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Being a fat person on the Internet opens you up to a lot of hate, as scrolling through the comments section of any YouTuber’s videos will show you.
Fat shaming on the Internet is widespread, and it hurts people. Gaming YouTuber extraordinaire boogie2988 had a response to all of the hate that he sees fat people getting, which you should absolutely watch.
This quote sums it up pretty well:
Your excuse that fat people are all sub-human lazy pieces of crap doesn’t float because we are people. We are human beings with thoughts and emotions just as strong and as valid as yours, and we’re doing the best we can, even if our best isn’t up to your standards.
Because one person can’t speak for an entire group of people, I spoke with some other folks who have had to deal with being fat shamed online and compiled their experiences and advice here.
How Does It Feel To Be Fat Shamed?
Lindsey Averill is the producer and co-director of a Kickstarter-funded documentary called Fattitude that examines weight bias in our culture and encourages body acceptance at all sizes. While her documentary was raising funds, she received a lot of hate.
The vitriol that came our way was violent and frightening. As you can imagine, we were called all kinds of names and accused of eating too many doughnuts. We were also scolded – by more intellectual people – for burdening the system and promoting unhealthy lifestyles. Besides the fat-shaming comments, we received death threats, rape threats, slut-shaming threats, anti-semitic threats, and violent homophobic threats. While this hatred began with online comments, videos, tweets, and emails – it escalated to phone calls, handwritten letters and police reports. It was scary, and it still feels scary.
What we’re talking about here is no joke. Averill is a real person who received death threats for trying to fund a documentary that promotes being happy with their bodies. And she’s not alone.
Chrystal Bougon is the owner of a plus-size lingerie store. She was thrust into the limelight after Reddit users (some of whom are notorious for fat shaming) reposted photos from her company’s website along with hateful comments; in the media, she was pitted against the “Fit Mom” who advocated for all women becoming skinny.
Bougon’s store has been vandalized three times in the past two months. People constantly bombard her blog, Facebook page, and Instagram photos with hateful comments and terrible threats. The hatred against fat people is real and terrifying.
Why Do Fat People Receive So Much Hate?
A fantastic YouTuber, Loey Lane, has some insight for us on this very topic.
Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t find there to be any good justification for fat-shaming people. But she brings up a lot of reasons people seem to give to justify their fat hate: they think they fat people aren’t attractive, they are uncomfortable seeing fat people, they think fat people are promoting obesity, or they think that fat people are asking for feedback when being in public or putting themselves online.
Obviously, fat people do not live as objects for other people to critique, judge, and change according to what makes them comfortable or what they find attractive. Matt Diaz – a social media personality who rose to fame after posting a video showing off his excess skin from losing 270 pounds over the course of six years – had some words that spoke directly to this.
People will tell you that you need to lose weight to be attractive or that you have to change your style or your hair or any number of things in order to fit into society’s “beauty standards.” These people are always wrong. There is no “standard for beauty” because there is no “standard” for people. We come in all forms, and all of these forms have their own kinds of beauty.
Joni Edelman, the Editor-in-Chief of Ravishly.com wrote an article about why being thin didn’t make her happy, but being fat did, which caused her to receive a lot of attention and press surrounding issues of body-shaming and body positivity. I reached out to her, and she had this to say about why fat people receive so much hate.
When you start saying things like, “Hey, guess what? You don’t have to torture yourself with dieting to be a happy person,” you are really challenging a very deeply held belief. A lot of people just aren’t ready for that.
It certainly can be hard to change people’s minds about their most deeply held beliefs, but when those beliefs are hurting people, working to change them is for the best.
Sexism definitely plays a role too. Women receive death threats just for critiquing video games and have to create hashtags just to bring awareness to the sexism they face every day. When it comes to fat hate, all genders are affected, but the hate targeted at women is often even harsher, as we’ve seen from the Dad Bod trend.
Let’s go back to Loey Lane’s point about promoting obesity, though. This seems to be a common misconception, so let’s break it down.
Is It Healthy To Be Fat?
Your weight is a terrible indication of how healthy you are. It’s long been accepted within the medical community that BMI (a number based on your height and weight that determines if you are underweight or overweight) is an inaccurate measure of health.
This is where boogie2899 was wrong in his video from earlier. He said that the Health At Every Size movement is lying to itself because being overweight does directly impact your health, which is just factually incorrect. Unfortunately, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, “false and scientifically unsupported beliefs about obesity are pervasive in both scientific literature and the popular press.”
Averill touched on this point when I spoke to her.
“Health” as an idea is complicated – what does “healthy” mean? Define health. Is it mental? Is it physical? Is it spiritual? How about food deserts and poverty – actual access to fruits and veggies – does that come into play when we are judging an individual’s health? I guess what I am getting at here is that the conflation of unhealthy with fat bodies and healthy with thin bodies is dangerous stuff; it functions like propaganda, blinding people to some very real and very ugly unchecked systemic issues.
Laci Green, a vlogger, sex educator, and activist, also talked about this in a recent episode of the MTV Braless series.
Green manages to smash a lot of myths in a little under five minutes, but here’s a solid excerpt:
You can’t tell someone’s health status just by looking at them. Sure, extra weight can pose a health risk, but the severity and type of risk depends on the person and the type of fat that it is. For instance, visceral fat that wraps around the organs is higher risk than subcutaneous fat that’s under the skin. Extra fat can also be caused by other health conditions that the person is dealing with.
So there are a few important aspects to this: appearing “fat” doesn’t mean that you are unhealthy, another person’s health status is none of your business, and our conception of what is healthy is constantly changing and evolving.
Does Fat Shaming Motivate People To Lose Weight?
Hypothetically, let’s say that someone is unhealthy and losing weight will help them become healthier. Does hurling mean insults at them help them lose that weight faster?
No. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Boogie2899 said it right:
I have seen all of the fat hatred that’s ever been posted on the Internet, and I can assure you not one bit of it has ever helped me. … That’s the hypocritical thing about fat hatred, by the way, because this is a group of people who say they would love to eliminate fat people and encourage everyone to lose weight but they do it completely the wrong way. One of the key ingredients of beating obesity is learning to love and care for yourself, and that’s really hard to do when you log into the Internet to find hundreds of thousands of people berating and mocking you.
Others had a similar sentiment to add, and Matt Diaz phrased it perfectly.
Because when you think about it, what purpose does body shaming serve? I’ve asked people in the past, and some of them have made claims that it’s to “motivate” people into becoming healthier, and that’s total crap. Even if someone did get shamed into losing weight, they’d still have a negative self image and it would deeply emotionally trouble them. That’s where we get eating disorders from.
When you body shame, you aren’t doing it to “motivate” anyone. All you’re doing is trying to keep others down, because they’re different than you. Negativity and hatred have never accomplished anything wonderful, and I sincerely hope that one day you see that.
The answer is clear: motivating people to lose weight by insulting them is misguided, and it doesn’t work.
How Do People Deal With The Hate?
Hate isn’t going to make anyone’s fat go away, so how do people who have to deal with this kind of harassment on a regular basis deal with it? Well, YouTuber Trisha Paytas talks a bit about that in her video about all the hate she receives.
She brings up a lot of points in her 16 minutes, but this is a great thing to take away from it:
A lot of people will look at a big person, a fat person, and automatically deem them unhealthy and therefore they should not have confidence, or deem them gross and therefore should not have confidence and should not post underwear and sexy lingerie pictures. As a female, I think we’re all entitled to the right to feel sexy in any lingerie. … There should not be a standard on feeling great about yourself.
But the path to feeling good about yourself and ignoring the haters is different for everyone. The always eloquent Matt Diaz talked about how he managed to overcome the hate.
It wasn’t easy to deal with those negative comments when I was at my heaviest weight, because I was already so insecure. The truth is, I realized how sad these people were. Bullying someone online is hiding behind a screen, sending hateful messages through the use of anonymity.
These people are probably far away and will never meet you in person, and they’re just trying to hurt you. That’s pathetic. You can’t trust the opinion of anyone who is too scared to show their face, because they won’t really stand behind their own words. Once I realized that, it became a lot easier to write off those negative things.
Learning to overcome the haters is one thing – but what about getting rid of the hate completely?
How Can We Stop The Hate?
There has to be something we can do to stop all of this, right? No one wants to live in a hateful society. It can just be hard for us to empathize with those who are different than us if we don’t sit down and listen to them.
Sean O’Brien, better known as the #DancingMan, was made fun of for his weight on the Internet before a group of people in LA stood up to support him and threw him a party in Hollywood a few weeks ago under the Dance Free campaign. He’s seen the direct effects of people trying to spread the anti-bullying message, and he had this to say about it.
I never thought of myself as big even though I was aware that people used to mock and make jibes. Dance Free though has opened the doors of a whole new world for me, and where I may have been quiet in the past, I will now be vocal in my opinions and proactive wherever possible in offering my support whenever any occurrence of bullying or body shaming is apparent.
We are all unique individuals and no one has the right to demean anyone for trying or wanting to be whatever they want (within legal restraints obviously). Dance Free has given me the opportunity to meet so many genuinely great people, all of whom have the inner strength to let the world know who they are and be proud of it. It would be totally remiss of me if I did not do the same and support this.
The Dance Free movement has gathered some of their favorite responses to body shaming and fat shaming:
It’s clear that it takes some standing up and saying that enough is enough to make a change. Edelman felt strongly about this.
The worst thing we can do, maybe even worse than perpetuating shame, is standing silently and watching it happen. If you know something is wrong, and you sit idly by, you have done as much harm.
Averill, likewise, wants people to be loud and proud about their bodies.
Speak up. Come out as body positive. Tell people there is no shame in fatness. When someone makes a fat person the butt of a joke, say that’s not funny. When you hear a friend self-shaming, don’t stand for it, and make it clear why it’s bothersome. Stop photoshopping and cropping images of yourself — double chins, stretch marks, arm fat — whatever, we all have them.
Compassion and love, especially for yourself, seem to be the key here. As cheesy as it sounds, hate is never going to solve anything.
What Do You Think?
The Internet, which gives us the veil of anonymity, can be a cesspool of hatred — but it can also inspire great change. With a bit more positivity, maybe we can all learn to love ourselves and not judge others based on their size.
Have you for whatever reason ever been the victim of body shaming online? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.