Does Labeling Obesity as a Disease Fat Shame?

I am a big supporter of the Body Positivity movement. I love everything about the message it sends to men and women of all shapes, sizes and colors that their bodies are perfect exactly the way they are. There is no blueprint to beauty, no be-all-end-all definition of attractiveness. Your size, your height, your shape and even that little birthmark behind your ear all contribute to the multitude of reasons that you are truly, remarkably, uniquely and irreplaceably beautiful. The fact that you’re different from the models in the magazines, the actors on TV, or even the woman who lives next door or the men who frequent your gym just reaffirms the fact that you, by being nothing other than yourself, are a genuine representation of beauty.

The Body Positivity movement has received a lot of backlash, however, and this is something I would like to briefly address. Obesity is widely acknowledged by the medical community as a disease, and the idea of promoting self-love to the obese population is frowned upon by many who feel that it discourages bettering one’s health. A particularly vicious branch of oppositional minds even goes so far as to “fat shame” members of the obese community. Fat shaming, much like the audience it targets, comes in all forms, ranging from “playful” nicknames like “big boy,” “thunder thighs” or a facetious “tiny,” to exclusion from certain clubs or activities, increased fares on airlines based purely on your weight, or even having to special order your clothes because retail stores don’t cater to a larger community.

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear right now. Labeling obesity as a medical disease is not a form of fat shaming. Obesity is a medical condition that affects both the mental and physical well being of a person, and carries with it many serious, and life-threatening side effects. It is not meant to belittle, shame or make fun of anyone. Like labeling any other disease, like cancer, anorexia, bulimia, or even the flu, labeling obesity as a medical disease is simply a way to collectively define the state of your health and educate you to the risks you face should your disease be left untreated. Just as some diseases call for chemotherapy, antibiotics or antihistamines, treating obesity requires changes to your lifestyle, which often requires drastic restructuring of one’s entire mentality, and an incredible level of self discipline and strength.

Making FUN of someone who suffers with obesity is fat shaming. It is as horrible and heartless as making fun of a cancer patient, or ridiculing someone with autism. No one becomes medically obese by choice. The mental, emotional and psychological work that go into the beginning stages of truly and healthily fighting obesity are enormous, and delicate. Any form of fat shame can be hugely catastrophic to the mental and emotional progress someone has made, which, in my opinion, is the single most reprehensible thing any human being can do to another. Just because you can’t see someone’s progress, does not mean that they aren’t fighting with everything that they’ve got.

The threats that being obese present in your life are real, and scary. But that doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you less beautiful, suddenly non-handsome, it doesn’t change the fact that you have a wonderful smile, beautiful eyes or an incredible personality. The integrity of your character, the appeal of your mind and the allure of your laugh are not impacted by obesity, and they are all things that make you radiant. There is absolutely nothing wrong with or shameful about you as a person. The fight of anyone struggling with any disease is not something that can be understood by someone who hasn’t been through it. The intricacies that go into fighting obesity, anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, body dysmorphic disorder, or any disease at all are not something to be made fun of. It is a struggle to be respected, to be supported, and to be applauded.

Fat shaming is not beautiful. You are.


About Author

Dani Russell is a freelance health and fitness lifestyle writer living in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is currently working to complete a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology and is a practicing student therapist. In her free time she can be found playing in the ocean, hiking and weightlifting. You can keep up with her daily quest to balance multiple jobs, fitness and graduate school via her tumblr.

Posts By Dani Russell
  • Rebekah Richardson

    “Fat shaming is not beautiful. You are.”
    We’ll said!

  • badu

    “Obesity is widely acknowledged by the medical community as a disease”
    I think you’ve missed a point. Fat people or fatness as disease is a LIE. Whether it hurts or helps fat or any other people is neither here nor there. Lying about the way body’s work is wrong and just causes problems. The last set of lies did.

    Lying is the reason why there’s nothing better than dieting for people like you who want to lose weight. People like you support those who don’t give a shit about you as you always have. People like me try to fight for better, because whether we are ill or not, fat to thin, we all deserve better than the crap these liars are trying to feed us.

  • me

    Dude did you even read this article? Or any of her other ones? “There’s nothing better for than dieting for people like you” are you kidding me? Who’s really being unsupportive here? And never ONCE did she say diet.

    This was a gentle and respectful article. No one in their right mind is going to say that there are no medical risks to being obese. No one. Sorry if that makes you upset or hurts your feelings but maybe you should take the time to learn how the body actual works before you go around being hateful on the internet.

  • badu

    This is just how I talk okay, not every one talks like you, is that going to be a problem? I am not being aggressive. I do not tell YOU how to speak, don’t tell me how to speak thanks. Especially when you insincerely claim to be sorry if I’m upset about what you think I think. Obesity is a bullshit contrivance which I don’t seek to use to describe anything meaningful. I’m sure its very polite to define people as disease.

    I don’t give a damn what you think I think about ‘obesity’. Nor about your “latest articles” full of weight loss. Bully for you. I’m just saying that those like yourself who wish to lose weight, should have better options than you do. How are you going to turn that into offensive, did you read what I wrote or what you feel is my tone?

  • Susan B

    I agree with this article. With the exception of possibly one thing: I honestly don’t understand how charging extra on an airline in some circumstances is fat shaming, though. If someone needs two seats instead of one (particularly on a fully booked flight) and weighs double the average person, I fail to understand how that should just be disregarded. A person carrying an overweight bag or extra bag is also charged for bringing extra weight on a plane, so from an airline’s point of view I understand why they do it. It’s an uncomfortable situation for someone, I’m sure, but I guess I don’t see how it’s deliberate fat shaming though. I honestly don’t mean disrespect and I apologize in advance if it’s taken as such. Zipping up my flame suit now.

  • Dani R.

    Hi guys!

    I appreciate everyone’s input on my article. Before this conversation gets out of hand, I’d like to just go ahead and reiterate that this article truly isn’t about whether obesity is or isn’t a disease, or even if “obesity” as a label/concept exists at all, but rather the point of this was truly to promote unconditional self acceptance and a healthy all around mentality. Truly the message I was trying to convey in my writing of this piece was that regardless of if the majority of the population considers obesity to be a “disease” or not, it is absolutely NOT the definition of any person. The little things that make you who you are define you, not the quantitative sum of any medical conditions you may or may not have.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and I am glad to read perspectives that I may have previously considered or been aware of.

    I’m sorry that this article was of so little use to you, Badu, and I hope that other works on this site in the future suit your interests and needs better.

    – Dani Russell

  • Dani R.

    Thanks for the feedback, Susan!
    I seriously debated including the topic of airline fares in this article at all as I was writing it, because, like you, I can see from an economic perspective how increasing fares in certain circumstances would be the the option that makes the most sense, especially in the context of running a business.

    However, I choose to put it in here, because while economically/fiscally it makes sense, that doesn’t lessen the sense of shame and guilt some people may feel when forced to purchase an additional airline seat, regardless of the validity or logic in the reason.

    I really try to promote self acceptance, confidence, and a positive mentality in all of my writing, and so chose to include it so as to encompass the potential of that scenario in the spectrum of negative feelings I was trying to help fight against.

    Thanks again, for reading and sharing your opinion!

    – Dani Russell

  • Susan B

    Hi Dani,
    Thanks for clarifying, your explanation makes sense and I see what you mean. It was a very well thought out article!

    Have a great weekend!

  • MrSpongebobFangirl .

    Unfortunately some people are fat by choice, like it or not. I know *I* am. I don’t LIKE being overweight, but I eat so unhealthy and I don’t exercise as much as I should. Do I NEED bacon on my hamburgers or guacamole with my chips? Of course not, but I do anyway. I have nobody to blame for my fatness but me–therefore I chose to be fat. I’m trying to lose weight, but it’s pretty hard!

    Also…just how overweight do you have to be to need two airline seats? I hadn’t even heard of that until I read this article.

  • Danny Stone

    Totally agree, we all have something that makes us special. But, being over-weight isn’t something tolerable anymore, for me.
    I’m looking for a product to help me shed some pounds, didn’t really want to reach this point, but I have no other choice now. Tried almost every single plan and exercise without my desired progress. Maybe my last bet before going for medicines or surgery is to get one of those all-inclusive books, here’s a review for a book that I’m interested in
    Please tell me whether to go for this book or it would be a waste of time.