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Fat Shaming: Where Does It Really Come From?

With current obesity crisis (nearly ⅓ of adults in the western world are obese or overweight) there is increasing media attention on Fat Shaming. The Fat Acceptance Movement is gaining steam as many young women rush to demand respect because of their size. But what does this mean?

When I was 11, my perception of “fat” was shattered. There was a girl in my class (let’s call her Jennifer) who was fat. She was tall, overweight, and the best basketball player in our grade. Jennifer was huge and powerful and fast. She excelled on the courts through middle school and high school. She ate like a beast, played like a monster, and would be the first to challenge anyone to a race up the stairs.

Yeah, she had fat on her body - a lot more than the rest of us, but her body is what helped her create a balanced life of basketball and brownies. She never once shied away from putting on a bathing suit to play in the pool, and she never turned down a bowl of pasta. She did what she liked and she did it all with 100% enthusiasm.

Fifteen years later, I was sitting in my Physiology and Nutrition class listening to another girl, “Rebecca”, presenting her final paper. Rebecca was 20 years old and underwent bariatric surgery 6 months prior. She had been morbidly obese and as a result of the surgery lost 150 pounds, and she still had 75 pounds left (according to her). There were some important points in her presentation.

Firstly, three of her immediate family members also had the surgery, suggesting that this girl never learned how to have a healthy relationship with food because she was learning her habits from people who also had disordered eating habits.

Secondly, she claimed no diet ever worked for her. I asked her if she had ever considered staying on a normal, balanced food plan for more than 3 months. She said it was “too hard.” And yet here she was, at age 20, forced to be on a “diet” for the rest of her life because her stomach was now incapable of handling more than 4 ounces of food/liquid at any given time.

However, this didn’t stop her from making poor food choices. She knew that her body could no longer process sugar because the surgery removed part of her intestines, where the sugar would be broken down. But one day, she decided that a spoonful of ice-cream wouldn’t hurt. The result: she fainted, went into shock and had to be hospitalized.

Rebecca’s story horrified me. She couldn’t stick to healthy protocol before surgery, and post-op she actually ignored medical advice and ingested food that was specifically taken off her menu. Rather than figuring out a healthy way to balance her food choices, Rebecca decided to have surgery to physically limit her food intake. Eventually, this could lead to vitamin and nutrient deficiency and probable complications later in life, especially if she decides to get pregnant.

There is a major difference between Jennifer’s story and Rebecca’s struggle. Both girls were overweight. Jennifer used the size as an advantage for sports performance and made no apologies about who she was or what her body looked like. She was determined to be her best at any weight and totally owned her body. She was never ashamed. Rebecca, on the other hand, made excuses for her size and behavior, and could not figure out how to find balance. Her unhealthy habits continued even after surgery, and so did her feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy.

Fat Shaming is not about making people feel bad because they have a different structure and body type. It’s an internal feeling of shame that individuals experience when they make choices that lead them to feeling like failures. They set standards and keep falling short. Should we expect society to accept fat people who are unable to accept themselves?

Our goal should be to educate and celebrate healthy choices. By learning the importance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in a diet can we grasp portion sizes and fuel our bodies accordingly. By encouraging physical activities can we heal our bodies from the sedentary lifestyle.

If we see someone who is ashamed about the way her body LOOKS, let’s draw her attention to what her body can DO. Focus on accomplishments, not numbers on a scale. Find balance, find health, find a way to get stronger every day and love yourself for it.

Written with love, Jordana Kagan, Personal Trainer

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