War Of The Waistlines: The Online Battle Between ‘Fat Haters’ vs. ‘Skinny Shamers’
As little as 10 years ago, the world was a simpler place. Getting “healthy” meant eating right, exercising, & losing weight – few disputed this standard, including the chronically obese. Today, the world has changed dramatically. Even as the push by society towards a health-centric lifestyle is stronger than ever, fringe groups have emerged aimed at expanding the actual definition of “healthy”, to adapt to the world’s ever expanding waistlines.
The dynamic is not shifting without resistance, however – Recently, a vocal group of “thin activists”, have begun to retaliate against the so called “fat acceptance” movement – countering what they consider to be the glorification of an unhealthy lifestyle, which shames anybody who doesn’t embrace the new standards. What started as a lukewarm debate, is quickly turning into a heated, full-fledged propaganda war between opposing ideologies about health & body size. With nearly every popular social media platform on the internet serving as the main battle grounds – both sides have dug in deep, and no punches are being pulled.
While people have likely always been sensitive about weight to some degree, in the not too distant past it wasn’t considered particularly taboo for somebody to poke fun of your size. Unlike race or gender, weight was something nearly everybody believed you had control over for the most part, and thus, it wasn’t any more off limits to openly discuss than talking to somebody about quitting smoking, or changing their hair color.
However, for decades, overweight people endured living in a thin-obsessed culture, constantly reminded by the media, their leaders, & their peers that the majority of the world is guided by the same mantra – fat should never be accepted. In recent years though, as the overweight population in the US has ballooned to nearly 75% of adults, with over one-third (35%) classified as obese (CDC statistics), the tides have begun to turn.
The ideals of “Body Acceptance” have gained ground over the past 2 decades with little opposition by the general public – using the existing momentum of modern society’s push towards principles of universal inclusion above all else. With the seemingly unstoppable vehicle of political correctness, coupled with a public fear of being labeled discriminatory to move their cause forward, today, mentioning somebody’s size has become as serious an offense as flagrant racism or sexism. Even beyond that, the movement has gone so far that many are now pushing for society to accept obesity as the new norm.
From this dynamic, two clear sides have emerged, and lines have been drawn in the sand. On one end, body acceptance movements such as, “Health At Every Size”, commonly known as HAES, promote the basic premise that you can be perfectly healthy at any weight, without focusing your life around dieting or exercise. Although the original concept was pioneered in the 60s, the internet has propelled it to new heights over the past 10 years or so.
The movement is made up largely of people who believe that dieting is ineffective, and many heavy people have little control over their weight – with potential inherent factors such as thyroid issues and genetics playing a bigger role in their size than diet or exercise. Although the vast majority of reputable science supports the theory that obesity is linked to adverse long-term health effects, HAES advocates cite a variety of studies of their own which claim to dispute those commonly accepted views. Overall, they are dedicated to changing the cultural mindset throughout much of the world that thin = healthy, fat = unhealthy.
Unfortunately, it seems some members of the supposed body acceptance movements have been accepting of everybody except those with already skinny bodies. One of the most successful weapons in the “fat acceptance” arsenal, has been to unite a following by flipping the script, and painting anybody who either promotes weight loss as the only way to health, or is naturally thin, as an oppressive enemy to their cause.
Terms such as “thin privilege” are used to suggest that thin and in-shape people are given more opportunities by society to live a full and happy life. Furthermore, proponents also claim that people too focused on monitoring their eating habits, are the ones with an unhealthy relationship with food – both mentally & physically. This has created the main catalyst to the current dichotomy.
On the opposite side of the table, you have a loosely connected ensemble of the fitness focused, the diet savvy, people who were born with fast metabolism, and those who are just simply tired of dealing with what they believe is the excess burden on society created by the obesity epidemic. They largely resent the fact that many members of the body acceptance movement have promoted their cause by using what they consider “thin shaming” tactics, at the expense of anybody who doesn’t fall into the “curvy and up” categories.
If fat shaming is the new racism, the idea of “thin shaming” is the reverse. For a long time, it was rarely spoken about, and many denied that it was a serious issue, or even an issue at all. Over time, victims of thin shaming fumed at the fact that while it’s now considered one of the biggest social faux pas to tell an obese person they need to lose weight, it’s still rarely considered even mean spirited to tell a thin girl they need to eat a cheeseburger & gain some.
Making fun of “stick figures” is ok, but calling somebody a “blob” is a horribly offensive. Overall, they’re tired of the idea that as long as it makes the overweight feel better about themselves, it’s OK to promote. Moreover, they believe the whole idea of “body acceptance”, is inherently flawed to begin with, as it downplays the potential problems obesity can cause.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, on both sides of the table, women have been some of the loudest & most active voices. HAES has many links to the modern feminism movement – sharing some common leaders – and with both groups agreeing that the idea of the “ideal body image” is a construct of patriarchal society aimed at objectifying women’s bodies.
However, catch phrases such as “real women have curves” and “men like meat, dogs like bone” have been used as popular rallying cries by body acceptance proponents, leaving many thinner women feeling as if the cause is built on a foundation of making them out to be less than “real”, & inherently unattractive.
Today, the gloves have come off, and both sides have taken to the internet, using viral social media as powerful tools to spread their messages.
Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook & Twitter appear to be the primary platforms where the fat acceptance movement has set up their main war camps. From accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, totaling into the millions between them, activists hurl daily memes, posts, and tweets into the blogosphere, using recurring tags such as #HAES, #bodyacceptance, #“fatspo” (short for fat inspiration), and #thinpriviledge to unite their supporters. They post links to science and pseudo-science to back their claims, and paint anybody who refutes them as close-minded bullies at the very least, and insensitive, discriminatory “shitlords” at the extreme.
For the opposition, one of the main platforms of choice has been the popular social content sharing site Reddit. The anonymity of Reddit provides the perfect medium for the frustrated “thin & proud” of the world, to voice their beliefs without the threat of public reprisal – as any “anti-fat” sentiments are still considered insensitive by many. Subreddits such as “fatpeoplehate”(www.reddit.com/r/fatpeoplehate) & “fatlogic”(www.reddit.com/r/fatlogic), are some of the fastest growing communities on the site, with an army of over 170,000 active members between them.
Their sole purpose is to lash out against not only the public’s apparent indifference towards thin shaming, but also the glorification of obesity, HAES, and the general hypocrisy behind what they believe to be the promotion of a truly unhealthy lifestyle. Their main tools are using blunt, and often brutal posts aimed at shaming overweight individuals, and mocking the memes and blog posts of their opposition. They disdain the fat acceptance, movement which they see as promoting laziness and lack of self-control.
Feeling that they’re acting from the position of an outspoken minority, their frustration has manifested itself into flat out hatred towards overweight people, and the burden they enact on society. They refer to them as “obeasts”, “ham planets”, and “lard whales” – some just refer to them as “its”.
Members of these subreddits often sardonically refer to themselves with the titles of “shitlords” & “shitqueens”, a term originally used by vocal tumblr-feminists to refer to Mens Rights Activists, and later adopted by the fat acceptance movement to refer to those who refute their cause. It seems that beneath the surface, many of these “fat haters”, mostly view their tactics as a sort of “tough love”. Their bluntness is a wakeup call to a society which they desperately want to take a hard-lined stance in the fight against obesity, rather than coddling & enabling the problem.
Like most wars of ideology, it appears both factions are acting on the deep down belief that what they are doing is right – and they are, in fact, the victims of an unjust society. Both sides use shocking tales of oppression, mocking & shaming their opponents, with some of the most popular posts bordering on the edges of ridiculousness.
And despite all of the effort, neither side seems to be actually changing anybody’s mind. They’re simply rallying cohorts who already held most of their beliefs, and motivating them to speak out through colorful, emotionally-charged imagery and venomous dialogue.
With such vitriolic circle-jerks on both sides of the vanguard, it’s undeniably hard for many people with more neutral views to fully support one side or the other. On the sidelines, you have plenty of advocates of body acceptance, who take a strong stance against thin-shaming as a means to promote their cause.
You also have fitness focused individuals, who believe that obesity is definitively unhealthy, but overweight people should not be hated for their lack of resolve to change. But for now, there is little they can do to quell the most fanatical and outspoken advocates of their perspective ideologies.
However, despite the hate-filled speech being used on both sides, the fact remains that the world is getting larger – and I’m left wondering how much longer the majority of the public will be able to get by without picking sides on this issue.
At some point it seems we will all have to choose – Is society better off embracing obesity as the new acceptable standards, at the possible cost of public health, or is it better off fighting obesity head on, at the possible cost of the emotional health of many? Could there be a middle ground in between that would ever work? Whatever you decide, it is clear at this point that the the bad blood between the opposing armies of internet fat & anti-fat activists runs too deep, and the War of the Waistlines is just getting started.
We’d like to hear from our readers, where do you stand on this issue?