Research on Fat Shaming

Several years ago, a friend of mine walked into the new Hollister's that had opened up near the kiosks where we worked. She was definitely not the typical Hollister customer, being in her late 20s, not exactly experimental in her fashion choices, and...well...without a doubt...obese. But, she wanted to check out the store, see the fashions, and sample some of the perfumes. She knew she wasn't likely to fit into anything they had, but if she could find something that didn't reveal too much of her stomach, she felt perhaps she might be able to find something similar in stores that carry clothing for people her size. She wasn't in the store 5 minutes when a clerk walked up to her and said, with a very snide attitude, that there was nothing in the store for her and she shouldn't waste her time. She left the store and never returned, though the manager did come out and offer an apology.

That's fat shaming, and a lot of people think that if they consistently tell people who are overweight/obese how fat they are, how it's shameful, and/or how they "ought" to be eating, they will create a situation in which the person will change their bodies and lose the weight. I experienced it when I was heavy. Now, shaming has been used in the past by some communities to help regulate members' behaviors; just think of Hester walking around with the scarlet letter. No one wants to be humiliated in front of others, right? So, isn't it reasonable to think that if we can keep people from some behaviors through shaming or the threat of being shamed, then shouldn't it work for other areas of life?

Well, while shaming may have some impact (though I sincerely question its usefulness in any area), new research out of the University College of London shows that fat shaming has NO VALUE when it comes to trying to get people to lose weight. In fact, when people experience fat shaming, they tend to lose less weight than those who do not experience fat shaming, sometimes even gaining weight. The authors believe that fat shaming makes people more likely to avoid physical activity and to turn to high calorie comfort foods, which (naturally) sabotages the efforts at trying to lose weight. Instead of shaming a person who is overweight/obese, The Telegraph (UK) recommends encouraging family and/or friends who need to lose weight to join you in your exercise routine, to recognize that it is a positive when an overweight individual is at the gym, and to praise your friend/family member who makes good food choices rather than criticizing poor choices.

Part of this does seem like a "No duh!" study. Frankly, I never was motivated to make good food choices or to exercise when someone reminded me of my weight in a nasty way. Well, in all honesty, when a CDE criticized my food choices and made me feel shamed for my (at that time) lack of diabetes control, I didn't go eat comfort food; I didn't eat at all. Regardless, I have never felt that shaming works when it comes to something as fundamental as food and activity, that it back fires more often than not. Yet, at the same time, most people will do nearly anything to avoid being shamed by others. So, what's the answer?

As PWDs, I'm sure most of us have experienced this phenomenon. What's your opinion about fat shaming?

I agree. When I was in my early twenties I was made to go to diabetes education classes by my insurance company. I resented this because I had been diabetic for fourteen years at the time. Well, the two diabetes specialists heading the class used shaming as a tool to let me know what a terrible diabetic I was. The shaming didn't make me straighten made me shut down and try even less.

I came at this issue from the angle of disliking being a cliché. When I was diagnosed T2, I had been a dancer for 40 years. While not skinny then in late middle age with fibromyalgia and arthritis, I wasn't obese. My Dad bequeathed me The D. But I always got the--"You don't look like a diabetic"---while I was feeling a suicidal rage because I Was indeed diabetic--and invisible.....

The more I got to know the wonderful people here at TuD--T1, T2, big and small, every color of the rainbow, all over the globe, the more I understood that we are all subject to shaming of one kind or another by virtue of this grossly misunderstood Scourge that shapes our lives, whether we like it or not.

Shaming of any kind teaches nothing. Shaming reduces the shamer to a subhuman level of empathy. Shaming destroys lives that don't deserve it.....Blessings on all....Judith in Portland....

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wow, that is a truly horrible experience for your friend. I dont have any fat-shaming experiences, but as a teacher, i know how most students will respond to shaming. it doesnt work. it really does seem like a no brainer, doesnt it?!?!

the wonderful people here at TuD--T1, T2, big and small, every color of the rainbow
I'm chartreuse
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I need no one else to shame me about my love handles.

I do a pretty good job myself.

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In 2007, I was back in grad school and I finally fessed up to myself that my diabetes was no longer in control and went to see a doctor I was told was the university health center's "expert" in diabetes. I hated him. By that time, I had had diabetes for 14 years, and I knew more than a few things about diabetes. I was also a grad student, nearing the point when I would start work on a dissertation, so I think I know a thing or three about research and how to read journal articles. So, when I went to see this doctor, I expected to be treated as a near-colleague, to have my opinions listened to with some respect and to discuss how to handle the next steps in a professional manner. Instead, he was arrogant, constantly telling me that he was the doctor, he knew best, I should trust him, and if I couldn't, then I should go see some other, more expensive doctor who he was certain would tell me the exact same thing. He bullied me into taking Metformin, even though I had brought him research and recommendations from multiple primary sources that clearly stated that Metformin is not an appropriate drug for normal weight individuals with type 2 diabetes (they do better on sulfonylureas). He ignored every plea I made to have a c-peptide test done, stating that he knew better and it would be a waste of money (turns out it wasn't, because when I did get it done, it showed a lack of insulin production). He made me feel so ashamed that I couldn't keep control of my diabetes with diet, exercise and Metformin that I foolishly started walking everywhere, even when it was pouring down rain, icy, or I had 25 lbs of groceries to carry (or all three at once). I hated and resented myself, my diabetes, and most especially, the doctor who acted so unprofessionally and without an ounce of humanity.

I can (sort of) understand shaming among the general population; they don't always know what they do. Shaming patients by a doctor or other health care professional is, at least IMHO, unacceptable.

I also got the "You don't look like a diabetic" comment, too, especially since, when I was at my lightest, I weighed only 91 lbs. I was slight, and according to at least one of my brothers, I looked emaciated. So unlike the stereotype of someone with diabetes. Yet, I still had diabetes. It made me angry and frustrated, but at the same time, I do understand that the average person is quite clueless about diabetes. I had even taken courses in exceptional children and knew something about diabetes before my diagnosis, but even I found myself asking my first CDE "How the heck did I get this? I'm not old enough!"

I agree that shaming often teaches very little, especially when the problem isn't one over which you have any control. I just wish more people realized that.

That poor girl had more than her fair share of incidents of being shamed. Her pharmacist had the gall to yell out her prescriptions (take a guess which ones) and to tell her that what she was doing was wrong and she was a bad person for taking said drugs. When she told me that, with tears in her eyes, I was so angry for her I wanted to find that pharmacist and slap him, especially since he had no clue why she was taking that medication.

While it should seem like a no-brainer that shaming is not an effective tool, it can stop some people from doing some things, or get them to do some things. I think the problem is that shaming certainly doesn't effect relatively permanent or long-term change and it leads to a lot of resentment. I know it did with me.

I started reading the entries on that blog and couldn't make it through but a few, they were making me so angry. These are the people who we entrust with helping us maintain our health and our lives; how they could treat us with such contempt is beyond me.

Dave, don't shame yourself about your love handles. No sense in it!

Blessings, Eucritta. So sorry you had to go through all that. Not too far off from what I went through until my fibromyalgia was diagnosed. In my case, it was one of those "it's all in your head" routines.....Sigh.....

I've been chubby most of my life and the worst person for putting me down and calling me names was my own mother. Yes, my mother. Tubby was her fave name for me. She was lucky to be thin all her life, she had no clue what it was like to be even a pound heavier than she should be. I took after my dad's side of the family, they were all heavy. She never did anything to help me as a kid, I actually felt sabotaged most of the time.

So, yeah, shaming doesnt work, never has, never will. That's my opinion.

Nobody should ever shamed about who they are. That being said I do like to see some of the more positive trends going on to encourage people to be more healthy. The reality is, being overweight is not healthy, we all know that. It is not shameful though. But there are more positive and productive ways to encourage our entire population to eat better and be more active, and I do support them.

Actually as you get older being overweight is healthier since the weight turns out to be protective for the elderly. So it kinda depends.

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There's a lot of benefit to exercise regardless of weight, balance/ stability, joint health (as long as you don't overdo it or crash!), exposure to greenspace, cardiovascular health, etc.

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To add to Brian's comment that "it depends"... A woman very near and dear to me - whose weight fluctuates within 10-15 lbs - once told me that she finds physical activity easier when she's at a lower weight, but feels much sexier when she's at a higher weight, because that's when she's most curvy. I loved hearing that! Obesity is not physically healthy, but a lot of our media would have us believe that the only way to be healthy (and attractive) is to be as thin as we can possibly be, which can also be unhealthy.

I agree, being super thin isn't necessarily healthier and everyone has a natural body type/weight that suits them best too, some people are naturally very thin and others aren't.

I have Type 1 diabetes and I'm not obese. I have zero sympathy for obese and overweight people with Type 2 diabetes who bring their condition on themselves and refuse to do anything to reverse it. Fat people with Type 2 diabetes have created a terrible stigma around "diabetes" which I am subject to although I am not fat nor am I responsible in any way for developing my condition. I would do just about anything to not have Type 1 diabetes and I just can't understand why obese people with Type 2 don't do anything about their condition.

I think of fat people with Type 2 diabetes the same way that I think about smokers who develop lung cancer; it's your fault and you are deserving of nothing but scorn, shame, and judgment.

Fat shaming might not work but fat acceptance is a terrible idea which attempts to deflect accountability for being avoidably unhealthy and unattractive.

Actions have consequences.

For one of the classes I'm taking, I've been reading a book by Augusto Boal, Games for Actors and Non-Actors. In his description of "the vampire of Strasbourg" he notes that when the oppressed becomes the oppressor "he escapes his oppression, his fear, his anguish. He ceases to be a victim and becomes a tormentor." Augusto Boal is known for his Theatre of the Oppressed, theater of social justice.

Fear and anguish over diabetes may be triggering these incidents of vicious bullying. The answer is not to put everyone on a starvation diet or enroll them in a rigid exercise program. The answer is to address the fear and the anguish so these people don't need to strike out. So much of the so-called Awareness Programs only exacerbates the problem.