Updated: Oct 19, 2021
The Church Times has an article this week written by Dr Richard Pile which is basically the worst example of fat shaming and telling churches to encourage healthy lifestyles. You can read it here but it comes with a health warning. I am writing this response as fat person who can not just achieve "a healthy weight as an inevitable and beneficial side effect" of "an enjoyable, purposeful and healthy life". Obesity is not a simple issue, it is usually a physical health or mental health issue at the start and needs compassion and understanding rather than shame and encouragement. A huge furore emerged from the article because of the image which was provided to accompany it - an overweight man at a burger van. That's how I noticed the article. The CT wrote an apology, but few of us think an apology goes far enough. I commented as such: "I feel so let down by the church times. To use a photo like this is click bait, designed to get a response, designed to disgust; it is all that is wrong with the red top papers who fat shame for fun. As a fat disabled woman I think you might be able to guess the amount of prejudice I face; but of those three the worst is fat shaming because almost no one realises it is a mental health issue, an eating disorder issue and it stops me going to the doctors for fear of being blamed. It is the last acceptable form of verbal abuse and it is not as easy as changing your diet. If the church can't be a safe place to come with our whole bodies then where is?" I could have written a lot more but honestly seeing comments about how people liked the article I didn't feel it was a safe place to share my whole life story. Even I have limits to what I will share. I saw some likes on my comment a few hours later so went to see what other comments there might be. I don't know why I was surprised to see a reply to my comment which was basically a recommendation of a diet and exercise plan. My reply took me about an hour to write so that it wasn't full of anger and upset, here it is.. "Thank you but I didn't actually ask for input. I am sure you didn't mean it as such, but this is both fat shaming and possibly dangerous advice. It is important that when someone discloses that they have been fat shamed, or discloses that they are overweight, and especially if they have opened up that their weight issues are an eating disorder, that "advice" or "experience" around an eating or exercise plan is NOT provided. The best way to think about it is to turn the situation on its head. If you saw someone who was dangerously underweight, possibly with an eating disorder, would you tell them to eat more or exercise less? I'm hoping that no one would because we are all very well informed about eating disorders or about numerous serious medical issues which cause drastic weight loss. Basically, if you wouldn't "thin shame" for fear of making someone worse then please don't fat shame someone for the same reasons." I could leave this article here but I want to elaborate on the last point I made in my original comment - that fat shaming stops me going to seek medical attention. I should have gone to hospital a day before I did when I caught covid, but I expected to be fat shamed - to be told by at least one medical professional that I was only so ill with covid because of my weight - and I was too sick to stand up for myself. Instead I stayed home and wrote a document explaining my illnesses, my eating disorder history and my fear of being blamed for my health due to my weight, plus listing the medications I take (which by the way all cause metabolic disruption and make it impossible to lose weight) and my normal blood sugar and blood pressure readings. The next day I was taken into hospital and took four copies of the document to hand to people. I got the most amazing response to my document, I was thanked for being so aware of my health and for providing all the information needed to take good care of me. I was never fat shamed. In fact the consultant who treated me apologised for the way I had clearly been treated in the past. He even told me several times that my heart and circulatory system was healthier than people half my size and that I was clearly doing all I could to live the healthiest life possible. I cried. There are only a few GPs who have ever seen beyond my weight and literally no one in a hospital. It was a wonderful experience. And yes, I've written and thanked that Doctor. I share this because this is what fat shaming does to people. It makes us feel ashamed and unworthy. And those feelings, guess what they do..... They damage our mental health, increase eating disorder behaviour (which for me can cause skipping of meals and then wanting to binge) and stop us seeking medical help. It's the combination of those three things which lead to fat people having worse health - there is possibly (though under discussion) a cause and effect between obesity and I'll health, but it is less about food and exercise and more about the way we are treated in society. And breathe. Wow it's hard to be open about all this. But also cathartic.
And finally let me briefly comment on the article itself and the fact that it is telling church leaders to comment on issues of body weight and food consumption. I hope I've made clear in this article the complexity of issues around people being overweight. We have enough problems with church leaders talking negatively to disabled people and those living with mental health issues, let's give appropriate training and support to church leaders in these areas before they accidentally exclude another section of society.
Thank you for reading this, I hope it helps you understand some more about my life and perhaps the lives of other fat people you know.