By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW CEDS
Bill Maher and James Corden have been sparing about fat-shaming on their respective late-night TV shows. While Corden has been championed for defending all who are fat-shaming, the truth is both celebrity comedians get this wrong.
Maher is known for identifying American culture war issues and grandstanding on them for a laugh. On his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher he said, “Fat isn’t a birth defect. … Nobody comes out of the womb needing to buy two seats on an airplane. … Fat-shaming doesn’t need to end; it needs to make a comeback.” Totally ignorant. First, people are getting fat-shamed constantly and have been for decades upon decades. It’s louder, more in your face, and more insulting than ever. So not sure where he gets the notion there’s not enough. It’s clear just how wrong he is both morally and literally.
Now let me focus on what Corden shared. “There’s a common and insulting misconception that fat people are stupid and lazy, and we’re not,” Corden said. “We get it, we know. We know that being overweight isn’t good for us and I’ve struggled my entire life trying to manage my weight and I suck at it.”
Oh, so close. Corden is right about the general misconception that people who are fat don’t care how they look, are lazy, stupid, etc. Fat is vilified by the media, but worse it’s vilified by the medical community. This is probably where Corden has come to believe “being overweight isn’t good for us.”
Truth is, the same diseases that affect fat people affect thin or average sized people. Diabetes affects people of all sizes. Same for heart disease, cancer, arthritis, metabolic diseases, and the like. Individuals who are considered obese typically are fat-shamed by their providers, given worse care, and have poorer health outcomes because doctors often won’t look past the fatness to find an underlying disease. Those who live in poverty also have worse medical outcomes due to a dual lack of good medical care and fresh foods, leaving many both malnourished and fat, struggling with medical complications, being judged for their poverty, fatness, and ill-health, and dismissed as untreatable.
While in America the overall size of the population has increased, the truth is our rate of heart disease has decreased over 67% according the Center for Disease Control (Weir et al, 2016) over the last 20 years. We have seen an increase in obesity rates of over 30% during this time according the National Institute of Health, yet we’re getting healthier. Interesting, right? If being fat were killing us, in and of itself, would this make sense?
Want to get even more into the weeds? There is a term called the “obesity paradox” which shows that individuals who are “overweight” or “mildly obese” have better health in later years than those of average or low weight. Being heavier in later life is a protective factor!
What I would encourage Corden to recognize is he is carrying the fat-shaming he’s endured as a personal failure and seems to believe that this is the case for all who are fat. He, like Maher, is wrong here. People come naturally in all shapes, sizes, colors, and more. Thin does not equal healthy any more than fat equals unhealthy. Our behaviors, genetics, and environment all play a role in our health status. The more we try to force our bodies to be something other than what they are naturally made to be the more physical and emotional harm we do to ourselves. Live in the body you have, not the one you wish you had or were told to have. There’s nothing wrong with it.