The topic of fat-shaming is a difficult one. It is a topic that I have a lot of experience of and, sadly, it is still very common.
This isn’t about people who shout out nasty insults in the street. Or those who 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 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?” This question is being asked more often now due to obesity being identified as a key risk factor for COVID-19.
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 mindsets that someone who is overweight may be in. None of them responds positively to fat-shaming.
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 is support. They don’t want you telling them what they can and can’t eat. That is likely to fire up their inner rebel. They don’t need you offering them sweets, cakes, biscuits and telling them it won’t hurt them. That won’t help them achieve their goals. And, they really don’t want you moaning at them that they are stopping you having a takeaway or going out for dinner. The VERY best thing you can do is to ask them how you can support them – 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 and is being emotionally and physically impacted by it and yet doesn’t appear to be doing anything about it. The harsh truth is that you can’t make anyone do anything they are not ready to do. Even with the best intentions, trying to guilt or shame someone into losing weight never works in the long run. I really wish doctors and other health professionals 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 stops people trying again. The shame of failure can be paralysing and people will often stay unhappy rather than risk adding to their shame by failing again.
The best thing you can do for someone in this mindset is to help them feel better about themselves. Don’t try fat-shaming them into action; it will rarely trigger positive action and, if it does, it will be short-lived. Instead, be kind to them, help them feel good about everything else in their life, help them feel proud of themselves for the many other things they will have to feel proud about. Be empathetic 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 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 also regularly experienced well-meaning fat-shaming from friends and relatives. This meant permanently felt ashamed and worthless and that feeling 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.
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. If you try fat-shaming those around you then you are continuing this destructive cycle. You can choose to be part of the solution instead and can start practising being kind to yourself and others. You can help those around you to be kind and supportive instead of shaming.
If you are interested in coaching to help you learn how to be kinder to yourself or to lose weight for good then please contact me here.