Is our country unhealthy? Yes.
Are a huge percentage of people overweight and obese? Yes.
Do millions of people eat fast food every day and not go to the gym? Mhm.
Does that mean it’s okay to start bullying overweight people until they feel badly enough about themselves that someday, they’ll be spontaneously converted to your line of thinking? No, of course not. And it’s depressing that this is somehow a topic up for debate.
As you’ve likely already heard, a newswoman named Jennifer Livingston was sent an email (from somebody who apparently never watches her show anyway) regarding her weight. In it, the man urges her to drop pounds because she’s somehow a bad role model by being on television. Here’s the video of her response:
First of all, I fully believe in free speech. By all means, say what you want to say without fear of legal repercussions! On the other hand, crying “but free speech!” doesn’t make you not a jerk. Plenty of people who don’t break any laws are still jerks, including this fellah. His patronizing tone and false concern are obvious, and there are few things that make me go “seriously?” more than that whole, “Do it for yourself… because I obviously know what’s best for you despite barely knowing you” spiel.
According to her Twitter, she’s been invited to the Ellen Show to discuss bullying. While I always think it’s important to discuss issues that still exist and need to be changed, however difficult that may be, I think it’s even more significant that a woman who is overweight is able to discuss it publicly. Why? Because right about now, more than a few little girls are about to develop an eating disorder. Not a “healthier diet,” not a For every Honey Boo Boo that seems confident in her appearance regardless of inherent pressure on little girls to be skinny, there are dozens of kids who are either ridiculed or live in fear of being ridiculed for their weight. Seeing an adult, particularly a well-spoken member of the media, who is successful as well as overweight is incredibly important.
Bullying rarely breeds success. Sure, there are plenty of supermodels and celebrities who have stated they were bullied as children, but let’s be honest: how many of bullied kids are going to be supermodels? How many kids in general will end up as supermodels? Bullying doesn’t result in rational thinking; rather than saying, “Hey, those kids called me fat, I think I’ll start eating a balanced diet!” there are an incredible amount of kids who instead think to themselves, “Hey, those kids called me fat, I need to do whatever possible to ensure that never happens again.” I occasionally have heard the argument, “Well, that’s their own faults if they don’t want to make healthy changes.” They’re children. Even if you somehow were rational enough to fully understand everything about everything healthwise as a 10-year-old, not all children are developed enough to do so. Pretending any differently is as unrealistic as it is irresponsible.
Now, teaching people healthy ways to be in shape when they ask it of you is fine by me! But if you were walking down the street and somebody commented on your ears, hair, tattoos or anything else as being a “poor example,” would you be take it so well? Of course not, because it’s rude and unnecessary and none of their damn business how you live your life unless you’re somehow intentionally harming children. Kids can learn healthy eating habits and how to exercise from their parents, teachers, friends, coaches… plenty of places. Just seeing somebody overweight in the public eye doesn’t automatically mean the child will suddenly adopt horrible health habits, just the same as seeing somebody thin won’t automatically make you drop 20 pounds next month; it’s all about how others interpret those images for them. If they’re told “you can only be successful if you’re _____” by their parents, then those images might affect them more; if it’s not a huge concern, it’s much less likely to influence their decisions.
The whole “personal responsibility” thing is great: yes, we all need to take responsibility in some way for how we treat our own bodies. But that means we should all be responsible for how we treat other people, too, and that includes intentionally harming others’ feelings. Plus, the word “personal” should kind of maybe I mean really guys steer us away from making somebody else’s personal responsibility our own responsibility, particularly when our help is not requested.
Plus, and this should go without saying, there are many different reasons people are overweight. Some, because of not eating healthily and not exercising frequently. But sometimes that’s because (A) lots of people are poor (B) good food is frequently expensive (C) working more than one job and also taking care of household does not always leave money, time or energy to focus on your weight. I presently have three jobs as well as still taking classes; in order to maintain my weight due to having zero time to exercise in addition to a medical condition that makes it difficult, I can’t eat very much. I’m just lucky enough to have money to pay for foods that can provide nutrition, but many people aren’t. And then there are medical conditions that make it difficult to lose weight: Hypothyroidism, medicines that lead to weight gain, arthritis, a weak heart, asthma, complex genetics. Obviously some people simply don’t eat well and exercise, but it’s completely unfair to just assume you know the reasons for another person’s body shape without asking (and seriously: would any of us really even ask?).
And yet, we put up with it. We put up with people publicly bullying others over their weights despite it being the last socially acceptable form of physical appearance-based discrimination, and in the media (as well as elsewhere) its typically directed at women. Fat-shaming is just a loophole allowing people to be cruel to others because they’re “looking out for them!”
Am I biased? Definitely, and I will readily admit that. When I was in high school, I had a boyfriend for a while that would subtly imply, then outright state, that I was eating too much, I was too fat and I needed to lose weight “for myself.” It was mainly because he felt it reflected poorly on him, but it made me feel terrible. Really, truly horrible that somebody I thought I loved (well, in that 17-year-old-idealist way or whatever) could tell me how my body needed to look. Was I actually fat? Definitely yes and definitely no by different standards. So did it make me change my habits? You’re damn right it did. Did it make me get healthier? No. It just made me guilty and depressed about every single thing I ate, so I relapsed with my bulimia after about a year of being vom-free. Was that his fault? No, of course not. I chose to do that. However, would I have started throwing up again if he hadn’t berated me about my appearance? Almost certainly not since I was happy, confident and well up until that point. But when somebody hurts you, cuts you really deeply with words, it’s hard to know how to react rationally when their means to and end are so clearly irrational.
People absolutely rushed to Lady Gaga’s defense when certain media outlets called her fat due to gaining some weight, and she was praised for taking a stand against body image critiquing. How is this any different just because this person is overweight? She’s still a human being with feelings, self-esteem, sensitivity… simply because she’s a member of the media lying somewhere on a scale of “Never been on TV once” to “Biggest celebrity in the world” doesn’t mean we shouldn’t defend her, too, and be excited that she took a public stand. If someone’s answer is, “But this woman’s heavier and therefore less healthy, so it’s okay,” then I don’t really know what to say besides bullying still is the absolute least effective way to change a person’s life for the better. It’s not “motivating” anybody; it’s simply being intentionally cruel and excusing the behavior.
Basically, if you don’t wanna read all my upset ranting, this is all I really had to say: shockingly (ahem), bullying is still not okay. It never has been; it never will be. Attempting to coerce somebody into doing what you want them to by being cruel is not all right. It’s ineffective, and even if it weren’t, it’d still be not okay. So regardless of whether you consider her to have been bullied or not, hopefully you can agree that directly insulting a person’s physicality will never be all right. I know this is a heated topic and I will be inclined not argue with anybody because it’s sort of like gay marriage/abortion/etc. (once a person’s mind is made up, it’s almost always like that permanently), but I absolutely want to hear your thoughts!
Also included: a short gallery of various celebrities who have been weight-bullied, whether it was for post-pregnancy weight or otherwise.
Lovelies, what do you think about bullying overweight people?