What is Fat-Shaming?

Shame  (yellow paint)

Fat-shaming is trying to make someone feel guilty and “less than” because of their weight. It can include many implications and shades of meaning, like “Aren’t you ashamed to have health conditions that will cost the taxpayers a fortune?” and “How dare you wear an outfit that only a normal person should wear?”

It is all too easy to sound like a fat-shamer. Perfectly nice people say things that seem, to them, to be common sense. They are amazed to discover how offensive their words can be to others, especially people in the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement whose ears are hypersensitive to anything that might be construed as blaming or shaming.

When considering matters that should or should not be anyone else’s business, HAES proponents see weight as a personal choice, equivalent to hair color. Is this valid? In a debate, an opponent could say that hair color should not be compared with obesity. One person’s hair color does not impact another’s tax bill or insurance rates – but the cost of conditions caused by obesity eventually becomes everyone’s problem.

In the HAES universe, body size and physical health are two totally separate realms. Quite rationally, people of this belief system encourage everyone, of every size, to practice healthful behaviors. And of course there are larger people whose current health seems fine. HAES-minded individuals point to their own within-normal-limits vital signs and excellent lab test results as proof that all is well. But all is far from well. As one citizen put it,

The issue isn’t whether you have health complications now, it’s that you’re statistically much more likely to develop health problems down the road that may kill you before you would have died otherwise.

No matter how healthy an overweight person seems now, quite possibly the worst effects of obesity have not shown up yet, and it is only a matter of time. To point out such an obvious possibility – is that fat-shaming?

True Puzzlement

A lot of people are immobilized or confined by physical circumstances they can’t control.  Almost everybody knows someone who has fought courageously to walk, or endured many surgeries, or has simply become too old to do the things they want and need to do. The sight of a person disabled by 600 pounds of fat is likely to inspire bafflement and even anger. How could anyone do that to themselves, when they could so easily NOT do it? Here’s a congenitally disabled person in a wheelchair who will never walk, and there’s a mountain of flesh with a potentially healthy and able human buried underneath. Where is the justice? To ask the question out loud – is that fat-shaming?

Claire Goodwin, who appeared on TV as a contestant in the Great British Bake Off, received some unkind remarks through social media, and told Telegraph readers how this was the first time she had ever been fat-shamed. Her meditations on fat discrimination include the realization that some workers, like Emergency Service personnel, need to be in excellent physical condition. But should anyone care if a chef is overweight? She disagrees with the knee-jerk assumption that an obese person is lazy, greedy, weak, or any other negative quality, and says,

Fat is something you have, not something you are. To make someone feel unworthy and ashamed because of an aspect of their appearance, and assume things about their personality and behaviors due to this is frankly absurd.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Dismantling fat logic makes me an “ignorant prick”,” Reddit.com, 09/23/14
Source: “’Fat is something you have, not something you are’,” Telegraph.co.uk, 09/11/14
Image by Anthony Easton

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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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