Fat-shaming. Should we or shouldn’t we? Does it help?
Hi there. I wonder what you think of the video above. Is she right or is she horribly offensive? Judging by the comments beneath the original youtube video it’s an extremely divisive piece of film. Should we accept people for being obese or should society apply pressure in order that the obese feel the need to change their habits? Should we offer compassion or should we condemn? If we condemn then how far is it permissible to go?
An argument has recently broken out on a social media page for hypnotherapists. It covered many of these same themes.
One rather well-known therapist began the dispute by stating that therapists should be ‘honest’ with their clients. A namby-pambying softening of the truth is counter-productive, he argues. Fat people are fat and should be told the facts.
Fat people, he states, enjoy less physical intimacy, are liked less, progress less within their careers and suffer reduced life-spans. It does them no favours to soft-soap these truths. They should be told. They should be called ‘fat’ to their faces because this truth motivates them to change.
Others on this same forum reacted with horror. It goes against the grain of our training to shame our clients, they said. It’s unprofessional, unethical and unkind.
Therapists should be honest, congruent and true. They should also be compassionate, understanding and hold their clients in a positive regard. Does fat shaming satisfy the first but not the second? Is there a conflict?
Motivation is key! How should therapists help to build this quality in their clients?
I could do this by encouraging them to move away from something or I could do it by helping them to move towards something better.
When I was trained the accent was upon positive motivation.
Imagine a smoker. He or she has spent a lifetime being bombarded with information about the harmful effects of tobacco. Every time he reaches for the packet he sees a ‘limp penis’, cancer-ridden lungs or throat cancer on the cover.
Every time he comes back in from the cold outdoors somebody will make a comment about the smell. Every time he tries to hug or kiss a partner or friend he will worry that he stinks. Still he continues with the habit. The costs are well known, the risks all too clear and yet he continues.
The smoker is aware of every negative consequence of smoking. He sees it every day. It doesn’t cause him to stop by itself. Does fat-shaming hope to have any greater effect than pictures of carcinomas on cigarette packets?
Negative motivation achieves little , nothing or proves counter-productive
My clients have spent a lifetime trying to move away from things. They all know what they want to leave behind and they all know how it feels to be ashamed. Katy Hopkins et al may have the best interests of the overweight population in mind but when a client calls me they already feel ashamed enough. There’s nothing I can do to motivate them through increasing that burden.
Governments should do what they can to reduce the scale of the problem. They have certain tools at their command they should use them when they’re demonstrably effective, compatible with democracy and in line with human rights legislation
However, I’m not a government. I’m not in charge and neither is any other therapist. I’m a therapist and whilst governments can behave in certain ways it is my role to support, nurture, empower and facilitate.
My weight-loss clients have felt ashamed for a very long time. It’s a perverse truth that feeling bad about their weight has often moved them to use food for comfort. It doesn’t work, of course, but this is all they have known and feeling bad triggers those cravings for something sweet and loaded with calories. Feeling bad drives them towards food. How could shaming them further help?
Researchers at UCL followed 3000 over-weight people over four years. Those who suffered stigmatising behaviours gained almost a kilo on average. Those who did not lost an average of 700 grammes.
Fat shaming effective? The evidence is against it.
My clients don’t lack shame. They lack self-belief in their ability to change
My clients are used to feeling ashamed. When they spill into the seats of their neighbours on the plane they feel it. When they can’t find clothes which both fit and look good they feel it. When they go to that school reunion they feel it. They feel it day in, day out. Shame is a constant. Shame may have motivated them to seek help. It will not help them to succeed in their goals.
My clients have taken responsibility. They know that they have unwittingly landed themselves in their predicament. They know that they will have to be the ones to dig themselves out of it. Shaming doesn’t build a sense of responsibility and agency, it weakens self-belief and esteem.
Nobody achieves a goal until they have sufficient self-belief. I build this in my clients so that they can leave past failures behind them. I build confidence, self-esteem and determination.
I help them through the tears, the self-recriminations and the doubt. They already feel ashamed and always did. They now need the positive reassurance that they are capable of making changes.
I help my clients to move towards a slimmer, brighter and happier future. They are motivated by positive rewards, not by negative imagery or destructive emotions. If shame was a cause of slimming then there’d be far fewer over-weight people.
Leave governments and public policy to do that which they do best. Leave the NHS to issue its leaflets and its own campaigns. When people come to see a therapist they expect compassion and support. They know they need to change, the shame has brought them to the door.
The lady in the video is correct in the core of her message. There is no purpose in attempting to find a way to celebrate obesity. She’s brutal but in essence her message is correct. Obesity is unsustainable. It’s unhealthy. It will break public health systems and welfare states. It has to be reduced.
However, she’s no therapist. I am a therapist. It’s my job to help the people who come to see me and I will do it and am able to do it because I have every respect for their being. Leave cold-hearted facts to the authorities. Leave brutal frankness to their doctors. Let us, as therapists, reach out and help the real people, with their real feelings, to make the changes they want to see happen.
They find a way to achieve their goals. You could do the same.
It isn’t always easy, of course. Some weeks see relapses. The road is long and sometimes steps are taken in a backwards direction. It’s easy to give up at these points. I help my clients to persevere. For this they need positive goals and the faith of a positive therapist behind them. I provide this for my clients and I could provide this for you as well.
Shame will get you through the door. That much is true. Shame won’t get you out of it any thinner. If you’d like to work with a positive therapist who has faith in your strength then consider giving me call.
You could call me on 07786 123736 / 01183 280284 / 01865 600970. You could email me at email@example.com or you could contact me using the form below. However you chose to contact me, I look forward to hearing from you.