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The Subtle Side of Fat Shaming

by Rhea Singh

I’m going to ask you a couple of questions here- now, answer honestly. Have you ever laughed at the Fat Monica jokes in Friends? Have you ever praised someone for being “brave” for wearing a crop top? When a friend has said to you, “omg I’m so fat,” have you ever responded with, “You aren’t fat! You’re gorgeous!” Like any other person, you’ve probably done at least one of these things, if not more. Though such comments sometimes come from places of good-intention, these thinly veiled “compliments” do more harm than good, especially in a society where people are obsessed with western beauty standards and a “thin body ideal”. These microaggressions contribute to body-image issues and are often overlooked, thus continuing to seep into our mentality to such a degree that most of us often don’t even notice.

It’s concerning how normalized body shaming is. It’s “normal” in any tv show for a fat person to be the brunt of a joke. It’s “normal” to have a cast of grown adults play teenagers (I’m looking at you, Riverdale), even though it perpetuates a horribly misjudged view of what teenagers are supposed to look like. It’s “normal” to use the word fat as a word of disgust for your own body. But should such ideas be normalized, or should we actively be trying to unravel the negative stigma around what is really just a body type? Using “fat” as a negative word really just continues to perpetuate a myth that having fat on your body and not fitting into the Western body ideal is a bad thing, even though research continues to prove that healthy bodies exist in ALL sizes.

People often try to disguise fat-shaming as concern about someone’s health, even though it really isn’t anyone’s place to comment on someone’s appearance. In a lot of cultures, especially Asian culture, hearing snide comments about a person’s weight and appearance is extremely common amongst relatives. Such comments are made under the guise of “wanting the best for him/her”, even though all these comments really do is trigger people’s insecurities, destroy self-esteem, and become a source of unwarranted shame and self-loathing. People often try to justify fat-shaming through the notion that fat bodies only deserve respect up to a point, which is a vile mindset that further embeds body-shaming ideologies ingrained in our society. It isn’t anyone’s place to decide who does and does not deserve acceptance- someone’s body shape and type should in no way be tied to the basic respect they deserve.

Along with this, there is a lot of praise that comes with weight loss. Losing weight can be really challenging, and it is natural to want to congratulate loved ones for working towards achieving their goals. However, a lot of this praise is tied to the suggestion that a person who is thin looks infinitely better than when they were fatter, and such observations often become the way people begin to define someone’s identity. Take Adele for example- her recent weight loss was making headlines in magazines and gossip columns. In fact, her weight loss seemed to be given more importance than her upcoming music album, because somehow, her appearance and body shape is more talk-worthy than her Grammy’s and her contributions to her industry. Bodies change all the time, and weight loss and gain are often unintentional due to physical and mental conditions, so the assumption that the weight loss was intentional can often be harmful, simply because you do not know what a person is going through in private.

The heavy dependence of our generation on social media has made it easier for people to sit behind screens and comment on people’s bodies without facing consequences. We often find ourselves micro analyzing pictures posted on the internet, and taking perverse satisfaction in judging and passing remarks on how much weight someone gained over the holidays, or whether a certain outfit does or does not look good on certain body types. This mentality is extremely destructive, for it is high time we stopped imposing our own internalized beliefs of beauty onto someone else. Though having preferences is natural, critiquing and bashing someone else on something as superficial as their body type is harmful, especially considering the influence it can have on younger children and their perception of beauty standards and their own bodies.

What we say, and how we say it, really matters. It is always worth thinking about and reflecting on the comments we make on someone’s appearance, for even comments coming from well-intentioned places can be hurtful, and perceived much differently by another person. Fighting against these smaller and less noticeable microaggressions is in no way easy, especially because we often don’t notice the effect our words can have. It takes a lot of time and active effort, however, just being more mindful and aware of our own thoughts and comments is a start. Correcting our own mindset, as well as calling out those around us for insensitive remarks is a step in the right direction that can lead to a long-term change in our beliefs and mindset as a society.


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