Sticks and Stones – The Toll of Fat ShamingJune 22, 2022
The Toll of Fat Shaming: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If only this ancient adage had more truth to it! As a child, this idea was impressed upon me repeatedly as I endured bullying at school. The more I protested, the more my teachers and parents insisted that I must ignore my classmates’ verbal taunts. After all, I was the “smart one”. It was a tall order for a little girl and a very confusing message.
Since my grammar school days, I have never lost my desire to explore the reasons why people act the way they do. And, since that time, I have done an enormous amount of self-exploration. Time and time again, I have concluded that bullying is not really personal. It is more about the bully’s psyche than it is about the target. But, in the moment, a bully’s words can sting, especially if they hit a nerve.
The Toll of Fat Shaming as a Child
As a child, I was fat shamed. I still can’t really fathom it. When I look back at old school pictures, I was a little heavier than the other kids, but only enough to make my cheeks pinchable. In my mind, however, I became huge and monstrous. Remembering the “wisdom” of my parents and teachers, I learned to internalize the words of my bullies. Although the adults in my life were pleased that I was no longer complaining about being bullied, my once curious and outgoing personality became shy and constricted. Gym class became a dreaded nightmare. Eventually, something clicked within me and I began to use the verbal sneers as a form of motivation. But, in the meantime, I lost out on a lot of living and suffered a lot of emotional torment. Let’s be candid – words are very important.
When an overweight client brought up fat shaming recently, I took a pause. It was something that I was very familiar with, despite the fact that I have never been obese. It should come as no secret that our society as a whole shames fat people. And, just like the adults in my life way back when, our society sends mixed messages from all directions. We are told to love our bodies and love ourselves with certain caveats. Love your body, IF it’s the “right” size. Love yourself, IF you fit a certain mold.
Being Thin is Society's Desire
At first glance, it seems that our society values physical fitness. When we look closer, we find that physical appearance and specifically a slender build are valued. Whether or not someone is “fit” is a secondary consideration. Someone could smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, drink themselves into oblivion every night, and never get any exercise. As long as they look thin, they are “desirable”. Aesthetics reign supreme; our priorities are out of whack.
Over the course of my career, I have worked with people who have been shamed for being “too fat” and “too skinny”. And, I have also worked with people who have been shamed for countless other things, such as height, speech, intelligence, career, marital status, race, gender. The list goes on.
As humans, we are hard-wired to want to be part of the larger group. For survival purposes, we need each other. Being humiliated for some personal quality, such as body size, can feel soul-crushing and isolating. But, if we are honest, we realize that most people with a conscience have something they are ashamed of. And, most people in our social media and entertainment-driven culture are self-conscious about some aspect of their appearance.
Shaming overweight people only serves to compound pre-existing feelings of shame.
The Perception of Overweight People is Laziness
The knee-jerk perception of overweight people is that they are simply lazy. The more educated and empathetic perception takes other factors into account. Overweight people can have any number of physical and/or psychological challenges that impact their size. For instance, certain medical conditions and medications can contribute to weight gain. Psychological trauma and abuse can foster the development of eating disorders. Even financial factors, such as the inability to afford quality whole foods, can add to weight gain and encourage a reliance on cheap junk foods. The old adage about not judging a book by its cover seems more appropriate than the short-sighted “sticks and stones” adage.
If you are bullying anyone about their weight (or anything else, for that matter), please take a step back. Perhaps you think you are helping the individual somehow. You are not. Unless the adult asks for your assistance with their weight, it is none of your concern. If you are the target of such bullying, please consider the quality of a person who disgraces others over appearance. Bullies have unaddressed issues of their own.
The Toll of Fat Shaming Summary
Consider your own feelings about your weight and appearance. It is important to love your body, no matter its size. If you are trying to lose weight to enhance your health and fitness level, your size will change in time. Your body is your temple throughout your life. Honor it and appreciate it for all it does for you. Use any “sticks and stones” hurled at you to motivate yourself. Don’t waste precious time and energy focusing on the antics of bullies.
ABOUT THE AUTHORCoach Jenna Nocera, MA, MFT, CLSC, CPFT is a Life & Wellness Coach, Psychotherapist, and Personal Fitness Trainer with advanced degrees in Behavioral Science, Psychology, and Marriage and Family Therapy. She works with clients to redesign their lifestyle habits. To learn more about her services visit www.FormulaForExcellence.com
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