Will The Fat Shaming Ever End?

UPDATE: An enraged MVFer wrote to Susan Jebb and got a positively sane reply, it seems that her views were wildly misrepresented and we’re happy to acknowledge that. 


Did fat shaming help me when I was obese?

I’m not sure what it takes to be an obesity expert, but it is clear, if the Daily Mail quotes from Steve Miller and Professor Susan Jebb, the Government’s Obesity Adviser are accurate, that a lack of empathy and a judgemental attitude are the order of the day. It’s a shame, but the anti-obesity trend that we can all get behind is starting to look too much like anti-obese.

According to Miller and Jebb (which sounds like a terrible sketch duo that you’d find on the Edinburgh fringe), we need to be more Draconian with the issue of obesity. We need to cease being encouraging and start being cruel. What we need says Miller is “Constructive fat shaming.” The contention is that at the moment we are being too politically correct and too kind. War time rations were effective, says Professor Jebb, but are we, as a society, prepared for some tough love? It’s time to raise taxes and it’s time to make people feel more uncomfortable.

Jebb suggests that society must make snacking and grazing unacceptable and make those doing so feel as unaccepted and as unwelcome as people smoking indoors. As someone who used to conceal my eating by hiding food in my pocket and hiding wrappers in other wrappers, it is my experience that the obese often already feel ashamed. I know that I did. Did that feeling of shame encourage me to take action? Yes, but that action was to eat more.

There is also a proliferation of eateries on the high street and snacking while walking or while working has indeed become the norm. How much of that is by people who are lacking in time rather than social graces or a care for their health? If we are to address our eating habits, we also have to look at other aspects of our daily lives that have changed since the wartime. In the UK we work longer hours and take fewer and shorter breaks, while children’s days are full of post-school activities and distractions that often make it impossible for families to eat together.

Steve Miller goes as far as saying that sales assistants should refuse to serve fast food to obese people and that signs reading “If you are fat, think before ordering” should be clearly visible. As an expert and someone who was once obese himself, doesn’t he realise that there is an internal dialogue that every obese person battles with before we make the choice to snack? He also believes that fat people should be charged extra for taking up more space on public transport and that parents of fat kids should be prosecuted.

[blocktext align=”left”]And let’s resist pointing the finger at the obese and instead point them in the right direction. [/blocktext]

Why stop there? Perhaps we should take it a step further and have fat sections in restaurants, so that their grossness doesn’t disgust normal customers – we should never forget though that being overweight is very much the norm these days – 67% of men are overweight or obese, it’s the skinny ones that would have to make way for the bigger majority. Perhaps we should consider having all fat people wear identifying armbands and have society watch their every move. Catch them eating junk food, or not finishing their veggies and we can remove their benefits, refuse them NHS treatments and take their children from them.

Hell, let’s round them up and put them in Fat Camps where we can re-educate and where they can be reprogrammed. For their own good and the good of society, obviously. Since when does the vilification of a group of people lead to positive behavioural change? It is my experience, as a physical activity campaigner, that people benefit more from encouragement, empowerment and from being enabled and engaged.

fat shaming 2

Me, no thanks to fat shaming

Or let’s take Susan Jebb’s idea to tax fizzy drinks further. Let’s, as suggested by Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, increase taxes on sugary sweets, pastries and all the other food products that the obese consume by 30-40%. We can hurt their feelings and hurt them in their wallets. Fry advocates that these costs should be absorbed by the manufacturers, but do we really think that they will not pass them on to consumers? The obese will have to ask themselves if they prefer to feed their kids (not too much, mind) or do they feed their greed?

There are so many unworkable and outright offensive things suggested by Jebb and Miller that it’s hard to know where to start. But if we’re looking for sensible ideas about dealing with this issue here are some thoughts, based on my own experiences of what I struggled with when I was 354lbs and full of self loathing.

Why don’t we look at the giant supermarkets of the world and question why every aisle often has heavily discounted and promoted junk food? Family-sized bags of sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks that cost the same or sometimes less than a single serving. Everyone buys them thinking that they will ration them and if asked, the retailers will argue they are for sharing, but how many of us have them half-eaten and hidden before we get home to horrified and disappointed family (or was  I alone, in this)?

I do agree with Professor Jebb that we should look at the practices of the food industry and I would ask if the voluntary Responsibility Deal is working. Like her, I do believe that more regulation is required. Does my portion of cooking sauce really need as much sugar as a chocolate bar? It is not a coincidence that the highest obesity rates correlate with the areas that have the highest density of fast food outlets. These also tend to be areas of high unemployment and lower life expectancies. It’s never one thing, a friend often quotes.

Why don’t we also look at why people overeat and choose the foods we want to punish them for consuming? I knew that I was eating too much and I knew that my health was deteriorating. Making me feel ashamed of my actions didn’t help. I had a dependency on food. If I am honest, I still seek solace in snacking. Despite losing 11st and training to be both a Personal Trainer and a Nutritionist, I still occasionally struggle to make the right choices.

And let’s resist pointing the finger at the obese and instead point them in the right direction. Promote healthy living and equip people with the skills and confidence to cook and to understand what healthy and nutritious food is. Again, I agree with Jebb that vegetables should be a staple of our diet, but I would again question the supermarket giants about the pricing, promotion and perishability of their produce. How many of us throw out rotten vegetables that seem to turn the moment we get them home? Maybe we should return to the local grocers, butchers and fishmongers in our communities and maybe we should be walking to them, like our parents did? The problems of obesity and inactivity are inter-related and we should look at them as a joint issue, but that is another post.

There is no quick fix and it will not appease those who seem to enjoy taunting the obese, or issuing Twitter-baiting statements to promote whatever they’re doing, but showing more and not less empathy is what is needed. Speak to the obese and not down to them. Don’t make them feel excluded and unwelcome, but instead include them in seeking solutions. The answer is out there, but it goes beyond simple eat-less, move-more and personal responsibility.

What do you think of the Jebb and Miller story, did it make you angry or are you so used to people being offensive to the overweight and obese men of the world that it didn’t even register?

About the Author /


I'm Andrew Shanahan, I started MAN v FAT when I lost over 60lbs and realised that there was naff all help for men who wanted to lose weight.

From the forum

  1. Avatar for Bear Bear says:

    That is offensive in the extreme, I have a weight problem, I am fully aware of that, I don’t demand special treatment or sympathy, I eat and drink too much and I sit on my arse too much…those are for the most part my fault and I accept the responsibility for it.
    What annoys me is the idea of ‘shaming’ a particular group…everyone would be gasping in horror at the idea of shaming any other group of people, but yet any group targeted by our nanny-state is fair game, be it smokers, drinkers, car drivers and of course overweight people.
    I have a vague recollection of when this country at least paraded the notion that it was a free country…now its a case of ‘do as I tell you or we will tax you and point a big finger in your face and blame you for the country’s ills’.
    This has made me emotional! lol

  2. Hi there. Can I take your order? Wait. Are you anorexic? You look too thin to me. I’ll add another couple of burgers to your order. And maybe a pie.

    We do it to ourselves. We feel bad enough. As I’ve said before, instead of taxing bad foods, reduce healthy foods. But it’s not about the health is it? They know that the majority of the population are obese so they know those bad products will still sell.

  3. Avatar for Bear Bear says:

    Have just ‘ventured south’ to the comments section regarding this topic on the daily mail!

    Absolutely appalling, I say again that if these comments were made regarding some ‘minority’ group their would be absolute outrage!

    Please go ahead and have a look and feed the fury!

    This is what happens when the media provide ‘examples’ of obese people struggling in life, I believe there was a show a few months ago centred around an overweight family who have barely ever worked, with an obese teenage daughter who has a tendency to appear in the tabloids every few months…these people are not a representation of obese people they are just a tiny minority.

    This subject has properly tipped me over the edge!! i’m ranting away like a huge, balding Russell Brand!!

  4. Avatar for Bear Bear says:

    I’ve done so much ranting about this subject that I have put the comment in the wrong topic!

    The evil daily mail comments were at the bottom of the flu jab discussion, point is still the same though!

    I nearly choked on my tuna salad whilst reading it,
    I need to go for a run to calm down.

  5. Avatar for Bear Bear says:

    So that was you posting on the daily hate! Lol

    There is a lot of hate and anger around at the moment but it really doesn’t take much for the media to zero that spotlight on to different groups!

    Being part of a parasitic minority does feel strangely liberating though…it appeals to the rebel in me!

  6. So, I happened to email Susan Jebb on the subject and voice my concerns. Here is her reply. Hopefully it may go some way to easing our fears…

    Dear Mr Seymour

    Thank you for getting in touch because it gives me chance to point you towards the lecture I gave which is on the university website:

    I hope you will take the time to watch it and I hope you will see very clearly, that the Mail could not be further from my stated position.

    Some of the points I make in the talk are:
    People need support to lose weight and currently the NHS is failing to offer this.
    The environment we live in promotes unhealthy food at every turn which makes it incredibly hard for most people to eat a healthy diet
    Taxes might be one thing we could try but lets not imagine they are more than just a small part of a much more complicated piece

    In short – I agree entirely with the points you make. The Mail lifted their story from a report in The Times. The Times article was actually fine but the headline was not and the university have insisted the Times headline be changed because I was so upset that it so totally misrepresented by views. The only comment I made about social acceptability was to say that one of the changes we have seen in recent decades is that eating on the street has become socially acceptable, that is fuelling a “grazing” culture and that the foods people graze on are usually high in calories, fat and/or sugar. At no time have I made any comment which could justify this headline. Indeed if you happened to see the Horizon series “Whats the right diet for you” earlier in the year, I hope you might have seen that my style and absolute personal belief is that people need support not criticism to manage their weight.

    I am very sorry you have been upset by this very inaccurate reporting.


    Professor of Diet and Population Health

  7. It would also seem that one man CAN make a difference. I have just received another email from Susan stating that they have contacted the Daily Mail to correct the inaccurate story!

    [from Susan]

    You may also like to know that, following your message, the university press office have contacted the Mail to ask them to correct the inaccuracy sin their reporting.

    An excerpt from the email to the Mail says:

    Professor Jebb did not compare eating on the street to smoking indoors so please could you remove that phrase.
    She did not say that snacking should be as ‘shameful as smoking’. In fact she never used the word shame at all. It was a word that the Times used in their headline, which we successfully had changed because it misrepresented Professor Jebb’s position.


    Susan Jebb
    Professor of Diet and Population Health

  8. Avatar for Bear Bear says:

    Well done sir!

    As is my style I build myself into a raging frenzy, but you tackled it in the correct way and help restore my faith in humanity!

  9. Avatar for admin admin says:

    Wow! Bonus house point for @acidomoduso! And good on the Jebbster for actually a) being sane and b) responding. Will update our story on this to point to this discussion too.

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