Why medical obesity and fat shaming aren’t the same thing

‘Look at our lifestyle, I’ll sit at a drive thru behind 15 other cars instead of getting up to make the eight foot walk to the totally empty counter’ – Greg Giraldo

Never before have I had to start a blog post with a disclaimer yet today I feel it’s necessary. What I’m about to write is in no way, shape or form intended to insult, offend or make anyone feel about about their shape, size or weight. I truly believe that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. I myself have ranged from plus size to under weight and possibly every size inbetween. I also work in the NHS and whilst i’m not medically trained, I have been for 10 years, in the company of people who are, and seen with my own baby blues, the finances and statistics behind obesity related illnesses and bariatric surgery trends. So whereas I may not be talking from a place of qualification, I am talking from a place of experience. I will also point out that I welcome any opposed views to what I’m about to write, if done in a mature and constructive way but any messages or tweets that are insulting or accuse me of fat shaming will be ignored. I will not be drawn into any juvenile slanging matches. Are we all in agreement? Ok, let’s go…

This all started when Sammie wrote an article about how you can now buy plus sized children’s clothes, and she questioned whether that was a good thing or not (and indeed whether plus sized clothing at all promoted obesity). You can read the whole article here. Now, talking about sensitive topics like weight (or religion or One Direction I’ve painfully learnt) are always going to be controversial and Sammie was always risking opening herself up to a lot of criticism for her opinion, I just never realised exactly how much criticism she was letting herself into.

The most prolific post my attention was drawn to was this retort from Sophie with this article. Now, I like to think of myself as no fence sitter. But in this case I can genuinely see both sides with their argument. Sammie didn’t use research statistics in her original posts and she didn’t acknowledge that there are certain medical conditions that can make it difficult for people to exercise or lose weight. But then the post was more focused on the fashion industry so, why should she have to throw science into the mix? Sophie’s article was well researched and came from a place which is clearly close to her heart. It’s written beautifully and passionately. She also references her beautiful daughter Jelly, who despite being 9, wears size 12-13 clothes, and from the picture she posted, Jelly clearly isn’t over weight in the slightest. However, I’m not convinced that that’s the point Sammie was making. A child wearing 2 sizes bigger because they’re tall for their age, is totally different from having plus sized clothing available for children. As you will see from Sophie’s post, Sammie and Sophie are not two people are are going to be best friends any time soon.

Me medically obese in 2005

Me medically obese in 2005

Before I get on to my opinion and the medical side of where all of this has left me, what this whole situation reminded me of the first time Dave went to Florida in 2006 and we went a theme park. One of the things that astonished me was that they had built in special rows on the rollercoasters for bariatric people. Money had been spent to modify seats so that larger people fit in them. And it’s not like the ‘regular’ seats were teeny tiny airline seats either. To me that didn’t seem right. It smacked of ‘people are getting fatter? no problem, we’ll just make bigger seats because we still want their cash’. Is that responsible?

Me medically 'normal' in 2009

Me medically ‘normal’ in 2009

Ok, so now the tricky part. I’m 5’5 and a size 12-14. As of 7am this morning I weigh 11st 6lbs. I am medically overweight. If a doctor measures my weight and weighs me and tells me my BMI is 27 and to be medically ‘normal’ i need to get down to under a BMI of 25, is that doctor fat shaming me? Of course not. Someone questioning the responsibility of the fashion industry to promote healthy body image is not a bully and is not fat shaming. Sammie, in my opinion was not fat shaming anyone. She wasn’t saying that you can’t be plus size and happy. She wasn’t saying you can’t be stylish and plus size. I feel that some of the horrid abuse she got was very, very unfair and her article was taken way out of context.

IMG_20150918_192717

Me medically overweight in 2015

I will be the first person to hold my hands up and say that I know there are conditions (especially mental health conditions, which i have written about my personal experiences with here)  that make it difficult to exercise, or medications that naturally make you gain weight. I also know that there is lots more that could be done by way of educating people on health and nutrition. The sad fact of the matter is though is that the nation is getting fatter and that’s creating a huge strain on NHS services. Surely it’s more responsible to spend tax payers money helping people lose weight safely and healthily than to have people go through all the costly medical complications that come with obesity related illnesses. A recent study says that the average clothes size in the UK has gone from a 14 to a 16. That means the average woman is larger than she was 10 years ago. I’m not saying a 16 is obese or over weight but it proves we are getting bigger. If you take the rollercoaster analogy as another example, if you keep on making life easy for people who are so overweight it’s starting to affect their health, it’s not really helping them from a medical point of view is it? Then where does it end? When do people say enough? Is it when the average woman is a size 32 and the NHS buckles under the pressure of 20 year olds with type 2 diabetes? Size 8 or size 28, 4’5 or 6’3, being fit and healthy should surely be most important. And if banning plus sized children’s clothes means it forces parents to assess their child’s diet and exercise regime to fight it early on so in later life they don’t suffer debilitating illnesses, that’s a good thing surely?

I guess what i’m trying to say in now what feels like a very convoluted way is that I don’t think it’s fair to call someone a bully or a fat shamer for simply questioning the fashion industry’s (or rollercoaster makers) responsibility to not contribute to the already growing obesity problem in this country.

I don’t think body shaming in any form is acceptable, whether it be mocking someone for being over or underweight. I also wholeheartedly agree that plus sized ladies should be able to wear fashionable clothes, some of the most stylish girls I know are plus size. I personally, don’t have any problem with plus sized adult clothes, however plus sized childrens clothes and school uniforms make me feel incredibly uneasy. What I’m saying is that I understand that point that a lot of medics and healthcare professionals believe that were plus sized clothes not as easily available it might help tackle the obesity problem in the UK. It’s a radical opinion (one that incidentally I don’t agree with) but i understand the logic. 

I myself have been bullied for being over weight and called horrible names. I have a friend who is extremely thin, and I have witnessed people, strangers in the street approach her and tell her to eat a sandwich. Neither of these things are ok. What really upset me most about this interaction between Sammie and Sophie was how quickly it escalated into playground name calling. Sammie told one tweeter to ‘eat a salad’ amidst the barrage of abuse she was receiving, and Sophie insulted Sammie’s writing style and called her ignorant in hers blog post. Neither of these are ok in my eyes and are a poor display of intellectual debate and sisterhood. I feel sorry for Sammie that the point she was making (which is an important one I feel) was lost by people jumping the gun and accusing her of fat shaming when she wasn’t. And I feel sorry for Sophie that she felt so insulted that she had to write  response.

As a final point, one thing Sophie says in her post to Sammie, is that her weight is none of Sammie’s business. Well, it kind of is, because she’s written an open letter to Sammie all about it. She always writes a blog and tweets all about her life as a plus sized gal, so it kind of is our business, she’s putting it out there for comment, just as i’m doing with expressing my opinion on the subject here. My advice to Sophie (and any of the other plus sized girls who may be reading this) would be if you want to ‘normalise’ being plus sized so much, then stop talking about it all the time. Talk about all the other amazing things about you, like how pretty and sassy and intelligent and witty and stylish you are. Take away the issue then no one can insult you with it.

Most importantly, can’t we all just be a little bit nicer to each other please? I’m so tired of seeing women catfight on twitter. Didn’t you parents ever tell you if you can;t say anything nice don’t say anything at all?!

If anyone thinks I’ve said something out of turn, factually incorrect or would like anything I’ve said clarifying, please let me know and I will happily address. Similarly if anyone would like to post a reply or counter argument I will also post that up as long as it’s respectful.

*text in pink are additions I’ve made since this was originally posted to clarify things based on comments i’ve received.

14 thoughts on “Why medical obesity and fat shaming aren’t the same thing

  1. Totally appreciate the response (and the kind words), but a couple of things you’ve left out – Sammie’s original tweet said that fat people shouldn’t be allowed to look nice at their weddings. She then said there was no excuse for being fat. When it was explained that illness, mental health contribute to it, she said that was an excuse for being lazy. She repeatedly called people names, threw out bold statements with no basis on truth and told a lot of my friends that they are not, under any circumstances, allowed to look nice. Because they were lazy enough to get fat in the first place, and if we give people clothes (or, as she later hashtagged it, #LetThemEatCake) in reward for being fat, they will just get fatter. After lots of evidence to the contrary, she then changed direction entirely and began looking in to children’s clothing.

    Lady, I hear ya! I regularly like to post about how sassy I am, how well I’m doing at University, how much I love my family etc (I’m rubbish at remembering to post on the blog but do lots of instagram for example). However, I’m also part of a wider campaign (pardon the pun) to bring clothing to the masses (pardon the other pun) and in order to be heard, we have to be seen. My open letter was in RESPONSE to Sammie, so I had not previously invited her to comment on my appearance/weight. None of the women she abused had asked for her professional opinion on their weights or their health. Side note, Jelly isn’t particularly tall, she’s just got hips really and kids clothes don’t seem to expect little girls to have those yet! I usually have more luck buying her adult size 8s.

    Unfortunately, Sammie WAS fat shaming, but I suppose by the time I made my post (which was actually two days after I wrote it because, like I said, I’m rubbish at remembering to post on the blog), that had stopped and the focus had changed to kids clothing. Don’t forget quotes like “anorexia takes willpower, obesity is slow self-neglect” – that cannot be denied as fat shaming. The problem is, there is a growing emergence of what is referred to as the “concern troll”, and there’s no need. IF there is a health problem, our doctors will talk to us about it. I’ve been checked for diabetes a few times (I have depression and they have taken bloods to check my tiredness is a side-effect of the depression and not something else) and my blood sugar averages about 4.7 so it isn’t as simple as fat person = masses of junk food, and of course you know that BMI means nothing and is disregarded by most healthcare professionals as junk statistics these days, and that having extra flesh doesn’t make you a more unhealthy person.

    What I’m trying to say (not in this comment, just in general) is that yes I am fat, and I fit in to that category, but I deserve to look gorgeous at my wedding (And I did!) and actually every day. I post fat fashion (fatshion) because I want more brands to look and think “Hey, we could make something that looks that good on a body like that”. Unfortunately, the point got lost. I still believe that Sammie has narrow-minded views and I would never take that back. Unfortunately, in the midst of telling somebody my friend ‘sits on people for free’, she decided that she was, in fact, being bullied. So she was never going to listen to what I had to say anyway, and I really doubt she could be bothered to read ANY of the evidence I linked her to.

    Like I said, totally appreciate your viewpoint, unfortunately she WAS fat shaming and you just caught the tail end of it all, but I can see why it would look like she wasn’t. Despite all of this I’ve enjoyed talking to you, you seem like you have a good head on your shoulders and I really respect that in a woman. And actually I told Sammie as much. She’s got courage and dedication, she just needs evidence.

  2. Hi, just wondered what your exact job and qualifications are? And how you feel now about shouting abuse at teenage girls on public transport about their weight (s recounted on your twitter feed)?

    • Hi Jojo, my exact job and qualifications aren’t for public consumption i’m afraid and I made it clear i’m not not medically trained, which I don’t believe you need to be to know that medical obesity has direct links to health complications (a quick google of NICE guidelines will confirm that https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg43).

      I don’t think what I said to that girl on the metro was right and I admitted that, but I made a judgement based on what I heard her say to someone else who was sitting minding her own business and at the time. Based of the nature of the comments and language she’d used, I felt it was pretty tame in the grand scheme of things.

      • Medical obesity is very different from being overweight or above a size 12 or having puppy fat, as even someone with no medical training can understand. And there’s no need to Google the effect of adults shouting abuse at children, or other adults, to grasp why it’s wrong, and why what you did is symptomatic of the cultural trope that not-thin = automatically bad. You said what you said because you knew it would hurt. You may believe that what you said was less bad than what the children said to each other, but the fact an NHS employee thinks that shouting body related abuse at people is trash behaviour.

      • Thanks Jojo I appreciate your comments however I don’t feel I need to justify myself any further, all I can say is they weren’t children, and you weren’t there. I regret the choice of words I used but I don’t regret intervening.

    • So you had to go and look at her Twitter profile to find something to bring up to discount her claims? Interesting. Helen said she regrets her choice of words and I’m sure you, like 99.999999% of other people have said something in the heat of the moment that you come to regret. It’s called being human.

      And I’m curious to know what your qualifications are that you can make assessments on her as a person for one comment?

  3. Hi Helen, I do feel the need to add more face to your article. Ive not said much until now but feel the need to say this:
    It started with the programme on channel 4, not the kids comments (they were much later on). She said anorexia took will power/, told someone to go eat a salad, posed the question why plus size people should be proud? and said that thyroid problems don’t cause obesity ‘it’s just harder to maintain a healthy diet/weight’. She also likened being plus size to smoking saying a large dress should have a warning on it like a cig packet does. Let’s not forget the angry fatty jibe , saying she had seen enough chub for one day and the best of all saying she heard someone would sit on a guy for free(more than one connotation, out of order and the person had blocked them -which she knew- and also knew she wouldn’t see it ) I believe it was based on one person (I’m unsure who) saying they would sit on Sammie to shut her up (which I agree is not okay, but to reference it in that way to someone else is okay?)
    I didn’t see many comments of that nature being fired back to her throughout it all but I can appreciate there probably were some from those that were not as positive as some of us. I only addressed Sammie on Facebook where we were friends after enjoying an amazing blogging event together and I made positive statements on body positivity I’d like to note.

    Any way I’m off to get dressed in my pretty clothes that I’m glad the high street makes for me (or glamourise my obese body- in Sammies eyes) and get over this whole debacle. I’ll continue to send body positive messages and ignore the haters who pigeon hole ,stereotype and shame others, which I believe through my examples above definitely happened.

    • Hi Lucy thanks so muh for taking the time to comment! I totally agree that there has been behaviour on both sides which is inexcusable and that’s why I’m trying to make the point we should all be a bit nicer and more support of each other in general. I don’t think those examples you’ve given are acceptable and I don’t think people signing Sammie up to plus size mailing lists as well as ukip and bnp sites are acceptable either. It all needs to stop! ❤

  4. The BMI scale has been proven time and again to be a hugely flawed and inaccurate framework for measuring health. So when people talk about it it proves nothing.
    The suggestion that the reason why there are limited clothing options is coming from a place of concern is, to be frank, utter tosh. Consider how pervasive society’s attitude is towards fat people. Do you not think that perhaps it is more of a social decision than one of “concern”? People will be fat, and studies have proven that dieting does not work in the long term. What are fat people supposed to do in that time? Stay inside, wrap themselves in sheets? Even if this were about health (and I can assure you it NEVER is) denying people options to dress themselves, and ultimately express themselves in a way they choose, is denying them any sort of bodily autonomy. These conversations consistently strip fat people of their humanity and are SO patronising.

    “I know it’s not nice but it’s for your own good!” is what you’re essentially saying here and the bottom line is that isn’t your call, or anyone else’s to make. People’s health is THEIR business and no one else’s. It’s complex, and not always within our control.
    Remember: correlation does not equal causation.

    Do people walk up to smokers in the street and hassle them like this? Do you go into bars and tip people’s drinks out?

    People’s bodies are not for public consumption. Just because someone runs a public blog does not entitle people like Sammie to pass comment. While she may do so freely, people are also entitled to defend themselves. Suggesting that the backlash Sammie recieved was comparable to what she said is rubbish. It suggests as though there is a level playing field. Sammie started this whole thing by saying some down right mean, and nasty things about people on a tv show. This didn’t start with a concern for overweight children. This started with her bigoted, mean opinions. People responded angrily, because frankly we are quite sick of people like Sammie thinking they can abuse us without consequence. We don’t owe it to our abusers to be nice.

    “Sammie, in my opinion was not fat shaming anyone. She wasn’t saying that you can’t be plus size and happy. She wasn’t saying you can’t be stylish and plus size.”

    Except that’s EXACTLY what it is. You might want to cry “preference!” but it doesn’t change the fact that she’s shaming people for being fat, essentially calling them ugly and not worthy of the things she can have, because SHE doesn’t personally find it attractive. Why does she get to decide who is and isn’t stylish? She’s suggesting that because someone is fat they shouldn’t be afforded the same things as thinner people. Everything she said was shaming. She got everything she deserved.

    • Hi Kerry! Thanks for your comment and I can’t say I disagree with 99% of 99%of what you say however I don’t agree when you say I’m not coming from a place of concern. I’m sorry if it comes across as being patronising because that’s not my intension at all, the problem with having things down in black and white is that all tone of voice is taken away and if we were having this discussion face to face you you know how genuine I am. I have said many a time that I don’t agree with some of the things Sammie went on to say, and I’ve told her that directly as well as on here. I also don’t agree that she ‘got everything she deserved’ for example someone sat and signed her up to loads of plus sized mailing lists as well agrees the bnp and ukip websites, that’s not heat of the moment behaviour, that’s malicious and bullying and quite frankly a disgusting way for an adult to behave. THAT is the main point I’m trying to make, it’s the schoolyard insults and lack of respect for others opinions (on BOTH sides) that I think is a culture that needs to change. And im sorry that stating my personal opinions on the subject made that point less obvious. Thanks again for your input though, I really appreciate it. X

  5. Sorry, I am bit late to the party,but I just caught up with your post.

    I think your post is great & I really enjoy your writing style. I think it is important to point out that Sammie was abusive to people who tried to reason with her and debate reasonably. For example, I asked her what she expected me to wear as a size 32 if people didn’t sell clothes to me, her tweet told me to lose weight…. I am not sure what I am expected to do in the mean time and she also didn’t know 1) whether I had already lost weight 2) why I was fat 3) if it is/was possible for me to lose weight…. She didn’t want to discuss it with me, she simply wanted to resort to weight loss “advice”.

    I also commented very nicely on her blog post to try and debate the issues and some of the points she raised. My comment was quickly deleted without a response.

    She actually started her fat shaming comments after a program involving just adults – women shopping for wedding dresses of all things.She commented that these women shouldn’t be able to buy dresses for their wedding… I am sure (hope) you would agree that a woman on her wedding day is entitled to look and feel fantastic despite the opinions of Sammie and the like. She made many comments about how people should get thinner and how they didnt look nice in big dresses anyway.That isn’t an adult debate about the issues, that;s horrible wording against REAL people for no reason. From what I have seen most of the people who have tweeted her to have decent conversations and debates have been ignored or told to lose weight. She has tweeted strangers and invited them to tweet fat women to be sat on…. Hardly the best foundation for a reasonable discussion.

    She also suggested that all of my clothing come with labels in to say that “obesity kills”; like I don’t know why own body. Like walking around with a warning label on every day that I could die is going to help me be thinner.

    I understand you trying to debate both sides, but the truth of that matter is most of her debate and abuse wasn’t about children. For example, she started joining in with a #WeAreTheThey hashtag about empowering women telling us to lose weight. It’s a hashtag that is MONTHS old and she had no reason to get involved…. So why did she? I can only assume because she wanted to shame and abuse those involved, why is an awful way to conduct yourself.

    She didn’t try to open up an honest and frank discuss (as you have) instead she took to demanding clothing have warnng labels about death and tweeting strangers with weight loss advice, which is never going to have a good reaction.

    • Hi Debs!

      Thanks so much for your kind words and taking the time to comment. I going to do a follow up post next week addressing all the issues you have mentions (for example Sammie’s original post, which I admit I never saw so I myself was also a bit late to the party haha! A lot has been said, accused etc and since deleted so it’s really hard to find a cohesive timeline of events. Needless to say you’re right, and I don’t agree with comments about plus sized wedding dresses in fact I believe many wedding dresses actually look better on curvier women! I

      ‘ve chatted at length with Sammie directly about what she’s said and I’ve told her I don’t believe what she said to some people was nice, or constructive in anyway. The problem with have an extreme view, as Sammie does, and voicing it so publicly is that you open yourself up to criticism, which she has, and she now has to deal with the fall out. What I don’t like are words like ‘fat shaming’ and ‘bullying. As I say I haven’t seen everything that’s been said but I’m of the view that if you think someone has said something which hasn’t been well researched, then educate them, nicely and politely rather than fuel the fire by hurling abuse. I understand it’s such an emotive subject though and ‘heat of the moment’ always seems to win over reason.

      Thanks again for your comments, I’m really pleased that aside from the odd snide massive aggressive remark I’ve had, most people seem to have been able to debate nicely and sensibly!

      xxx

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