Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. My parents repeated this idiom often to my sister and I, and for the most part, I had no problem shrugging off insults; matter of fact, I reveled in joshing with my buddies. Conversely, whenever my sister engaged in the same banter with her friends, she held onto the insults for months.

I never understood her suffering, but a new study suggests that my sister’s habit of watching her favorite television shows and reading fashion magazines contributed to her slow pace of getting over insults.

According to Science Daily, a research team at Arizona State University sought to understand how and why fat-stigma is distributed in the context of everyday interactions and relationships within the framework of social media.

This research sheds some much needed light into how Boris Kodjoe’s negative Twitter-rant #fatexcuses can trend all throughout the blogosphere, upsetting his fans who felt the actor went about motivating overweight people through shaming.

Alexandra Brewis, lead author of the study, biological anthropologist, and director of ASU’s Center for Global Health, thinks her team better understands what’s the source of women’s suffering and where negative feelings about their appearance originate, especially in regards to obesity. America’s overall stigma towards fat people appearantley can be traced to these two entities: pop culture and advertisers.

Some very discouraging quotes come from lead scientist Brewis, who sees the 112 women interviewed, aged 18-45, as walking zombies that have a system of internal checks based on the E! Channel and Weight Watchers commercials:

Fat is understood culturally to represent profound personal failing and the attendant moral messages attached to it include laziness, lack of self-control, and being undesirable or even repulsive … So powerful and salient are these anti-fact messages that some Americans say they would rather die years sooner or be completely blind than be thought of as obese.

Sinisterly, when folks shame overweight people, the psychic damage permeates throughout the culture. When television producers frame fat people as losers, meant only to provide comic relief or pity, it’s understandable that some women will do anything to not to be fat. Brewis suggests that this stigmatization leads “normal” women to fear fatness, resulting in fatness becoming an obstacle hindering them from enjoying their lives instead of a place where all forms of fatness invites growth and self-examination — physiologically and emotionally — leading one towards affirmations of positivity and love.

The time must arrive when the J-Huds, Janet Jacksons, and Kirstie Alleys of the weight loss world share how much losing weight doesn’t solve all their issues, but it compounds the stress to stay at a weight that is set by industry, not their bodies.

Admitting that she didn’t feel fat stigma as a size 16 in her native Chicago neighborhood, Jennifer Hudson says her real battle came when she was in Hollywood. But what is absent from the her mainstream dialogue is depth? What protected her from feeling stigmatized? Does she know the difference between protection and denial? Outside of the common sexualized and culinary reasons, what makes black women comfortable with their sizes?

It’s troubling when Brewis states, “media and pop cultural messages are so pervasive and powerful that even the most loving support of those closest to us provides only limited protection against them.”

Turn off the television, hug the next woman you see, tell her how much you love her, and then ask yourself, “How much do I love myself?” Maybe this will be the first step in ending shaming of all kinds.

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  1. So coincedental (or is it?) that I came across this article and I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately… It’s sad but it’s true, being overweight is not praised in society AT ALL. I was asking my friends on Twitter if I should tell a girlfriend that she gained weight and everyone scolded me for it. Meanwhile, if she lost weight it would not have been inappropriate to mention it.

    • @AJCiti: Yes, I understand what you mean. This article sheds light on how powerful the media is and how much we, as a nation, continuously and consciously want to remain oblivious to the power of advertisers to tell us how and what to think.

      I completely feel you about wanting to tell your friends about their appearance. I had a friend who had a eating disorder, and she wouldn’t listen to me, but as soon as she saw a special on dateline about bulimia, she all of a sudden started to do something about — but I want to stress that I am guessing about her reason for changing her eating habits.

      But I would tell you not hold to your tongue, we only live once, and regardless of how it may make you feel about telling someone about herself, as long as your advice is based in love, it will be accepted sooner or later…

  2. IMO, It is rude and disrespectful to tell someone they are overweight. People know when they are overweight. It’s not like folks don’t look at themselves in the mirror. Sometimes a person is struggling with something on an emotional level. Pointing out how overweight they look may just make them retreat deeper into themselves and despair. I recently lost a decent amount of weight and felt good about myself. Until I had a intimate encounter with someone I trusted who felt it was necessary to tell me how big my stomach was and that I “needed to get that checked out.” Every good feeling I had about myself and my weight loss dissolved in that moment. If you feel like you need to say something to someone about their weight, do it gently and with love. Don’t assume anything because you don’t know what a person is going through in their life.

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