Living in Boulder, I can definitely say that this city touts a healthy lifestyle. While the implementation of healthful living is by no means bad, I have noticed a malicious affect: obese individuals often feel judged by thinner individuals because of their weight. I have even had a few friends who have left CU because they felt so judged and ostracized.
“Fat shaming,” or the act of treating obese individuals differently because of their weight, isn’t a new phenomenon. Journalists have been reporting on fat shaming for some years now. While I believe that coverage of fat shaming has been sufficient, I don’t think that enough has been done to help explain why these events occur. To be clear, I am only going to discuss incidences that have happened in contemporary America.
Symbolic anthropology can help partly explain why fat shaming occurs. In all societies, people give objects and people symbolic meaning. While inanimate objects such as the American flag symbolize freedom, obese individuals can also be symbolic. To some, obese individuals symbolize laziness and undisciplined. Take for example psychology professor Geoffrey Miller. In August, the Huffington Post reported that Miller had posted this tweet, “Dear obese Ph.D. applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth.” This isn’t just one man’s opinion, but a widespread one. I have met many people that identify with Miller’s opinion. Symbols attributed to obesity contribute to fat shaming because of the negative connotations.
Ruth Benedict’s culture and personality theory adds another dimension to fat shaming analysis. This theory asserts that every culture creates a certain type of individual that is valued. If an individual goes against established cultural norms, then “normal” individuals treat them differently. This theory is demonstrated through weight-based discrimination in the workplace. It was reported in a 2008 Forbes article, “Is Weight Affecting Your Career?” that when a white, obese woman gains 64 pounds, her income drops 9%. This statistic was taken from a 2004 Cornell University study. It has also been shown that obese individuals are less likely to be hired when a thinner individual is applying for the same job. The negative correlation between weight and the likelihood of getting the desired job was reported in a 2002 The New York Times article, “The Trials of Job Hunting Beyond a Certain Size.” The article highlighted Robert Diaz, an obese individual who attempted to get a job. Before a job interview, Diaz would try to make himself appear thinner. Despite his attempts, Diaz reported that the interview was “usually…over almost as soon as they [saw] me.”
Because of how American culture values the thin, and toned body, and the hardworking individual, it’s no wonder why American society is rejecting obese individuals. American culture wants the individual to have this most often times unattainable body type. A person who is not even astronomically close to this body type is rejected and even denied jobs over a thinner individual.