The fight to end fat-shaming always seems to be instantly met with resistance. Just last week, the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) took on a high-profile issue with the “Dr. Ken” show, starring real life doctor Ken Jeong. Within minutes of TMZ reporting the story, comments such as this began popping up online:

“I do not understand why people get offended enough to feel censorship is warranted. I understand some cannot help weight issues due to certain medical conditions, but there is no reason for them to be offended by comedy.” – Karvey Kardashian (screenname)

“If fat people don’t want to be fat shamed they should go on a diet and go to the gym. It’s that simple. Obesity should not be accepted.” – Denvermommy (screenname)

“So a joke is what is pushing all these fat people into depression? How about their mirror, their hand to mouth habit, sweets, over eating, lazy- You look at a bus and say” It is a bus” – You look at a fat person and say “That is a fat person”- it is what it is- donut get your pants in a wad!” – Shata (screenname)

It seems that the general public has three main areas of concentration when it comes to the majority response to fat-shaming:

  • Censorship
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Approaching the Subject Comically Helps People Lose Weight

Let’s take a moment and examine each one of these areas and see if we can provide some justification for any of them.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defines censorship as:

“Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.”

“In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment.”

By the OAC asking for ABC Television Group and the Disney Company to remove the fat-shaming content from the “Dr. Ken” show, the OAC membership was also exercising their first amendment right.

As far as we’ve progressed in this country with acceptance and respect, obesity is most certainly last in line for that dose of tolerance and respect. We are so quick as a society to throw the word “censorship” around when it pertains to something that “we” do not approve of, but if you’re on the other side of that coin, you may have a different opinion. Everyone has the right to hateful speech, but people should not be surprised when they become marginalized because of it. As a result, they might find that businesses do not want to give them a stage from which to broadcast their hateful views.

Is what we asked for “censorship” by definition? Sure, it sounds like it to me. And we can still ask for it because what was being said was wrong and unacceptable. Just as the writers of “Dr. Ken” had the freedom of speech to say what they did, we (the OAC) have the same right to say “it’s wrong.” To me, the most obscene form of censorship is when individuals DO NOT speak up for what they believe. To me, that is censorship in its ugliest form.

For decades, other disease groups fought for their rights to be heard, accepted and treated with respect. One comment about the “Dr. Ken” issue said, “If you don’t like what’s on TV, then change the channel.” My response to that is, “If you don’t like what the OAC is asking for, take a moment to educate yourself about obesity and weight bias. You just might change your mind.”

Personal Responsibility
This is one of my favorite arguments that I’ve heard throughout the past decade in reaction to obesity.

“You did it to yourself. You ate too much.”

Wow, such a profound statement. Except, it’s not THAT simple. I will be the first to say that there definitely is personal responsibility in obesity. However, guess what? There’s personal responsibility in everything you do in life. We are responsible for ourselves, and we all have actions that may not be the most responsible thing.

  • Did you drive one mile per hour over the speed limit to work today? Maybe your car insurance provider should drop you.
  • Did you smoke a cigarette today? Wow, well, maybe your health insurer should deny you respiratory treatment seeing as how you did the damage to yourself.
  • Are you reading this blog at work? Hmmm, I wonder if your employer should fire you for not doing your job (but don’t click out of this!!!).
  • Did you apply sunscreen before going outside today? Oh boy, I really feel you should pay out-of-pocket for any skin-related health issues you have. It really is your fault.

What do you think of these statements? You know what I think of them? They’re all idiotic. They’re all just as idiotic as the argument of someone with obesity has done it ALL to themselves. That’s right; they may have never gone through an emotional time (divorce, death of a loved-one, loss of employment). They may have never been diagnosed with any other disease that can impact their weight or have taken a medication that caused weight gain. Nope, it never happens. Right, keep telling yourself that.

The cold hard truth is that I’ve never met someone who denied all personal responsibility for their weight and health. I know, It’s shocking right? Your “personal responsibility” argument is invalid. Want to know why? I’ll tell you why. Because people with obesity are personally responsible for their weight. Nobody has ever denied that. They’re personally responsible for their weight, health, kids, pets, spouses, employment, car, what they eat, who they talk to, where they go and so on. Guess what? Personal responsibility is one of life’s natural occurrences, so if you’re going to use it as an argument against our cause, it won’t make a difference.

Approaching the Subject Comically Helps People Lose Weight
YES! I love this one. I am going to respond to this one very clearly. Ready? Fat-shaming does not (and never did) help anyone lose weight. While most people think shaming encourages someone to make a change, it actually just causes them to feel worse about themselves and not make a change. According to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity:

  • Obesity-related campaigns that were rated to be stigmatizing were no more likely to instill motivation for improving lifestyle behaviors than campaigns rated as more neutral.
  • In addition, stigmatizing campaigns were also rated as inducing less self-confidence to engage in health behaviors promoted by campaigns, and viewed to have less appropriate visual content compared to neutral campaigns.

Fat-shaming, whether it’s on TV, in a song or said in-person, does absolutely no good in helping someone make a change in their life – period. In fact, studies have shown that it can actually cause people to gain weight.

No other disease is the target of humor in today’s pop culture. Throughout time, various topics have become off-limits, for perfectly good reasons, to joke about as comedy. Make no mistake about it; obesity is a serious condition affecting more than 93 million Americans. Heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, some cancers, GERD and arthritis are all just some of the diseases related to obesity.

I think it’s safe to say that the arguments frequently voiced by the public in regards to obesity and fat-shaming are completely invalid and based on absolutely zero scientific evidence. Some of you may be reading this blog and think, “He seems angry.” Well, I am. I’m angry that I didn’t write this sooner. I am frustrated with the comments regarding obesity and fat-shaming. Fat-shaming is wrong, and it needs to stop.

To think that we live in a society where it’s okay to make fun of someone because of their size is simply ridiculous. Fat jokes aren’t funny. Do we joke about HIV or AIDS? Do we joke about cancer? Do we joke about diabetes? We don’t joke about these things because we know that people affected by them wouldn’t appreciate it, and it’s simply not right.

Some people emailed me last week asking if “we’re serious.” The answer is yes, we’re very serious, and we’re going to keep tackling bias issues until we finally see a day where weight bias and fat-shaming are no more. Now, if you have a problem with that, well, I suggest you not censor yourself, take some personal responsibility and learn more about obesity and weight bias.

About the Author:
James Zervios is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Obesity Action Coalition. He has worked for the OAC for more than a decade and is the staff liaison for the OAC Weight Bias and Education Committees.