Is it Ever OK to Fat-Shame?

A mystery organisation recently gave cards to overweight people in London telling them they are fat and need to change. Those people are despicable – but can fat-shaming ever be justified? In a recent issue, Coach’s sister title Men’s Fitness asked four experts for their views on the subject.

(Article by Max Anderton, republished from

The Weight-Loss Consultant

Steve Miller is a clinical hypnotherapist specialising in weight management and confidence building (

Constructive fat-shaming is the only way to get a grip on our nation’s obesity crisis because a soft approach just gives people permission to make excuses. I see people who’ve tried countless diets. What they really need is to feel shame about fat. I want people to be really disgusted.

I get clients to eat in front of a mirror to remind them how unattractive they look and of the role eating plays in that. I also get them to carry a photo of themselves at their fattest. This creates a psychological aversion to obesity, and it works.

Being overweight makes a person feel uncomfortable, creates low self-esteem and will probably end up killing them, so it should be demonised. We did it with smoking, and we should do the same with excessive eating. For example, the people behind the counters of fast-food joints shouldn’t serve obese people. You wouldn’t knowingly sell booze to an alcoholic. Nothing else is working. No-one has to be fat. Let’s all adopt a “cruel to be kind” approach and solve this problem together.

The Psychologist

Dr Bryony Bamford is clinical director of The London Centre for Eating Disorders and Body Image (

Criticising anybody who doesn’t conform to a personally held ideal is bullying and is never acceptable. I see first-hand the negative impact of weight-related criticism, which affects not only its direct victims but also those who absorb fat-shaming messages on a wider cultural level. I see psychological distress, lowered self-esteem, reduced self-worth and body shame.

What’s more, treating people this way can be completely counterproductive. Both extreme dieting and emotional distress are known to result in a tendency to overeat. In this sense, fat-shaming actually contributes to making some people gain more weight.

Whether or not fat-shaming can ever encourage weight loss, it certainly creates far more problems than it could ever solve. As with any challenging personal goal, encouragement, support and advice are needed to achieve lasting results, not bullying.

The Campaigning Columnist

A self-described “Body Positive Warrior”, Fran Hayden blogs at franhayden.wordpress.comand contributes to The Huffington Post and The Independent, among others

Fat-shaming is absolutely not OK. Health and body size are of no concern to you if that body doesn’t belong to you. All you’re doing is endorsing body shaming in an already image-obsessed culture.

People are incredibly susceptible to fat-shaming talk – that if our bodies don’t fit society’s supposed ideal, we’ve somehow failed. This sense of failure can be detrimental to self-esteem and in some cases can even lead to suicide. You don’t get to decide how someone else lives in their own skin. Fat-shamers need to learn that what they’re doing could cause loss of life – I have a tough skin, but I know plenty of people who might not be able to cultivate a positive outlook in the face of demeaning comments.

If you perpetrate such things, it’s not the individual you’re targeting who should be ashamed – it’s you.

The Personal Trainer

John Richardson has been in the fitness industry for eight years, working privately in London with clients of all shapes and sizes

It’s a fallacy to suggest that overweight people are solely responsible for their situation when there’s a boatload of evidence to the contrary. Education, financial status, genetics and mental health all play a huge part. I deal with many people who are caught in vicious cycles of over-indulgence and self-depreciation. It’s not as simple as saying, “Just eat less”.

Overeating can be an addiction, and I’m sure it won’t be too long before it’s classified in the same way as alcohol or drug addictions are. From my experience, people don’t want to be fat, and making overweight people feel bad about it won’t achieve anything other than proving that the person doing it has a few issues themselves.

The flipside is that I will always find it hard to sympathise with people who make themselves ill through overeating when close to a billion people in the world are dying from hunger. Where obesity is concerned, more education is needed to empower people with the knowledge that they can do something about it.

The Men’s Fitness Editor

Joel Snape, associate editor

There’s much more to being overweight than not caring about how you look or a lack of willpower. Getting in better shape is undoubtedly a healthy aim – but fat-shaming just isn’t constructive.

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