When Fat-Shaming Doesn’t Work


Jenny Kanevsky sang in a rock band, went to grad school, ran a business, tried stand-up comedy, wrote a novel, and raised two children. Considering the obstacles she faced growing up as a broad-shouldered, rather hefty girl, it is rather wonderful that she emerged as such a versatile and self-realized being. As a grownup who has been through the wringer, she wants the world to understand that “No one changes by being shamed.”

This was her childhood:

I was strong. I was a swimmer… I was an athlete… Given that passion and, if left to my own devices with food choices, I am convinced, I’d have developed a healthy body image and a normal size for my bones.

But there were bullies at school, eager to punish her for being a poor kid with the wrong religion. In the societal environment, there was the ubiquitous presence of skinny models on magazine covers and on television.

To top it all off, she had “already been shamed by my family who watched every morsel that passed my lips.” Even so, Kanevsky does not deeply blame her parents, who were caught in the drama of a crumbling marriage. In their distracted way, they cared, and worried about her unpromising fat-girl future. Sometimes they resorted to hiding food.

Kanevsky writes:

I was watched, judged, criticized, and shamed. I was willed, shamed to change… As a result, I developed a full-blown eating disorder. I snuck food and binged. I dieted obsessively, exercised chronically, and the cycle was in place.

All through college, the constant loss and gain of weight felt like living on a roller coaster. At some point, sick with frustration at the everlasting fluctuation, Kanevsky experienced what she describes as a metamorphosis. She studied up on eating disorders and realized that the unconscious fear of future deprivation was a strong driver of her voracious appetite.

Even someone mired in an emotional swamp may seize upon a rational point and use it as the impetus to get out of the vicious cycle. A firm grasp of an objective truth can promote helpful self-talk.

A person might think, “Stop looking at that serving plate. You’ve had enough, and you know it’s just some primitive, deluded corner of your brain panicking because there may not be anything to eat tomorrow. But you have a good job and a full refrigerator, you’re not going to starve, and you need to push back your chair and get up from this table right now.”

Meghan Tonjes made a video called “Hate the Donut, Not the Fatty.” She was tired of people giving her grief in real life and online, and disgusted with a culture that glorifies food, then judges and ostracizes people who appear to enjoy food too much. She was weary of being expected to explain the obesity of others, and to express an opinion about it. But then, there is also the opposite, oppressive reaction to cope with:

The minute a fat girl opens her mouth to say, “Hey! Stop doing this!” people are like, “Just go for a walk and eat a salad, and then we’ll like you enough to respect your opinion…”

Tonjes speaks to fat-shamers lucky enough to grow up in environments where access to fresh, real food was taken for granted, with caring mentors who demonstrated how to obtain nourishment without dragging in a bunch of emotional baggage. She scolds these people who don’t acknowledge their own good fortune:

Realize that your experience in life is not everyone’s experience. Your access to food, nutrition, all these things, there’s privilege in that, and you don’t know everyone’s story…

A lot of you assume that we’re just an example of what’s wrong with the world, without taking any responsibility for the fact that you’re a part of it.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “It’s Time to Love, Not Shame Your Body,” HuffingtonPost.com, 03/18/15
Source: “Woman Explains Why Shaming ‘Fat People’ For Eating Junk Food Is So Bad,” EliteDaily.com, 07/20/15
Images: @phantomunmasked

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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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