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