Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Weight Hate

How hate speech against overweight people is more dangerous than you think

Society hates fat people. This is absolutely clear. It is one of the few acceptable forms of bigotry we have left. Last year I wrote an article about harm caused when people make fun of those who are overweight. I talked about the bullying component of those who mock and harass those with extra pounds. I received so many thank you emails that I knew I had to write again about his topic.

People must get beyond this hatred for those who are overweight. As a society, we just have to do it. Everywhere you look, fat people are targets of jokes, discrimination, and bigotry. On television, in movies, and in virtually every kind of media, heavy people suffer from hate. Even on children’s television shows, fat jokes are plentiful.

Worldwide those who deal with weight problems are targets, and they know it. Though they struggle with a daily battle with food, there is a legion of mean spirited children who masquerade as adults ready to pounce on them at every chance.

Jokes. Mocking. Nastiness. It is as if we are living in one giant middle school where bullies rule the school. The mentality of these monsters is that if you carry extra weight, you must be stupid, unclean, and lazy. This is a complete lie. The small minded cannot see that it is a lie, and they attack at every opportunity.

If you are overweight, then you know that you cannot get away from these horrible people. They take shots at you wherever you are, and they especially take cracks at you online where they hide behind anonymous screen names.

Repeatedly you hear these bullies say that they are simply telling the truth when they make fat jokes. Fat people know they are overweight. So where is the harm?

But it goes beyond simple bullying. These predators make the overweight out to be society’s villains. After all, they have more health problems. They eat more food. They take up more space. Plus, you may actually have to look at one of them, and oh, how offensive is that? The truth is that bullies who target the overweight are offended by fat people. This is particularly true for overweight women. One female said to me that it is as if men hate fat women because these women prefer to eat cake rather than looking hot for them.

Bullies are very clear in what they are communicating with their behavior: fat people better change to suit us or we will destroy them. And destroy they do.

Damage occurs in so many ways, ways in which you may never even think about. When prejudice is ingrained in a society, the targets of that prejudice can be overlooked for jobs, promotions, and even paid less for work. Further, study after study has shown that strangers are more likely to help thin attractive people than those who are overweight in emergency situations. Thus, accepted bigotry can go beyond name calling to impact personal safety. This is meaningful and dangerous.

Why does this happen? A target of a hate campaign becomes a ‘thing’ instead of a human being. Heavy people are called ‘whales’ and ‘cows.’ Everyone has a chuckle over it except the person who was singled out. Bullies turn their victims into objects, and it is quite easy to hurt a thing.

When this mentality is pervasive, it is used to justify any and all harm against the target group. This technique has been employed throughout history as a means to control and subjugate. You may think that this statement is extreme. However, objectifying a group always leads to discrimination against those people.

Being civil is a hallmark of a tolerant, progressive and forward moving society. The bitter bullies are not tolerant, progressive, or forward thinking. They want to feel superior, and they believe they are superior to you if you are overweight. If they can make you cry and feel bad about yourself, then they get what they crave. It is their way to get control over you. If they define you, they own you. Bullies ALWAYS are searching for power, and they pick on targets they think they can get away with hurting.

If you don’t believe that the bullying of the overweight constitutes hate speech, then simply substitute black people or gays in place of the derisive things said about fat people. Just switch any other group name into such statements as ‘they are lazy and stinky,’ and the hateful nature becomes apparent.

Words have meaning. That is why totalitarian countries have propaganda ministers. The public can be manipulated by word choice. It is simply unacceptable that any group can be singled out for hate this way. There are more important things than fitting into skinny jeans. Why don’t we focus on the kindness of a person rather than how she looks? Why don’t we simply pay attention to our own troubles before we go around judging others?

The weight hate has been going on a long time and is actually increasing. No matter how big the star, if she gains weight, she is suddenly not so great, at least in the eyes of a vicious public. This applies to men too. We need to change this way of thinking to support people rather than tear them down. Only when we build can we become better as a society. Picking on each other will get us nowhere. Certainly as bad as things are now, we need to all know we are loved for who we are and not how we look. The weight hate has to end. We all have more important things to focus on. Live and let live.

**Gem of the day: do something nice for someone who needs help.

More from Deborah Schurman-Kauflin Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Deborah Schurman-Kauflin Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today