I was at work recently when I overheard a conversation between two friends who were queuing up to buy their lunch. One girl was very slim and tall and the other was a bit overweight and a good few inches shorter than her friend. The slim girl was discussing what to have for lunch and lamenting her recent weight gain, which, horror of horrors meant that she was currently sporting her ‘fat’ sized 10 jeans.
I imagine that this scene plays out every day across the land. Thin people complain to their fat friends about their weight problems or larger people overhear thin people discussing their latest diet and inevitably feel worse about their own body.
Some public figures, namely the vitriolic Katie Hopkins, have suggested that being obviously fat shamed will spur the overweight into healthier habits. This suggests that we can all openly belittle and shame the overweight amongst us. Well, that simply isn’t the case. Apart from being heartless, telling someone they are somehow unworthy of love, friendship and success because they are overweight is completely counterproductive. And, overhearing someone super slim crying over their fat thighs is enough to make anyone hangry. Last year research carried out by University College London, funded by Cancer Research UK, and published in the journal Obesity, showed that people who reported weight discrimination gained 0.95kg whereas those who did not lost 0.71kg, a difference of 1.66kg. Negativity about weight creates more weight gain. It doesn’t spur people to cut calories or take up intensive exercise regimes.
It makes sense really. If someone is overweight because they comfort eat or are sedentary, then they aren’t likely to have the confidence to compartmentalise bitchiness about their size or overlook every act of unkindness. If every overweight person reacted to cruel jibes and negativity by saying to themselves “I’ll show you” or “that’s it, today is the day I change” then we probably wouldn’t have an obesity crisis on our hands.
Body shaming of the unashamed, upfront, in your face variety is obviously a hot topic at the moment. One misguided weight loss expert Steve Miller, the presenter of Fat Families, dreamt up a new day for us all to add to our diaries. ‘Warn a friend they’re fat day’, his genius annual festival of fat shaming, is the sort of event I for one can do without. I know how mortified I would be if a friend felt they had to warn me I’d gained a few pounds. ‘Yes, thank you for commenting. Funnily enough, I had actually noticed my clothes are a bit snug. You patronising git.’ I can only imagine how upset someone who had genuine weight issues would feel if a valued friend pointed out their own perceived worst flaw. I’m not sure the result would be a trip to the gym.
So in a nutshell, skinny people who think you’re fat (but secretly know you're not that fat), think before you speak, and people with ‘fat friends’, gently guide your friend towards a healthier way of life, if you think your advice is needed, but for God’s sake don’t come right out and say it. Your advice, however well-intended might end, or change an important friendship forever.
Have you got any outrageous examples of body shaming? What do you think is the best approach if you think someone needs to lose weight? Is it anybody else's business?