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Fat-shaming and why Bill Maher is wrong

By Farah Refaey, September 24 2019—

Earlier this month, comedian and Real Time with Bill Maher host Bill Maher made some controversial remarks about obesity and suggested that we should “bring back” what he believes to be the cure — fat-shaming.

I guess when you’ve been alive since the early beginnings of the Korean War, it’s difficult to keep up with social media — and ironically, the ‘real world’ — enough to know that fat-shaming has never left us. 

“Fat shame? No, we fit shame. Really. You hear it all the time!” says Maher.  

May I ask where? When? Whomst? It appears that Bill Maher has been living in a parallel universe where society’s ideals of beauty that have been cemented into the brains of every person, their grandma and their dog have been reversed! Oh, what a dystopian world Maher lives in. It was so nice of him to give us a peek into it. 

Seriously, fat-shaming has never gone away. It affects almost everyone I know. As a young person growing up at the height of media barbarity, the amount of times I hear “I look fat in this,” “I need to lose a few pounds” or “I’m going on a diet” on a daily basis is disheartening. Seeing friends and family members — who are worlds away from the obesity Maher so badly wants to fix — be this critical about their own bodies really drives home the message that fat-shaming has universal impacts. Just last week, my mother and her friends, who are not overweight, decided on a new fad weight loss trick for all of them to try — keto oil drops. The diet and weight-loss industry benefits from the average person’s insecurities. These insecurities are fostered, harboured and driven by fat-shaming. It is a vicious cycle and unfortunately, it affects almost all of us. 

Although Maher is undoubtedly altruistic in his concerns about public health, he fails to mention any legitimate ways to fight the epidemic that is obesity. His philosophy is that if we shame people enough, they will feel so terrible about themselves that they will be forced to change their lifestyles. And we, the fat-shamers, will be the heroes of this story. 

But, fat-shaming has been a tried-but-not-true cultural practice, and obesity has not yet been cured. Not only does fat-shaming do nothing to fix the epidemic that is obesity, but it harms people. Ever heard of body dysmorphia, Bill? What about anorexia‍‍‍? These are disorders that have nothing to do with a person’s actual weight or their health, but are the effects of culturally-instilled ideals. In addition to that, there are many illnesses that cause weight gain, and people can be genetically predisposed to obesity. There are a myriad of reasons and factors that contribute to someone’s ability to manage their weight. It is insensitive and uncouth for anybody to assume anything about anyone else’s weight or health. Saying that all fat people are fat because of their eating habits is presumptuous and frankly, a great way to broadcast your ignorance, especially on national television. 

At the end of the day, I think we’re all aware that fat-shaming is just bullying under the guise of health-consciousness. Most of the time, the worries that plague people with regard to their weight are in no way correlated with actual health concerns — it’s about appearance. So, when a comedian has the audacity to speak on a matter this significant as if he possesses any sort of qualifications, it cannot be taken lightly. We can’t just brush it off as harsh humour. Words have impact. Being a comedian is not a free pass to being a terrible person.

Next time you think about policing a person’s health without being a doctor or their doctor, sit down and shut the hell up.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet‘s editorial board.

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