It happens to even the most glamorous of celebrities. But why do people fat-shame? And what can you do if you fall victim to it?
Fat-shaming isn’t a new phenomenon. But in the past if someone made a negative comment about your weight, it would be to your face.
Online fat-shaming is an entirely different beast, as it can snowball into a torrent of abuse, and fat-shamers are free to spout vitriol with anonymity.
Fat-shaming can happen to anyone and nasty comments don’t even necessarily mean the person is truly overweight.
Glamorous stars such as Kim Kardashian have been fat-shamed online for posting slightly unflattering photographs.
Some might argue that fat-shaming is a positive thing as it can spur an overweight person into losing weight.
But researchers have found that fat-shaming has the opposite effect — it’s not only upsetting but it also drives people towards comfort eating.
The study, done at the University of Pennsylvania, found that when people are fat-shamed, they’re actually more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with the stress.
So why do people fat-shame others?
Dr Rachel Andrew, clinical psychologist, says that she’s noticed fat-shaming on the rise among the young people she works with.
‘Fat-shaming online has become prevalent because there’s a sense of anonymity – you can say what you want even if it’s not something you’d say to someone’s face. But also, importantly, you cannot see their reaction, either,’ she says.
Dr Andrew explains that when we say something nasty to someone’s face, often their reaction will make us realise what we have done is wrong.
With online fat-shaming, that doesn’t happen, so it goes on and on and on.
Dr Andrew says fat-shaming can happen for a variety of reasons, one being that the fat-shamer feels insecure and sees a photo of someone looking confident and wants to bring them down.
She adds: ‘Fat-shaming happens to people of all ages but mostly affects young people because they communicate through pictures on social media platforms — such as Instagram and Snapchat — and this means the opportunity is there for people to make nasty comments.’
But what are the effects of fat-shaming?
Dr Andrew says it depends on the person, but that it can range from mildly upsetting to being devastating enough to provoke eating disorders.
‘It can have an effect on self-esteem and mood,’ she says. ‘For certain people they may feel vulnerable and be seeking lots of likes for a photo on social media but when they receive a negative or “fat-shaming” comment this can worsen their low self-esteem. The effects can be very damaging.’
Edited by Julie Cook
How to cope
If your children are fat-shamed at school, encourage them to tell a teacher or adult.
If fat-shaming comments appear on your own photos online, remove them or block abusive messages.
Remember that people who fat-shame are often insecure themselves and can’t gauge your reaction, so are able to ignore the emotional impact of their acts.
Size 10 and fat-shamed
At the age of eight, I moved back from Spain to the UK with my family. I was very tanned with blonde hair, and a little chubby.
The other children at school called me ‘cheese puff’.
Then the names moved on to ‘fatso’, ‘whale’ and ‘tree-trunk thighs’.
At secondary school, the fat-shaming became worse.
I was a size 10 but girls continued to call me names.
I started putting photos on social media and a website called ASKfm.
Immediately people made anonymous rude comments.
One person wrote: How do you get dressed if you’re that fat?
I couldn’t understand, as I wasn’t overweight.
But it still destroyed my confidence.
I hated school sports day and dreaded wearing my sports clothes. I came home from school in tears.
My family supported me and reminded me that I wasn’t fat.
I’m now age 20, and a size 8-10.
I model and I’m proud of my shape.
Fat-shaming, whether to your face or online, can be really upsetting.
I’d never do it to anyone else and people need to think twice before making nasty comments. You never know the effects your words can have on someone.
From Jessica Daly, 20, of Milton Keynes, Bucks