Sensitive Society: The Reality of ‘Fat Shaming’

Body shaming has long been one of the most hotly contested issues in modern society. With what constitutes a ‘normal’ or ‘attractive’ body type coming into question, conventional ideas of beauty are continuing to be challenged. However, when it comes to issues of health, this increasing acceptance towards extreme weights is highly damaging.


At the beginning of the month I observed on twitter as Cancer Research UK reignited the debate on ‘fat shaming’ with their informative advert, revealing that obesity is ‘the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking’. Though an undeniable fact, this statement received backlash from angry tweeters who apparently failed to understand its perfectly rational premise: that obese people are at a higher risk of developing cancer.

Pioneering for justice against this supposedly outrageous campaign was plus-size comedian Sofie Hagen. Branding it ‘damaging’, Hagen erupted in a twitter tantrum, boldly claiming that ‘society viewing fatness as a negative thing is a thing that kills more than the cancer’. This was followed by a series of angry statements from the comedian that I can only describe as both ignorant and unfounded. Frankly, I’m not sure what Hagen was trying to prove when she claimed that the elderly, who have ‘lived on kale and misery all their lives’, are a comparative drain on NHS funding to the obese. Perhaps she feels that those with obesity, ergo those with a shorter life expectancy of up to fourteen years, are doing the NHS a favour by reducing this allegedly money-draining elderly population? Of course, with irrefutable logic like that, there’s no way on earth the tax-payer could disagree…

In my opinion, Hagen’s rant is completely deluded. As it stands, obesity remains to be one of the leading preventable causes of several different types of cancer, including uterine, kidney, oesophageal, gallbladder, bowel, pancreas and breast cancers. In 2014, a staggering 630,000 people in the US were diagnosed with a form of cancer that is associated with overweight and obesity. Not only this, but outside of cancer statistics, obesity leads to a whole host of other health complications such as heart disease and diabetes, officially rendering it one of the leading risk factors for death in the world. Cancer Research UK are concerned with educating people about the disease and promoting the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The charity is not interested however, in physical appearance or the promotion of a ‘perfect’ body type, and so in my opinion, to receive this advert as a personal attack is not only narcissistic but simply unnecessary.

Whilst Hagen vainly attempted to make this into an issue of ‘bullying’ and ‘harassment’, the reality is that these organisations have a duty to inform the public of the risks associated with obesity, regardless of whether people choose to take offence or not. The suggestion that being heavily overweight is linked to multiple health problems is hardly a recent, or surprising revelation, and quite frankly we need to stop skirting around the issue in worry of being branded ‘fat-shamers’.

This fear of offending is more prevalent than ever in our social climate, particularly when it comes to weight, so people would often rather hold their tongue than face the abuse of an angry twitter crusade. But in some cases, this desire to appear unprejudiced has resulted in the acceptance, and even the glorification of obesity. Body Positivity is an important issue and I absolutely believe that different shapes and sizes should be celebrated in our society. However, body positivity can still be encouraged without ignoring the obvious physical and mental health issues that are linked to obesity. Basically, there is a clear difference between advocating self-love and advocating what is a blatantly unhealthy lifestyle.

So, in response to the outrage towards this campaign, I would like to relay the simple truth.

Obesity is damaging and unhealthy. That is an undeniable fact. To brand anybody who shares this view as a ‘fat hater’, or to consider a cancer health warning as prejudiced, is completely irrational. Educating us on the dangers of obesity is no different to educating us on the dangers of smoking or drinking, so why not take equal offence to those campaigns? The simple fact is that although different body types are becoming ever more celebrated in society, obesity never has, and never will be rightfully encouraged, and that is the reality of ‘fat shaming’.

Published online and in print for Redbrick Newspaper 15/03/2018