The Many Faces of Fat-Shaming

DisneylandYesterday, Childhood Obesity News looked at the public outcry and media flurry that resulted from public service billboards in Tel Aviv, Israel, that were characterized by many as “fat-shaming.”

Jewish Journal blogger Julie Bien offered a personal perspective on weight bias, recalling an incident when, at the age of 6, she was taken clothes-shopping by her grandmother. The little girl tried on a dress that she loved and modeled it for her grandmother, who said, “You’re too fat for that dress.” Bien writes:

The feeling of hot, red-faced shame that was brought on in the moment is still tangible. And guess what? Being fat-shamed as a child didn’t motivate me to do anything other than want to disappear.

A little further along in her childhood, at age 9, Bien lost a lot of weight while suffering from a medical problem that made her too sick to eat. When neighbors praised her for being slimmer, she took note: “The lesson I came away with? Better to be sick and thin, than healthy and chubby.”

That is definitely not a lesson we want any children to absorb, ever. A healthy, normal weight is the desired state for all kids everywhere, always. But opinionated people continue to voice their thoughts about the size of other people, sometimes with surprising and even counterintuitive results. A writer named Grace Murano did a lot of research to bring her public an article called “8 People Who Were Shamed into Losing Weight.”

The roundup features no children, but one teenager’s story is presented, that of William Cookson, who weighed 300 pounds. His fondness for fish and chips, chocolate, and junk food had given the Liverpool youth a 48-inch waistline. At age 17 he had never kissed a girl and was mercilessly teased by schoolmates. After losing 126 pounds, he amazed everyone by resembling the singer Justin Bieber, and his life changed immensely for the better. How did he do it? Murano writes:

William, who is completing his A-Levels at Liverpool Community College, enlisted the help of his uncle, who is a personal trainer, to help him lose the weight. He embarked on a strict gym regimen, cut out all snacks, and stuck to three balanced meals a day.

The next youngest subject was another 300-pounder, a woman of 22 who suffered extreme embarrassment when, in the presence of a new boyfriend, she sat on a wooden garden bench that disintegrated beneath her weight. Alexandra Collings was inspired by this incident to immediately join a weight-loss group. But this story has a twist. The young man actively sabotaged her efforts to achieve a healthier weight. So she dumped him, lost 140 pounds, and found a new boyfriend.

The other profiles in Murano’s article include a man who got stuck in an amusement park ride, a woman who got stuck in a bathtub, and a man who grew tired of getting dirty looks from other bus passengers when he took up two seats. The tales are all very entertaining, but they are not the kinds of stories we ever want to see our children featured in.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Israel pulls ‘fat-shaming’ childhood obesity awareness ads,”, 01/09/14
Source: “8 People Who Were Shamed into Losing Weight,”, 10/02/13
Image by Tor Lindstrand

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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