Shaming yourself to thin

"If shaming people to thinness worked, 'The Biggest Loser' would have only lasted one season."

Kristen Golembiewski, Opinions Editor

By KRISTEN GOLEMBIEWSKI, Opinions Editor

Last week, I stumbled upon an article on the TODAY Health blog that discussed one bioethicist’s plan to eradicate obesity. Apparently, the best way to do so is to just shame the hell out of obese people until they can’t take it anymore and they decide to get thin.

Dr. Daniel Callahan, a senior research scholar and president emeritus of The Hastings Center, is recommending that in addition to increasing education and cutting down on the marketing of unhealthy foods, we must increase the societal pressure on everyone who doesn’t have the correct BMI.

He suggests public posters that read “If you are overweight or obese, are you pleased with the way that you look?” and explains that he quit smoking when societal pressure skyrocketed and shamed him out of the nasty behavior.

Dr. Deb Burgard, a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, said it perfectly: “Deciding whether to smoke or not is a behavior,” she said. “The weight your body is is not a behavior.”

But if he’s going to suggest that fat-shaming increase, I have to ask – has this man ever seen television?

There is no greater instrument of shame than the television, on which almost everyone has a perfect body and attention is regularly called to those who don’t. We even have shows designed to humiliate fat people and make the thin count their blessings. If shaming people to thinness worked, The Biggest Loser would have only lasted one season and Jillian Michaels would be totally irrelevant.

If shaming people to thinness worked, we wouldn’t have TLC (which, ironically enough, stands for The Learning Channel, but now only features shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo). Why are Americans so obsessed with the overweight and obese? We thrive on TLC’s myriad of fat-people programming like My 600 Pound Life, Obese and Expecting, 600-Pound Mom: Race Against Time, Half-Ton Killer – and that was only the first page of Google search results for “TLC, obese”.

I’ve never seen any of these shows, but I can tell you that they’re made for us to gawk at, mouth agape, as we wonder how someone could get so fat they can’t fit through the door. No one in these shows ever looks good or happy when they’re overweight. They’re portrayed as nasty, unclean, and undeserving of life. I just don’t think that people’s bodies should be judged in that way for our entertainment. We don’t watch those shows because we’re rooting for those people. No, we watch them so we can feel better about ourselves.

And whenever people champion the cause of obesity, they’re just doing it to make themselves feel better. Do these people really think that overweight individuals don’t know that fruits and vegetables are healthier than processed foods? Have these “activists” ever thought that maybe overweight people don’t necessarily have the resources to go out and purchase healthy foods and prepare a meal from them? Maybe they should focus a little less on restricting the size of Big Gulps and try and make healthy food more accessible.

Or maybe, just maybe, they should consider the possibility that overweight people can live happy, fulfilling lives. Perhaps, despite weighing more than twice the average person, there are those who have done what so few of us thin people are capable of – they’ve just decided to start loving themselves, rolls and all. Really, their situation doesn’t matter – I don’t care if they’re overweight because of genetics, food, or their own personal choice.  It’s between them and their doctor, and I really don’t see why others feel the need to be involved.

Because as any teenage girl, battered by images of super-thin women on the daily will tell you, shaming people is not how you cure obesity.

That’s how you cause an eating disorder.

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