9 Facts Shatter the Biggest Stereotypes About Fat People: 6. Fat shaming isn’t helpful. (via fucknosexistcostumes)
Hmm. I apologize because this is going to be long and excessively wordy, not to mention I’ll be deferring to Wikipedia for references to specific definitions for the simple fact that I’m too lazy to dig up the actual names and definitions of the terms and ideologies I will reference, but this is a shorthand and nonscientific evaluation for my own personal entertainment, though anybody is free to read and gain some knowledge.
Looking at this statement, is makes me think of something I learned recently in class. In sociology, specifically the sociological study of deviance, there is an explanation to deviant acts that this scenario fits perfectly. If we take and consider whatever actions (in the above text, eating) and situations that go into a person becoming obese, whether it is beyond their control or not, and roll that into the package we call fat and label “fat” as an act of deviance in society (since it defies what we consider normal in society), then we can apply sociological theories of deviance to this particular situation.
One derivative of the theory of Symbolic Interactionism view on deviance in society is Labeling Theory. The shorthand of Symbolic Interactionism is that what we consider as reality and concrete is actually something developed sociologically. Deviance is not simply something that exists, but rather something that exists because “normality” exists. The interaction between the conforming and the deviant is what creates deviance, because without a frame of reference, neither can exist. In addition, what is important in these interactions is not necessarily the actions themselves, but rather the symbolic interpretations the conforming place on deviants.
So now that we have that understanding, Labeling Theory pays particular attention to the stigma associated with labels that the conforming place on deviant acts. In labeling theory, the people that represent conventional morality typically apply the labels against those who have violated the norms and expectations of society. In this situation, we have the conventional person referring to a person as fat. Whether that person is fat by their own devices, medical illness, or other forces beyond their control does not matter; they have crossed the threshold into deviant territory in an individual’s eyes. Generally the more “powerful” that individual (figure of authority, popular peer, etc.) the more susceptible the receiver of the label is to accepting the label. No matter how resilient an individual may be (according to labeling theory) they will eventually succumb to the pressure of being called a deviant (in this case fat) and see themselves as fat, regardless of whether this is true or not. That is labeling theory.
After this stage, the individual has accepted their label. Labels themselves become self-fulfilling prophecies in which they believe that they are fat, so they engage in behaviors that facilitate gaining weight (“Since I’m already fat, it doesn’t matter” this would be their line of thought and it’s surprisingly common to hear something like this from people once they have been labeled from my personal experience) and therefore become fat even if they were not before.
In short, these sociological explanations of deviance can be utilized in conjunction to explain this observed phenomenon. I would like to note that people respond differently to the same stimuli, so SOME people may respond positively and reform or at least attempt to reform, but the overwhelming majority of research with both this and deviance in general suggest that the opposite is usually true, and that people usually fall victims to their labels. Once they believe they are deviant, they are likely to engage in deviant behaviors and continue down the path towards being a confirmed deviant. In this sense, telling a person they are fat only pushes them further along the path towards becoming stuck in the mindset that they are fat; it helps no one in the end unless you are a sadistic individual who loves getting off by making others feel bad about themselves, but that’s your own prerogative and that probably makes you a terrible person by our society’s standards.
While I’m at it, I may as well toss in my own personal feelings on the subject; if you think a person is fat, like they visibly appear obese to you, there’s no need to tell them that. They have probably already heard it and you’re not helping. If you really want to help them, keep your trap shut about their weight and promote behaviors that will lead to weight loss or healthy living. You don’t need to shove weight loss solutions, healthy food, or exercise in their face; the first step is to have a healthy lifestyle yourself. Second is to interact with them, be an actual friend, and if they grow attached enough to you (and they haven’t fallen to their self-fulfilling prophecy of being fat), then they’ll likely follow your behaviors as an example. You can’t just tell people to fix something or be something better; show them something better, be that sterling example and if you play the part well enough, they’ll strive to become like you. Otherwise, keep your biased moralities out of their personal choices. You don’t know what they’ve been through or what influences them in their lives.