’t do it to “help” someone else; they do it to validate their own false sense of superiority. For them, the obesity issue is just an excuse to live out their narcissistic fantasies of building themselves up by tearing other people down.
If advocates of fat-shaming actually gave a rat’s behind about obese people, they would cease their shaming immediately. There is a growing body of evidence that trying to help people lose weight by shaming them may be even less useful than putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg.
That being said, there is no getting around the fact that being obese is unhealthy. So if you are obese, and you are able to shed some or all of your excess weight, that’s exactly what you should do — not to silence the bullies or win the affection of superficial people, but to improve the quality of your life and maximize the amount of time you have to live it.
In other words, if you decide to try and lose weight, you should do it first and foremost for yourself, not for the pompous, fat-shaming jerks who take joy in your weight-related struggles. That’s exactly what the internationally acclaimed singer and songwriter Adele has been doing for the past year, though not everyone is happy about her transformation, as evidenced by some of the comments left on her most recent Instagram post.
Now there are some very nasty bullies who have used Adele’s weight loss as an opportunity to kick sand in the eyes of other obese people dealing with their own weight issues, and it’s fair to say that most of those bullies are probably quite ignorant about how obesity works. They might not understand, for instance, that overcoming obesity may first require overcoming mental health issues that demand a great deal of time, energy, and patience to address. They also probably don’t know about the well-established link between poverty and obesity, or the role that genetics can play in weight management.
However, just as their ignorance doesn’t excuse their trashy behavior, the mere existence of fat-shaming doesn’t justify the notion that there is something inherently wrong with celebrating Adele’s weight loss or congratulating her for it. Yet that is precisely what some proponents of fat acceptance have tried to argue. The controversy recently caught the attention of Adele’s former personal trainer, who quickly swooped in to defend her against unfounded accusations of “fatphobia.”
The subtext of many of the criticisms aimed at Adele’s fans is that Adele herself is guilty of a sort of indeliberate betrayal of the fat acceptance movement simply because she decided to do what is best for her own health. This isn’t a new phenomenon; there are plenty of stories floating around out there about women who were ostracized from the movement after choosing to lose weight, and those stories paint a picture of a movement defined more by its hostility towards dieting and healthy lifestyles than its support for overweight people who are understandably tired of being treated like pariahs by mainstream society.
The backlash to Adele’s weight loss and the many celebratory reactions it inspired highlights a glaring moral blind spot in the fat acceptance movement, which is the idea that proponents of fat acceptance — and especially those who, like Adele, possess international platforms provided by their fame and influence — are obligated to deprioritize their physical well-being for the sake of advancing the movement’s agenda.
This is not a welcome development. Any movement that makes people fear being kicked to the curb for doing what is best for their health is a movement in desperate need of reform.
The ongoing fight against fat-shaming is laudable and necessary. The idea that a person’s worth and weight are not inextricably linked, and that obesity does not make one any less deserving of the respect of their peers and the affection of their friends and loved ones, is a message that obese people need to hear more often. But there is an important distinction between promoting fat acceptance and promoting obesity itself, and it seems as though the fat acceptance movement may be trending dangerously close to the latter.
No decent person should ever judge you, look down on you, or shame you for being overweight. Obesity is not a character flaw, nor does it in any way diminish your value as a human being. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it is bad for your health, and the fat acceptance movement needs to come to terms with that indisputable, scientifically proven fact.
Furthermore, while Adele’s weight loss should never be weaponized against obese people, there is nothing wrong with giving her a pat on the back and complimenting her for her persistence. Losing weight is hard. Really hard. I know that from experience. But I also know that it’s a worthwhile goal, and I applaud her for putting in the work she needed to do to achieve it.