The Internet can be a brutal place. While I think that people who choose to have a presence on the Web typically have an unrealistic and unreasonable expectation of privacy and approval, there is still no other place where a person can feel so naked, so alone, and so unprepared to deal with a cruel and constant onslaught of insults from faceless strangers. The relatively recent phenomenon of “fat shaming” has taken root across social media and viral content websites alike, and has left many victims in tears, or worse, and has hoards of others crying foul. Fat shaming takes place when a woman (most of the time, as it has become clear in our society that men are not held up to the same scrutiny and standards when it comes to body type and overall physical appearance) who has more than 0% body fat posts a picture of herself revealing something other than the perfect vision of the female form that we have adopted. When and if said picture makes it somewhere beyond the eyes of friends, it becomes subject to a barrage of comments and insults that can leave the victim more or less defenseless. Now, what’s pleasing to the eye surely differs from person to person, as does everyone’s definition of “fat” when it comes to body mass. It takes a special kind of abandon to blindly insult a stranger from behind a keyboard. Maybe the perpetrator is just mean-spirited. Perhaps their own insecurities just went on the offensive, to make them feel better about themselves for a moment. The reasons can be many. Any way you look at it, it’s an unfortunate reality that will likely never change. Our connectedness has disconnected our emotions and much of our humanity, having given rise to a generation of “shoot first, ask questions never” keyboard warriors who can be as hurtful and anonymous as they want to be. I’m centering this piece around the Internet, because while fat shaming absolutely takes place in real life, in face-to-face situations, it is carried out more frequently over the airwaves by many, because there is arguably little chance of confrontation that the perpetrator has to worry about.
However, a line needs to be drawn between what is considered “fat shaming” and a point at which the person on the receiving end truly needs a wake-up call pertaining to their health. I’m not referring to the people who are carrying around a few extra pounds. Most people in America are, we’ve rightfully become known for it by the rest of the world. What needs to stop is us as a people telling others who are significantly or severely overweight that it’s ok and to “love the body they’re in”. It’s not ok, not even a little bit. Insults are not the answer, but we need to stop saying “you go, girl!” to the girl whose frame is trying to support a dangerous amount of extra weight just because she’s “brave” enough to cram herself into a bikini and share pictures of it on the Internet. There’s a difference between “curvy” or “full-figured” and just plain obese. We all know that, and it’s not something that’s open to interpretation. We need to stop encouraging people to maintain a lifestyle that will almost certainly escort them to an early grave. Hurling insults at someone you don’t even know from the safety of your computer is undoubtedly wrong, but we also need to change what we’re doing at the opposite end of the spectrum.
I’m not a particularly health person. Occasionally, I’ll get on a kick during which I’ll eat a bit healthier, stop drinking soda, and get back to the gym. Those more health-conscious spells are usually short-lived, though, and I go right back to eating whatever I want, resume guzzling soda and beer, and reclaim my spot on the couch for the fall TV season. At any given point, I’m not especially comfortable with the way my body looks. That’s not the point, though. With heart disease and cancer weighing heavily in my family history, I need to be more concerned with what’s going on inside of my body. That is the point of all of this. You have to choose how you want your life to play out. There comes a point at which you have to stop being a victim and start fighting. I realize that’s just another thing that’s easier said than done. We live in a narcissistic, beauty-obsessed society that will judge you on your looks long before it will consider your personality. If you put yourself out there, somewhere down the line, someone is going to say something about you, and it may not be nice. I’m not justifying that, I’m just presenting the reality of our world. If the words hurt, take them and use them as fuel for change. You can’t just say “nevermind the haters” and keep doing what you’re doing. When you do that, you’re not winning, they are. It’s time for you to win, if you want it badly enough.