Not Shaming Fat People is Not Enough

One of the things that the Georgia Project did was bring together some uneasy allies.  People like Jillian Michaels and Alton Brown who regularly deliver an anti-obesity, fat=bad thin=good message, but who felt that the Georgia Fat Kid Shaming billboards went too far.

While I am happy that they were at least able to realize that shaming kids is a truly horrible idea, I want to be careful that we don’t take our eye off the ball here.

Not shaming fat kids is not nearly good enough.  Not shaming fat people of any age is not nearly good enough.  The gold standard for me is that body size is not a barometer for anything- every body deserves respect.

Jillian Michael’s comment about the campaign is a really good example. She said “let me be really clear – shaming children is NEVER the solution for any problem. Leading by example is always your best bet with obesity.”  She used the hash tag #hateobesitynotobesepeople

I just want to make it clear that while I’m glad that she was able to step up the 2 inch curb of realizing that shaming kids is bad, the idea that obese people are lost and need to be led by someone’s example is offensive.  And you can’t hate obesity but not obese people – it doesn’t work that way.  If you hate obesity, then you hate me.  I’m not a thin woman covered in fat, I’m a fat woman.   You can’t love the thin person who you wish I was without hating the fat woman I am now.

Also, let’s remember that Ms. Michaels is part of a billion dollar business (The Biggest Loser) that emotionally and physically abuses fat people for entertainment and profit.  (Off topic a bit – Does anybody else wonder what would happen if they took the people on the biggest loser and had them do moderate activity that they enjoy 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week and encouraged them to add healthier foods to their diet?  No screaming trainers, no lying to people by conflating weight and health, no working through massive injuries, no duplicating the activities that get people diagnosed with eating disorders, no manipulating the scales with water weight, no “weeks” that last 14 days.  I’ll bet that the health benefits would be the same, even if they didn’t experience weight loss.  Does anybody want to do a reality show of happy fat people moving 30 minutes 5 days a week?  Call me.) Perhaps it’s a commentary on what Jillian inspires vs. what she says that many of her fans responded to her comment in defense of the billboards “It’s not shaming to tell kids that their lives won’t be good if they are overweight” was a common theme.

As we move forward on the path to abolish weight stigma and end  the oppression of people of size, I think that we should be careful to maintain a goal of being fully respected, rather than just not being shamed, stigmatized, and humiliated. Let’s be clear that we deserve nothing less than full respect.

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24 thoughts on “Not Shaming Fat People is Not Enough

  1. Oh well said Ragen! This is an issue that is not easy to spot while it’s happening so thank you for bringing it up!

  2. Jillian Michaels’ comment harks back to the whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” idea, as if you can hate a homosexual person’s homosexuality while loving the straight person they’re “supposed” to be (if only they weren’t a big ole perv.)
    Jillian would be doing a far better thing if she were trying to convince people of all sizes to be active for the sake of health rather than the sake of thinness. At least she got part of it right, though.

  3. You meant
    “Does anybody want to do a reality show of happy fat people moving 30 minutes a DAY? Call me.”
    not “Does anybody want to do a reality show of happy fat people moving 30 minutes a WEEK? Call me,”

    No need to publish this. Just a friendly heads-up.

  4. ^^I spotted that too, but I’m groggy this morning and thought I was seeing things…

    Dear old Jillian isn’t on anyone’s side but her own. I was in the Wal-Mart the other day, and nearly every aisle I passed had some Jillian product on it: weights, exercise DVDs, food products, magazines at the till, books…she’s everywhere. Maybe at some point back in the beginning she was genuinely concerned about fighting obesity, but at this point she’s all about the bankroll. I just have this vision of her riding in a jeep and throwing a net around any obese person she sees, then spiriting them away to her Make Em Thin Compound somewhere in the California desert.

    If there was a show that had her treating a person who was struggling to recover from a car wreck or a stroke the way she treats people on The Biggest Loser, we’d condemn her roundly for being cruel. But she’s out there saving the fatties, so she’s a hero.

    Just curious what age she stops shaming kids and starts shaming them as adults. Is it like in “Harry Potter”, the magical age of 17, where “the trace” is lifted, and she gets an owl saying, “He’s no longer a child…go mock!”??

    Self-righteousness is always offensive.

    1. “Is it like in “Harry Potter”, the magical age of 17, where “the trace” is lifted, and she gets an owl saying, “He’s no longer a child…go mock!”??’

      Hahahaha! This made my day 🙂 Good point, too!

  5. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to at least have a youtube channel about people enjoying normal levels of effort and making their lives better.

    I recently saw a video about a girl who’s legally blind and a gymnast.

    It’s probably me being neurotic, but I’m so tired of the biggest thing being making huge efforts. I end up just knocking myself down harder because I’m not able to make myself do things.

    1. Excellent idea!

      I’m reminded of Julia Cameron talking about a screening she helped put together for some film students where the early first efforts of Spielberg, Lucas and other greats were shown. The point was that nobody’s a ‘great’ at anything when they first start off; seeing the virtuoso results can be off-putting for a beginner – ‘how will I ever get that good?; – but seeing the beginnings can be inspiring – ‘hey, I could give that a go!’

      Maybe the early performances of some top sportspeople are out there, but it’d be good to see ordinary people’s efforts too. Couch-to-5K is a common running goal these days, has anyone thought to film theirs? Or, anyone’s first year (say) of practising judo, ballet, whatever, so you can see them developing their skill and strength. Especially fatter people, or older people, or people with mobility issues. We could do with a wider view of what’s possible.

  6. I think Jillian Michaels has some self worth issues of her own though. I mean, I seem to recall her saying that she doesn’t want to become pregnant and give birth at all because of what it will do to her body. I think part of her thing is that she’d been overweight/obese, lost the weight and now she expects everyone to be able to do what she does. I have to almost wonder if she’s got some disorders of her own and to add to it, making money off her body, it’s just not a good combo.

    I’m actually amazed that she can see that it’s going too far considering how she treats people otherwise and even how she treats herself. It’s going to take a lot to wake people up and get them to understand that being fat is not something that can be controlled, that healthy habits are what are important, and that no matter what one’s size is, that person needs to be treated with respect.

  7. I wish I could believe that Ms. Michaels’ weighing in on the side of not bullying fat children was anything more than a fairly cynical attempt to seem whatever is her commerically viable/useful version of fat-friendly. You called it precisely right when you brought up “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” I think any sentence with the word “hate” used in any serious sense needs to be looked at very carefully.

    Please forgive my being self-promoting, but I have a blog you might get a kick out of about “biggest Loser” here:

  8. Awesome post and awesome discussion. And maybe a couple of years in Hogwarts would help Ms Jillian. J.K. Rowling wrote,

    “Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat really worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil, or cruel? Not to me!”

    STUPEFY! 😀

  9. Thanks for keeping our eye on the prize Ragen! And if someone is interested inyour reality show idea…let me know. We are doing Jeanette’s The Fat Chick Work Out here in Ohio, we could be stars! LOL!

  10. I will disagree on the philosophical part of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” mentality. I can love a person without loving everything they do. If they make a choice that I think is absolutely wrong, it doesn’t mean that I no longer love the person. It’s very much like what my mom used to say to me: “Amy, I always love you; I just don’t like you very much right now.” It let me know that she separated my actions from my person and expected me to evaluate and make better choices.

    If someone sees fat as a result of behaviors, then I can easily understand how they can say “hate obesity, not obese people” and truly follow through with that. It doesn’t mean that they’re right in presuming that obesity is a result of behavior, but that’s a different battle in my eyes.

  11. Guess it’s time to make a hash tag of #hateunhealthyhabitsnotobesepeople to go along with a message of “weight doesn’t tell you who I am or what I do. This is one book you CAN’T judge by it’s cover.” or something like that. 🙂

  12. AMEN to this post.

    It’s like I tell women of size who are looking for a maternity care provider……it’s NOT enough just to find one who doesn’t yell at you about your weight. They actually have to deliver truly size-friendly care, like not inducing for a big baby or not being quick to jump to a c/s or not promoting massive restriction during pregnancy.

    Not shaming is Not Enough. Being “Nice” is Not Enough. Respectful care is about more than that.

  13. I’m not sure how many of you watch Biggest Loser Australia, but this year the contestants are all single, and the fat-hating rhetoric has been amped up to ten. Forget the fat=unhealthy equation, we have trainers saying ‘How could anyone love him/her when they look like that?’, contestants describing themselves as monsters (because of their fat) and repeated comments that fat people don’t deserve to be loved. Even bearing in mind that BL is a tv show, I think the attitude to fat is an example of what many in the community think ( or are told to think) and constantly hammering in this message that no fatty deserves love (or courtesy, or compassion) is unhelpful in the least.

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