Home BeautyBody Image What Fat-Shaming Looks Like In Action

What Fat-Shaming Looks Like In Action

by Erika Nicole Kendall

The smaller I get, and the more I read, the more adamant I become about my stance regarding body-shaming in general. We place a lot of value on women’s bodies falling within a very thin margin of “acceptability” – thin, lean, not muscular, petite, “feminine” – to the point where we literally decide things like career promotion, graduate school admissions, and even whether or not someone should speak to you… all based on size.


I received a comment on this post, almost a month ago, from someone by the name of “Trevor,” and I’d left the comment in moderation for so long simply because I couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to mentally accept giving airspace to this kind of stupidity.

Alas, I’m going to publish it here instead, because I think it now serves a point:

I’m not sure about the “hair” excuse but you must admit that there are very few regulars (sisters) at the gym. I moved from San Diego CA to Manhattan NY and I never see any sisters who workout consistantly. Maybe the answer is some people (male and female) just don’t want to workout. Brothers want to be seen as strong and muscular so for some of us that is our motivation. Even among brothers not to many of us workout our legs or do cardio.

I believe the blame falls on us (black men). It’s very easy for a 202lbs, 5’4″ sister to get a brother so where is her motivation? You have to be committed to working out and some schedules just do not allow for such a commitment. I love the gym and feel weird if I miss to many days in a week. On a completely unrelated note I met my wife (yes she’s white) at a gym.

And, as I wrote this, I received this comment on a post about Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, recently of American Horror Story: Coven fame:

If nothing else it’s a health issue. It doesn’t look nice. It would be like letting an alcoholic continue to drink. The strain on her heart and lungs is not good. Ask Dr. Drew, I think he would agree.

Dr. Drew, huh? Well, then.

And, this morning, Amber sent this video to me of what appears to be a raw vegan telling you how unhealthy, fat, nasty and gross you are, as a fat person. If I could sigh louder and harder, I would. I promise, I would.

This is what it looks like, when we try to use shame as a controlling agent in society. This is what it looks like when we try to control behavior through making someone feel like less than a human being for not complying.

When I wrote about Tyrese being a scumbag, uh…saying some very nasty things about overweight women in my column for EBONY.com, I received countless hateful comments about how much of an assh-le I was, how it was okay for Tyrese to say such horrible things because he was right – their words, not mine – and, well, take a look at a comment or two that I received there:

Tyrese could have (& probably should have) worded his statement better & been more respectful or nicer BUT what he said is true, because too many people are overweight or obese especially here in anything goes America. Fat is not healthy, cute, sexy nor pretty & that’s a fact not an opinion. Nothing looks good about someone who is the size of 3 people due to greed, overeating, never exercising & eating/drinking unhealthy crap. It wud b a nightmare 4 me too if I dreamed about a 300 pound man or woman all up on me. People love lying 2 themselves & saying BS like being fat is okay when hell no it’s not. A fat body is un unattractive & unhealthy body. Period.


I honestly think they have a right. Boris Kodjoe doesn’t find overweight women attractive and thats just how he feels. He could also say he doesnt like women with kids and no husband. That’s him and how he feels. It’s only shaming if someone allows it to be. Which doesnt seem like it’s doing much because obesity rates are still high. Many women who are overweight are trying not to be which is good so in some way what they are saying must not be too far from wrong.

…because apparently, if you deviate from certain standards that Americans deem acceptable, you’re deserving of this kind of treatment (see: “he could also say he doesn’t like women with kids and no husband.”)

Shame is a silencing tactic. It naturally shuts down engagement – that’s inherently the point. No one wants to hear your excuses of why you’re fat, because if we actually listened, then we’d have to change the way we think, the policies we support, the medicines we promote, the regulations we enact, and the way we value people and ourselves. If we actually listened to people who are different and listened to their stories of managing that difference, we might have to actually learn that it’s okay to be different.

Because shame shuts down engagement, it also dually shuts down community, partnership and – yep, you guessed it – love. Both because the person being shamed doesn’t think they’re deserving of love, but because now the shamers take it as their duty to deny you of love or esteem. That’s why the dude above think it makes sense to say “It’s too easy for fat women to get men, so of course she doesn’t have motivation” – because apparently loneliness should be a motivator for weight loss. He also offers up his white wife as proof that women at the gym get married, making sure to tell us that she is white. Because that was central to his point. Somehow. Or something.

Funny enough, my [dare I say, elite?] Manhattan gym is full of black women – both as trainers and members, both married and otherwise. Since that’s an entirely unrelated rant, I’m going to politely digress.

Also, because shame is a successful silencing tactic, shame also leaves us open for abuse. That’s why people believe it’s fair and acceptable and necessary for people to say hateful things about fat people. It’s deserved – they couldn’t possibly know all these things that they’re being beaten over the head with – otherwise, why would they be fat? It’s not possible that, at any given moment, a person who’s 255 today was actually 285 last season and they’re busting their ass after work every day. In a world where shame is king, there are only two static points: deserving of shame, and deserving of the right to shame others.

And, don’t you dare get any bright ideas about defending yourself. A shaming society is already ready for whatever little defense you’ve already cooked up. “Oh, but your blood panels came back and you’re all healthy? BUT YOU’RE STILL UNATTRACTIVE. IT JUST DOESN’T LOOK GOOD.”

Shame as a control mechanism requires denying privileges to people who reject the pressure to comply. So, when you read research about fat people being denied jobs, being denied promotions at the jobs they’ve got, and being denied entry to the very schools and programs that’d prepare them for those jobs, you should know that this, too, is a result of shame as a control mechanism. Let’s face it – your salary is a corporate understanding of how much they’re willing to pay you in order to keep you from taking your talents to another company. Tying your weight to that is an implication that you are somehow devalued as an asset because you’re fat. You won’t be worth more to us until you lose weight. Again, shame as a control mechanism.

In that stupid, stupid video, Miss 30 Bananas a Day claims early that talking about how she’s “here to help people,” yet believes it is dangerous to “love yourself as you are” and encourage that self-love in others. Shame as a control mechanism wants to tell you how to feel about yourself until you fall in line with what the masses believe is acceptable for you. Never mind the fact that “loving yourself as you are” does not mean, in any way, shape or form, that you shouldn’t grow, change, or become healthier – in fact, loving yourself as you are demands that you search for ways to be the best person you can be, and chart a healthy, sane, sensible and reasonable method of getting there. “Loving yourself as you are,” it should be noted, demands that however you decide to change, that you do so with your physical and mental well-being in mind. Why would you try to deny someone else the space to experience that, unless you were personally invested in their self-hatred?

Shame as a control mechanism also chooses who can – and should – be granted visibility, and who should be hidden away. So, no… your silly little requests for Barbie dolls with triple chins or no, with rolls or no, with thighs that rub together or no? Why are you even asking? Your silly little requests for more Black people — uh, I mean, fat people in television shows where their fatness isn’t a punchline? What makes you think we’d even bother? Why should your requests be catered to? Why should you be included? You’re different.

Shame doesn’t want you to feel good about yourself… doesn’t want you to be seen, either. Shame, ironically, is also why you’re afraid to go to the gym. Funny how that happens.

For people who believe that shame, beating people over the head with pseudo-concern, and encouraging self-hatred are how to “give people a wake up call,” let me assure you: no method of encouragement is better than providing people with love, support, resources, and encouragement. In fact, unless your criticisms are going to come paired with these – and I mean all of these – then you should consider yourself neither equipped nor authorized to share them. If you think it is acceptable to air your criticisms in a way that isn’t tailored to the emotional needs of the recipient, then consider yourself neither equipped nor authorized to share them. If you think “tough love” is anything other than a justification for foregoing basic consideration and compassion, then seriously… just don’t.

(And, I am well aware that there are people who respond positively to that brutal, demeaning, debasing kind of “tough love” where people call you names, break you down, and crush you until you believe what they want you to believe, but it should be made clear that this isn’t a healthy way to approach any major change in life. Not even close.)

I said, earlier, that the smaller I get, the more conscious of body-shaming – especially fat-shaming – I’ve become, because I’ve noticed that even as I shrink down to what you’d believe is acceptable to society, I’m still criticized, but for different things. My shoulders are too broad, my ass is too large, my hips too wide, all by people who know nothing about me, my journey, or my progress. Being criticized for my shoulders? That was new. I will never be “safe” from being criticized, even when I most expected to be. Not because I was “still fat,” but because a culture of shame requires that you understand that you’re never safe. There will always be something to shame and silence you… even the broad shoulders that you initially worked so hard for.

And that’s the funny thing about shame. The commenter above said “It’s only shaming you if you let it.” That’s only half-true. The way I receive a comment about my size or my build doesn’t change the fact that the intention was still to make me feel bad about my body. What I can do, however, is develop the ability to call this behavior out for what it is – an attempt to make me feel bad about who I am and where I am in my life – and I can reject the effects it tries to have over me. I can laugh at someone’s need to control how I view myself. I can acknowledge, in a positive fashion, that I am on my own journey of love and self-discovery, and no one has the right to make me feel bad about that.

It doesn’t require an outward and open display of rebellion. In fact, smiling at a shamer while shaking your head and changing the subject, drawing a clear boundary line, and/or walking away are often the strongest forms of resisting outward pressure. And, if something that was said hurts your feelings, you remind yourself – “I am on my own journey, and I’ll get where I’m going eventually… with the love, support, and encouragement of the people who love me in the healthiest way possible.” The strongest weapon against shame is a developing sense of self-love. No weapon formed against that can prosper, not even shame.

*This post was largely inspired by Brene Brown’s awesome pair of books, Daring Greatly and The Gift of Imperfection. As one of my favorite e-boos would say, please go get you a piece. She’s fantastic. (And, if you use my links to buy your copy, BGG2WL gets a few pennies of your sale.)

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Pam March 5, 2014 - 11:36 AM

“Shame doesn’t want you to feel good about yourself… doesn’t want you to be seen, either. Shame, ironically, is also why you’re afraid to go to the gym. Funny how that happens.”

The above says it all. I have found that people who shame NEED people to shame. I feel like they, the shamers are psychologically deficient in some way. My thing with weight shaming is that often if people don’t verbalize it, the non-verbal will almost surely get you, if you allow it to. It is a never ending cycle of mean people who feel they have the right to criticize another based on their size (or insert reason here ________, here _______, and here _________). I love myself too much to allow someone to shame me any longer.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 5, 2014 - 11:54 AM

That’s also another thing about it – shame needs silence to survive. Shame can’t exist in a world where people are open about and comfortable with their insecurities. The moment that I found myself comfortable talking about my life as a single parent was LITERALLY the moment I found it absolutely silly that it could be considered a source of shame. The minute I decided to talk about my decision to gain weight, I almost immediately felt liberated from feeling shame about it.

Shame can only function in silence – that’s why it demands silence from people. You absolutely CAN fight shame, and refuse to let people hurt you in that way.

Jess W March 5, 2014 - 6:38 PM

It’s 4:45pm, and I just sent my fiance off to work – but not before we had a continuance of an ongoing conversation which (before long) led to him blowing up, punching the kitchen counter, and hurling his glasses across the room.

This does tie in to your post. Trust me.

My fiance is a slender man. Really slender. About 5’10” and 135 slender.

He’s been kept “low man on the totem pole” in countless jobs. He’s been the “go to man” for advice on how to execute jobs and get ahead – and watched as those who asked for his advice moved ahead.

He’s been passed over by women more times than he can count, and when he did get married (currently in the process of a divorce) was financially victimized, and kept in the dark (he just found out his tax returns had gone to paying his wife’s student loans, as she held all the purse strings).

Since we’ve been together, I have pushed and prodded and communicated for him to find his Inner Strength. His continued passiveness would infuriate me to no end…

Having the shock of our $2000 federal return be entirely consumed by his wife’s student loans was the last straw. So a dialogue opened up, which turned into an argument – which led to the blow up and, in my opinion, a critical breakthrough for both of us.

You see, as a Black woman who was accustomed to being body shamed on multiple levels, I never realized that learning to love Myself for ME was all that ultimately mattered. I held onto other folk’s perceptions of inadequacy, disgust and unattractive unworthiness –

And i OWNED that shame as valid! that SHAME became my Motivating Factor for the Invention of Who, How and Where I am today: which, in scratching the surface, was less Motivating and More Reactionary with Motivation gleaned out from somewhere…

(deep inside myself)

So – as I watched my fiance rage and swear and cry and punch things – this Beautiful Soul who has been pigeon-holed his entire life as a “mousy redneck” or “everyone’s friend” or “hen pecked” or “98 pound weakling” or “nerd” or “weak willed” (it goes on) for so long that he has Believed it until now…

and seeing that the catalysts for Letting Go of said Beliefs was only possible through an outward release of Rage…

I held him, and Allowed him to be angry. I encouraged him to release the toxicity of years, decades of seething frustration and overwhelming anger at Being the Person he Chooses to Be and getting s**t on, belittled, overlooked, undervalued – all because he’s a slender bespectacled white guy with a slightly southern accent and bad teeth.

And I told him – “You don’t need these preconceptions to define you anymore. I love you. You love you. It’s okay to get angry at the injustices of this Realm… and now they no longer have Power over you. You no longer need the idiot opinions of others as a guideline to Be Who and How you are… The time for building the Matrix of you according to what society wants you to be is, as of this moment, over.”

***light bulb***

when I moved to my current city from my home town of Chicago, i was 5’3″ and 307 pounds. It is 13 years later, and I weigh 198 (and somehow gained 2 inches in height. No idea how that happened – I’m in my 40s!). It wasn’t a deliberate effort to lose weight: it was a side effect of a long Journey to do exactly what I told my fiance to do – to “no longer need the idiot opinions of others as a guideline to Be Who and How I Am.”

It is the Journey of a Lifetime, and it shouldn’t End. I love myself now more than I have in my entire life, and Celebrating that Self Love in ways that truly foster a Return to my Own Divine Temple. I don’t drink to excess anymore. I quit smoking. Daily yoga is incorporated into my day. Gone are diet drinks, tons of potato chips, bags of Easter candy and 12 pieces of BBQ sauce soaked fried chicken a day –

I LOVE my green veggie juices. My mouth waters when I make a GIANT “euphoria salad” with spinach, red onions, feta cheese, carrots, boiled eggs and olives. I feel… odd if there isn’t at least 20 minutes of yoga a day. I’m chomping at the bit for the weather to break and the roads not to be so icey – so I can bike the 4 mile round trip to grab a cupcake when I feel like it. the thought of soda turns my stomach – I love my fruit waters and teas.

I have learned to Listen to my body, and to Love ALL of me.

The time for me to live my life in a reactionary response to years of shame, ignorance and abuse was over a long time ago. Reactionary response dictates that one Embraces the cause of the reaction – and that can be so hurtful, and undermine the Messages of Love and Connection that some from Within…

shame. it’s hellish white noise.

Thus, with tears of love and gratitude, my fiance went off to work. He says he felt as if “a 12 ton weight was lifted off my shoulders…”

and indeed – i do believe he is closer to 6′ than 5’10”.

Summary to all this? THANK YOU, Erika, for providing this forum as a source for Truth, Inspiration and Illumination. What a breath of fresh air!

And to all the guys / gals who read through this tome of a comment?

Free Your Mind from the Oppression of Shame, in Any of its Incarnations. Free Your Mind – and Your Body/Spirit/Surroundings will Follow.***

***trust me.***

Love and Hugs to Everyone –
Namaste, Y’All!

inez March 8, 2014 - 3:15 PM

I needed this today. Thank you.

Kami March 6, 2014 - 11:07 AM

smiling at a shamer while shaking your head and changing the subject, drawing a clear boundary line, and/or walking away are often the strongest forms of resisting outward pressure. And, if something that was said hurts your feelings, you remind yourself – “I am on my own journey, and I’ll get where I’m going eventually… with the love, support, and encouragement of the people who love me in the healthiest way possible.” The strongest weapon against shame is a developing sense of self-love. No weapon formed against that can prosper, not even shame.

Excerpted from What Fat-Shaming Looks Like In Action | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

Tess March 6, 2014 - 5:01 PM

The irony to me is that it’s a PETA advertisement whose purpose is to promote higher tolerance/sensitivity towards animals. Fascinating, if we treat animals better than humans…isn’t that in itself a problem? While I do believe that people should be able say what they want to say (I’d rather know then someone fake the funk in my face) there are ramifications to all of our actions and that should not be ignored either.

Actually, this article reminded me of a scene in the movie LBS. (free with Amazon Prime) where this guy dropped a lot of weight went out with a girl he’d been vying after…and during dinner she disrespects and objectifies an obese person at the next table.

People can be such insensitive jerks.

MeMe March 6, 2014 - 5:15 PM

Fat shaming is a shame yesterday (3-5-14) I had a friend tell me I don’t feel sorry for fat people BC they are plain fat I mean you can be pretty if u want but fat is fat…..now that hurt me to the core BC I will admit im overweight and I’m working on it I was 263 now I’m 220 and what made it worst just last year she was 330lbs now she’s 140lbs so she think its ok to be an stupid a$$

Tess March 7, 2014 - 11:32 AM

Perhaps she is one of those people who know that they’ve made it they forgot where they came from. Or maybe she feels the need to shame others like she was shamed.

No excuse just my thoughts.

Megan @ Grad Student Needs Hobby March 8, 2014 - 3:05 PM

Thank you for this post.
I am growing more and more tired of this culture of shame in so many aspects of our life – health related and not. I fully agree that it doesn’t matter what we do, we will be shamed for it. I’ve been shamed for not taking time to work out regularly. I’ve been shamed for taking that time away from my studies to focus on my health. I’ve been shamed for not having balance and for working on finding balance. It’s insane.
As for the fat shaming specifically, I wish I could make more people see that what they’re doing makes no sense. I’m all for being healthy, and I’ll admit I have a number of faults in that area that I’m working on fixing. But health isn’t a size, and it isn’t about one instance of indulgence or one day of a missed workout. It’s about a pattern of habits, about fueling yourself properly and moving yourself somehow and loving yourself as much as you can in our twisted, deranged society. Fat shaming helps you accomplish absolutely 0 of these things.
I haven’t read Daring Greatly yet but I read The Gifts of Imperfection when a friend recommended it, and it was full of so many hard truths for me. I’ll have to pick up Daring Greatly next!

Donna March 8, 2014 - 5:39 PM

A couple years ago, I was working with someone who was angry one of her “friends” was losing weight. Friends is in quotes for a reason and angry may not be the right word but she was annoyed she was taking steps to make herself look better. So this “friend” was preparing to send her “fat” jeans to her “friend” in Florida but was worried that they would be too big for her. After talking to my coworker more, she revealed that everyone has that “friend” or person they use to make themselves feel better. This was the person she used to make herself feel better. This person lived at home, had no job, career, or relationship so my co-worker used this person to make herself feel better about her life. I give that anecdote to say that fat shaming is what we do to boost our self esteem. We all have weight insecurities, even Tyrese and Boris who have to look a certain way to work in Hollywood, so shaming people like Gabourey Sidibe by pretending to care about her health is boosting their self esteem. It also makes people feel insecure. “I have to work so hard to be successful but she can’t push away from the table but is always working” kind of thing. Like someone said, people need people to shame and people need someone to make them feel better about themselves.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 9, 2014 - 4:23 PM


Just… wow.

Penny Grace June 17, 2014 - 10:35 AM

I’m not going to lie, I heard what Tyrese said about overweight people, and I have to say I agree with what he said. He laid down a hard truth. If you want to be fit and healthy (not even skinny) then you have to put in the work. Don’t stuff your self with junk and then cry cuz your stomach is hanging over your belt. I don’t think what he did was fat shaming. I think he was putting the truth out there as he saw fit.

As for the Peta ad; I’m not surprised. They are known for their radical approach. That doesn’t make it right of course. I think there is a thin line between what Tyrese was saying and what PETA was saying. I would not place the two in the same category.

Erika Nicole Kendall June 17, 2014 - 7:33 PM

You clearly didn’t read a single, solitary word I wrote.

You can put “the truth” out there in any way you “see fit” all you like, but your audience – the one who puts coins in your pocket – don’t have to take it, nor should they feel like they HAVE to simply because they’re fat and they deserve to “hear the truth.”

If you can’t speak a sensitive truth to people with love and compassion, it’s perfectly okay to stay quiet. In fact, those of us who are listening would WELCOME your silence. It’s much better than being talked to cruelly, and then being told we need to “just take it,” like we don’t have the right to demand more.

April June 25, 2014 - 11:01 PM

In our age of anti-bullying, PETA reached all the way back for classic propaganda. They don’t seem to have any shame or remorse, and that’s the scary part.That billboard ad makes fat people invisible and disposable and only relevant for comic relief. Making people feel supremely secure because he or she is “skinny” or completely hopeless because he or she is “chubby” is something that hinders humanity. Weight discrimination is more than problematic it’s symtomatic. There is nothing in that ad that promote their mission and it’s idiotic, childish. That ad infects the readers mind with a low blow to fat people and women. Our society clearly has an issue with women and their weight; it’s a personal issue made into a political commentary. I’m not laughing.

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