Flip Your Script

John J. Schessler, Wellness Coach/Personal Trainer

Fat-Shaming vs. Body Positivity

Fat-shaming and body shaming are relatively new terms to edge their way into the vernacular of American language but here we are. These types of discrimination have been going on since the beginning of civilized time, we just didn’t have names and phrases to convey what it was. Fat/Body-shaming is the direct or indirect way someone uses words or phrases to publicly embarrass an individual based on what they look like and it can get ugly. Look, this isn’t a new problem. What’s new about it is that social media and a vast majority of society have taken a part in it to make it more publicly known that it isn’t acceptable or should not be put up with in any way. ‘Should’ is the operative word here because people are going to be people unfortunately and they don’t always react the way that they should in these types of situations. The body-shaming issue was recently brought back into the limelight again when comedian Aries Spears (MadTV) made a comment about Lizzo’s appearance on one of his comedy specials. Comments like ‘she looks like a marshmallow with a head’ and things of that nature was said. America really doesn’t see much of Spears anymore since his departure from MadTV, the sketch comedy show that aired on the FOX Network in the late 90s and early 2000s. These comments he made about Lizzo cemented one thing, he should stick to comedy, which in my opinion, isn’t that funny in the first place.

The body positivity movement isn’t something that is new, in fact, it’s been around since the late 60’s. In 1969, New York engineer Bill Fabray wasn’t very pleased about the way the world was treating his overweight wife. After reading an article about the unfair ways overweight individuals were being treated at that time in the US, he along with a group of people created the National Association to Aid Fat Americans (NAAFA) or as it’s now called, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance or NAAFA. Their mission:

The mission of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance is to change perceptions of fat and end size discrimination through advocacy, education, and support.

NAAFA Website

The NAAFA mobilizes the term “fat” in its fight against weight discrimination and fat-phobia in all aspects of life, including in employment, health care and education.

There’s a lot of debate on this issue and some people are for it and some people are not. Those that aren’t for fat acceptance and body acceptance movements are claiming the health risks involved with weighing a certain number and the medical problems associated with it. Bill Maher made a statement on his late-night talk show that we’ve gotten to this place where being healthy is taboo, being overweight is glorified and people are getting mixed signals concerning the two.

Look, there should be absolutely no blurred lines here, it is very true that being obese can severely lower your lifespan, give you certain medical illnesses, etc. However, people’s body-types are as individual as your thumbprint and as much as you try to change that body-type, sometimes you can’t. Some people’s body composition won’t allow for a huge amount of weight loss due to heredity and genetics sadly enough. I hate to say it like this but sometimes, your body just is what it is and you have to work with whatever you’ve got.

I’m happy to see people putting a positive spin on being in a somewhat larger body than the norm and having to deal with the constant pressures of ‘fitting in’ to a society that tells these individuals that what they look like is everything. We all know it’s not and it’s sickening that we’ve gotten to the point where you have people committing physical acts of violence just because someone’s overweight. People have gotten beaten up, aggressively hurt and sometimes killed just because they’re fat. It’s sickening and we really need to take a proverbial look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “Am I this vain and shallow?” For the majority of us the answer would be no, at least I would hope so. We’ve all gotten bitten by this epidemic of society’s standards when it comes to beauty and looking good. People, like Lizzo, are trying to change the rhetoric surrounding this issue and those similar to it. As I said, aside from the health concerns, this is a very positive thing that like-minded individuals are trying to promote.It is important to note here that social media is not responsible for the obesity problem in America. However, the advertisements that promote fast food and other products and services that create things to foster becoming ‘fat’ do, in fact, help it along.

As a trainer and as a human being, I personally am torn on the issue. On the professional side, I obviously have an individual’s health to think about. Being a body positive person, I do abide by the adage, ‘Love the skin you’re in”, however, there’s a line that comes with that. When loving the skin you’re in hinders your health and well-being, you really need to take a step back and analyze that what you’re doing is healthy for yourself or not. People hire me to become the best version of themselves, not to remain the same or keep their body type similar to what they have currently. If Lizzo, Chrissy Metz and other body positive influencers want to make a statement that’s great however, they may not be putting their health first.

Keep in mind that I don’t know their health and medical histories. If they are battling diseases such as Diabetes type II, Cushing’s Syndrome, etc., then that throws a wrench into the mix. These diseases screw with hormones causing the individual to gain and keep weight on. I’m getting off track here though. The initial question here is are body-positive influencers making things better or worse for people to lose weight?

I think it really depends on the person to be perfectly honest. Motivation is one of the key elements in realizing that you meed to have a lifestyle change if you want to be on this planet for a long time. Also, we shouldn’t be afraid of saying the word ‘fat’. I used to dance around the word when talking to overweight clients about dieting, etc. but fat is their reality. If I’m to help a person actualize the weight (no pun intended) of their issue with food, I truly need to be as blunt as possible with some people. Dancing around the obvious isn’t helping them nor is it helping myself with structuring a treatment plan for them as well. Also, there’s a horrible double-standard from a section of the population that fitness trainers, bodybuilders and the like don’t have any body issues. That couldn’t be further from the truth. WE are some of the worst people for having issues with appearance, body acceptance, etc., why do you think we all workout so hard?? I can only speak for myself in saying that I’ve learned to accept and appreciate my 5’3″, 160 pound frame. I walk with a small limp and have daily muscle spasms in my legs BUT on the whole I like who I am. When I look in the mirror though, I knit-pick my body to death. We all do, it’s human nature to be unhappy with the current ways we look and are always wanting more.

The body positivity movement is great, it promotes acceptance, a safe community of peers and a place to share experiences with each other. When that hinders your health though, that’s the issue. However you are packaged in your body, learn to accept it as is but know that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve yourself. We all should want to improve ourselves because if we didn’t, life would be pretty boring.

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John J. Schessler is a Pittsburgh-based Personal Trainer and Men’s Life Coach. He also has certifications as a Sports Injury/Orthopedics Specialist, Zumba-I Instructor and a Social Work Specialist. He is the host and creator of the podcast, “ManAlive!”, available on Apple podcasts. For fitness training or media inquiries, please email: pghwellnesspt@gmail.com.

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