Why fat shaming never works

The topic of fat shaming is a difficult one and one that unfortunately I have a lot of experience of and one that sadly I see and hear a lot about.

I am not talking about people who shout out nasty insults in the street or write abusive comments hiding behind their keyboard online. Those people don’t deserve any of your, or my, time and the only answer to them is to ignore them. We sadly can’t change the people who behave like this but we can change how we choose to react to them.

This article is in response to the question I get asked a lot “How can I help my sister/husband/friend/colleague who is really overweight but just won’t do anything about it?”

Now, in my experience of being overweight for most of my life and through talking to, and working with, other overweight people there are three main mind sets that someone who is overweight may be in.

1 – Happy with their size

This is where I wish everyone could be; regardless of their actual physical size. It doesn’t matter what you think or what anyone else thinks – if an individual is happy with their body then we should all be happy for them. Park your judgement about what “the right size” is – it is irrelevant. If someone is happy then be happy for them. Trying to change how they feel will not work and will only impact your relationship with them.

2 – Unhappy with their size and doing something about it.

If a friend, family member or loved one is in this category then the one thing they want from you above all others is support. They don’t want you telling them what they can and can’t eat (that is likely to bring their inner child out), they don’t need you offering them sweets, cakes, biscuits and telling them it won’t hurt them, and they really don’t want you moaning at them that they are stopping you having takeaway or going out for dinner etc. The very best thing you can do is to ask them how you can support them the best – and listen! Don’t assume you know what they need because everyone is different.

3 – Unhappy with their size and not doing anything about it

I understand how hard it can be when someone you care about is clearly unhappy with their size, is being emotionally and physically impacted by it and yet doesn’t appear to be doing anything about it. The fact is you can’t make anyone do anything they are not ready to do. Even if you have the best intentions, trying to guilt or shame someone into losing weight never works in the long run (and I really wish doctors would realise this too). If someone is unhappy and is choosing not to do anything about it then there will be a reason. The person may not be aware of it, or they may not want to share it, but there will be a reason. Fear of failure is a really common reason that people can’t face trying again; by helping them build their confidence you can help them have the self-belief to try again; if that is what they want to do.

The best thing you can do is to help them feel better about themselves – be kind to them, help them feel good about everything else in their life, help them feel proud of themselves for the many, many things they will have to feel proud about. Be considerate and try and put yourself in their shoes. When someone can accept themselves, recognise their strengths and see their value they are much more likely to be able to take action to achieve their goals.

I can speak from experience as a significantly overweight person that there are many events that would happen in a day to make me feel rubbish about myself. I felt ashamed and worthless and that was more likely to have me diving for the ice cream or the biscuits rather than into a Slimming World Group. I didn’t believe I could lose the weight because I had failed so many times and I certainly didn’t believe I was worth the effort. If I did give in to the shame and try to lose weight, I never succeeded as I was not really doing it for me.

There has recently been a lot of noise in the media about Nike making plus size exercise clothes and whether they are saying it is ok to be overweight. To me it is really clear. There are people of all shapes and sizes in this world and if ANY of them want to exercise why shouldn’t they be able to buy good workout clothes. If Nike want to sell them then I applaud them for that. Having larger mannequins in stores is not telling people to be overweight – it is just telling people that whatever size you are you deserve to be able to buy clothes and see them displayed on a mannequin.

The biggest change I have made in my life is not losing weight, it is learning to be kind to myself. By stopping the cycle of shame and self-punishment I have learnt to forgive myself mistakes, be proud of myself and live the life that I have always wanted.  Please do one thing today to be kind to yourself and keep practising until it becomes a habit and please help those that you care about do the same for themselves.

If you are interested in coaching to help you learn how to be kinder to yourself then please contact me here.

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