Fat Shaming

On February 11th, Neil Cavuto’s Your World on Fox News focused on Adele and Kelly Clarkson’s bodies during the 2013 Grammys.  After public criticisms laced with blatant fat shaming, including Twitter posts like “Can Adele lose some weight please? It’s not healthy. And little kids might follow,” Cavuto invited nutritionist Karen Gilbert to give an “expert” opinion.  I’ll start by saying that while I found Cavuto interruptive, I have to hand it to them* for occasionally calling Gilbert out.  And Gilbert needed some calling out given their* clear message: Adele and Clarkson’s bodies are problematic and could negatively influence our youth into becoming “overweight” like them. 

Gilbert juxtaposed both performers’ hard working and disciplined lifestyles with their “fatter than normal” bodies.  What exactly does this imply?  Well, for starters, that it’s surprising or uncommon that fat or fatter-bodied individuals could also be successful.  Indeed, research has demonstrated that we, as a society, stigmatize fat bodies and characterize them as lazy, unattractive, unsuccessful and undisciplined as well as hinder access to education and work opportunities.  This pervasive characterization adds insult to injury when coupled with the moralizing and fear mongering headlines about fat bodies that they certainly result to negative health ramifications, and if you just exercise hard enough and eat less you too can be a “normal” weight.  Aside from this taking into account other, more nuanced explanations of health disparities and diverse body types, this, of course, is ironic, given that the average size for American females is between a 12 to 14 – the approximate size that Adele, a successful performer and recipient of numerous awards proudly wears. 

However, I do not want to focus the fact that Adele is indeed the “average” or “normal” among societal comparison.  That’d be defeating the purpose of this blog and merely revamping Gilbert’s stance.  Instead, I think it is more important to note that she is generally happy with her body or finds it “normal” and appropriate for herself.  Gilbert noted that they’d* recommend to Adele and Clarkson to lose 10-15 pounds if they wanted to lose weight.  The operative word here is if.  While this might not be the case for Clarkson, Adele has unabashedly stymied body-focused criticisms.  Indeed, in 2012, Adele noted that she’d only lose weight if it affected her health or sex life – both of which have not been the case.  Sex AND body positive?  Adele, you’re a real role model!  But Gilbert doesn't think so.  Instead, they* express concern over Adele (and Clarkson’s) potential effect on our youth, noting that seeing the likes of Adele might encourage young kids that they could be overweight like her. 

Initially supporting the notion that any individual above the medicalized BMI standard of 25 is overweight, Gilbert seemingly changed opinions when Cavuto questioned whether Gilbert might be too thin.  Indeed, Gilbert quickly responded to this that everyone has a “different profile.”  In other words, if your fat-bodied, a medicalized standard should be used to deem you healthy or unhealthy, but if you’re thin-bodied, then each individual should be considered as unique and viewed for their personal health. 

We, as psychologists, are particularly conflicted given the current environment (namely, APA’s recently waged war on fat bodies) as well as our research and clinical opinions that often times pathologize body dissatisfaction, food restriction and excessive exercising among individuals who are deemed “too thin,” while we advocate for such behaviors and perceptions in those “too fat.”  Instead of quickly jumping on the medicalized notion of adiposity, I suggest that we remain critical of body standardization and fat shaming as well as demand better, more responsible research and clinical judgment that questions the social constructions and milieu surrounding the body. 

*Gender neutral pronouns for Gilbert and Cavuto were used intentionally so as not to imposed gender identification in either of them without their consent. 

+For more on this subject as well as a great read, I’d recommend The Fat Studies Reader edited by Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay.  

written by Jessica A. Joseph

1 comment:

  1. An excellent article. I am often amazed at how "horrified" mainstream society is over a person's size/physique. The attitude is as if a person could be a mass murderer, a pedophile, a cyber-bully, or even a child sex offender, but as long as she isn't overweight, it is okay. God forbid we have role models who are not a size 4! smh....it is ridiculous. A pop star can parade around on stage with scanty clothes and sing about promiscuous behavior and it's okay for her to be a role model, but not the "overweight" singer whose music is more uplifting and motivating. What is the world?? It is nonsense.