Male Fat Shaming And Fatphobia In Men

male fat shaming

Let’s have a conversation about fatphobia and male fat shaming.

Fatphobia is usually defined as dislike, hatred or discrimination against “fatness” or bodies with a higher body fat percentage or in a larger frame. There are probably a few ways you can word that.

I have personally never liked the term “fatphobia” because it comes quite close to classifying as the same kind of discrimination as homophobia or transphobia. These are groups that have had to fight for decades (and still have to fight) for equal rights, and to not be arrested just for being who they are.

It’s never been illegal to be over a certain size, you could never be arrested for it.

So I have always felt reluctant to use the term “fatphobia”.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think it is a major issue that needs addressing. I do very much think it is a major issue that needs addressing – hence this post.

But I just tend to side-step the term “fatphobia” myself and either use the term fat shaming or just call it discrimination in a more general sense.

Please excuse that slight detour but I just wanted to get that out of the way. Now on to the main points I am raising.

Fat Shaming In Men & Male Celebrity Fat Shaming

One thing to remember is that the benchmark for being called or classified as “fat” is 100% down to the own individual’s perception of others and to some extent of themselves.

But generally, fat shaming attaches a stigma to bigger bodies, and usually implies or explicitly links size with greed, lack of discipline, lack of control, and lack of willpower. And there is an associated assumption that people with higher body fat percentages are physically, sometimes intellectually, and often morally inferior (because greed is seen as immoral).

As I emphasise any time I talk about body image issues, women have to deal with kind of thing much more commonly and on a much more widespread basis than men typically have to.

But it does affect men too. From the average person in the street, up to elite athletes and Hollywood stars as well. Again though, there is a bit of a spectrum here.

A rugby player, for example, will probably be “fine” for lack of a better word carrying a few extra pounds before people start commenting on their weight.

TV and movie stars though – the margins are probably much much narrower. And Hollywood stars do get fat-shamed or judged for their bodies all the time.

There have been some prominent examples in recent times.

If you have seen Avengers Endgame, you will have seen Chris Hemsworth in a fatsuit and the bigger bodies Thor being used for comedic value.

In 2016, Prison Break star, Wentworth Miller was body-shamed for his weight gain. He came out saying the weight gain was as a result of his depression, and some sites such as Ladbible ended up issuing an apology.

Other celebrities who have spoken of being fat-shamed or made to feel conscious of their body fat include:

Some of these cases are not explicit or obvious fat shaming, but the “thinner is better” message is still there.

Everyday Male Fat Shaming

Let’s look at some examples of fatphobia or fat shaming on a day-to-day basis.

Commenting On Other People’s Weight Or Size

Probably the most obvious one, but if you’re commenting on someone else’s size or weight, especially in a negative manner, then you’re probably shaming them for their size. This could be either fat-shaming or fit-shaming.

It can also come from making so-called positive comments.

For example, telling someone who lost weight they look better or calling it a glow-up implies it is because of their weight loss.

By the same token, telling someone who has gained weight they look better with a bit more meat on them implies you had an issue with how they looked before.

In both cases, however, how they looked is none of anyone else’s business.

Using The Term “Fat” As A Negative

I see it quite a lot, and have honestly been guilty of this one in my past as well.

I talk about my experience with body fat and my own self-perceptions further down, which will add some context to the situations in which I have said it about myself.

But generally, it’s fairly common after a big meal to say something like “I feel so chubby” or “I feel so fat and disgusting”.

Some people live in bodies that you perceive as “fat and disgusting” so it’s not a great sentiment to be broadcasting.

Fake Health Concerns

This is one you see especially from anonymous or faceless accounts in social media comments sections.

But when someone points to someone else’s body size and immediately jumps behind the excuse “that’s not healthy”.

Genuine concern is a separate point, but in almost all cases, these kinds of comments are not out of genuine concern. It is about point scoring or trying to hold superiority over someone you deem as inferior.

If you go through body-positive content creators on Instagram or on TikTok, you will find the comments section rife with these.

Underhanded Compliments

When you try on some new clothes and get told they look “flattering” or “slimming”.

It implies it reduced the appearance of size, so it is better.

Being Surprised At People Doing Things

I couldn’t think of a concise heading for this one.

But being surprised someone in a bigger body can do things you didn’t think they would be physically capable of might not be explicit fat shaming, but it still implies a deeper prejudice against certain sizes.

Yes, often bigger bodies will be less physically capable of a lot of things but it can still be a big assumption to make.

I remember a TikTok video of a woman who I think would probably have been of a BMI of 30 or more, comfortably doing handstands and performing a full split.

And a lot of the comments were along the lines of “looking at you, I would never have expected you to be able to do that”.

Judging Other People’s Eating Habits

Again, a little bit of point scoring by questioning someone’s food choices.

Questions like:

  • Are you sure that’s healthy?
  • Should you be having that much?
  • Do you know how fattening that is?
  • How many calories are in that?

I am sure in some very rare cases these kinds of questions are genuine, but in most cases, I expect it is again an attempt to establish superiority.

Fat Shaming On Larger Scales

I think it is fair to say there is a larger social stigma or bias around bigger bodies and there are a few prominent examples where it is most noticeable.

Gym And Fitness Brands

It has been common for a long time for businesses in the fitness industry to only feature people have a certain weight or fitness level in their marketing. This includes:

  • Gyms
  • Fitness studios
  • Gymwear
  • Athleisure
  • Fitness magazines
  • Supplement companies

It is something that is gradually starting to change and brands are showing more diverse bodies in their marketing and imagery.

I do want to emphasise as with any company, it is 100% down to them who they want to include in their marketing and how they want to position themselves. And with fitness, it does often make sense to be more associated with high-performance elites and hardcore results.

From my own perspective, as someone who has been both obese and underweight in BMI terms at separate times, and who has found gym intimidation to be quite difficult to overcome, I know that seeing more ranges of bodies and marketing more inclusive of different body types would have helped take a lot of the stigma of the gym and exercise away.

So it would have reduced the barrier I felt to me getting started. I did get there anyway, but that road could have been easier.

Some of the reactions to including more diverse body types however have been less welcoming.

Cosmopolitan magazine received some backlash and was accused of glamorising obesity for including larger body types on their cover and in a body positivity campaign.

Nike was also on the receiving end for its larger-bodies mannequins.

I honestly don’t know why.

Encouraging people of all shapes and sizes to feel free and comfortable to move and exercise and improve their health should be normalised. It’s not controversial or something to shame others over.

Clothes Size

Again, this may come down to brand perception, and some brands do only want to be seen on thinner or smaller bodies.

But there is a huge disparity in sizes amongst clothing brands. I have seen cases before of sizes XL and XXL in some brands being smaller than the Large and even the Medium size in other brands.

Celebrity Shaming

If a celebrity ever wants to make headlines, all they need to do is be photographed being 5 pounds heavier than some arbitrary point in their past and every news and gossip site will pretty much cover it.

As a Western society (I live in the UK), we do see slimmer bodies as idealised and better. Once upon a time, larger bodies were seen as the ideal because they implied wealth.

But not anymore.

Fat Shaming Versus Health Concerns

I don’t want to skip over an important nuance when talking about fat shaming and body image.

It is so easy to intertwine the idea of calling out or criticising fat shaming with promoting or glamorising an unhealthy lifestyle.

That is definitely not the case.

Higher body fat percentages and larger bodies do definitely tend to be at higher risk of many health complications:

  • Higher risks of certain types of cancer
  • Higher risk of diabetes
  • Higher risk of kidney disease
  • Higher risk of heart disease

And yes, someone in a bigger body is probably less likely to be physically fit or active.

So all of those are correct and they are valid concerns.

To the individuals affected by them.

In pretty much every case where fat shaming actually happens, it is not the business of the person doing the fat shaming what their “victim’s” health risks are.

And if it does directly concern someone else, they are probably not concerned from a place of wanting to fat shame someone to get them to be thinner.

It will usually be out of genuine compassionate care and understanding for a deeper underlying cause – for example, if someone is genuinely struggling with a heart condition and needs to lose weight to help with that.

And it is also important to note that just because someone is in a bigger body it doesn’t mean everyone who is, is lazy, or greedy, or lacks discipline.

I’m sure some people do – that’s nature. But everybody is different.

2 people can eat and exercise exactly the same and will probably end up with different results.

Everyone’s handling of eating and exercise will be different.

Weight can also be a symptom of an underlying health condition, a disability, medication, an eating disorder, and other mental health issues. You don’t know what someone else is going through and don’t have the right to judge someone because they are different to the narrow view of what you grew up being conditioned to think is the “ideal”.

So to wrap this point up:

  • Yes there are health implications for larger bodies
  • It’s no one else’s business
  • If it is someone else’s business, it’s probably not in the context of fat shaming them
  • You don’t have a clue what is going on in someone else’s life so don’t try to judge them

Impact Of Fat Shaming

As with any type of harassment or bullying, fat shaming can have a huge impact on someone’s mental health and sense of self-worth.

It can lead to episodes of depression and anxiety, increase issues around body image, and make people more self-conscious, and more reclusive.

If someone is dealing with another health issue, it can also exacerbate that. Imagine someone recovering from bulimia nervosa, who gets fat shamed – that can then end up triggering a purge and binge cycle.

The way it can bully someone and knock them down is honestly a little bit barbaric.

No one deserves to be made to feel like that – especially when they haven’t done anything to anyone else and are just trying to be who they are, in their own skin.

I remember when I was at my most self-conscious about my size, I always wear baggy clothes (and I haven’t gotten out of that cycle yet!) and I went out less and less. I become more of a recluse, and more isolated.

It’s not anyone else’s place to make someone feel like that just because they look a bit different to what we’ve grown up conditioned to think is “normal” or “ideal”.

My Relationship With Body Fat And Fat Shaming

I personally have a complicated relationship with body fat, body image and to an extent fat shaming.

I was never massively bullied or harassed or discriminated against for my size when I was at my heaviest. There were a few passive-aggressive comments, a few jokes, and the occasional awkward and uncomfortable moment – even with people I considered friends.

But I didn’t at the time ever feel like I was being fat-shamed. To be honest, I don’t think the term “fat-shaming” had ever crossed my ears by that point either.

So I never had to deal with that myself from other people.

But at the same time, I was very self-conscious and I know how much being in that body impacted my own confidence.

And that was without any really aggressive or obvious fat shaming. So I can only imagine how much more impactful and devastating it must feel when someone is deliberate and aggressive about it with you.

Since I lost weight, my confidence improved, I felt happier with my body, and there were also a lot of positive changes in my life.

140 pounds weight loss

So in my own head at least, there is an incredibly strong signal with the idea of thinner being better for my body. I am still working hard to try to get away from that because feeling like a failure for any fat gain or weight gain is an incredibly toxic mindset and a horrible place to be.

Having said that, in terms of other people, it is none of my business and I have never really tried to specifically make it any of my business.

I might have slipped some time, but I don’t think I have ever put someone in a position to make them feel conscious or uncomfortable about their body size around me. Definitely never deliberately, and hopefully never unintentionally either – as I know what it is like.

So I guess the main thing to take away from that is I know how to not judge other people, but not how to not be toxic about my own image yet.

And while I have never been fat-shamed or massively body shamed, the idea of it did have a small part to play in my decision to get surgery to remove the loose skin from my chest and abdomen.

I would have gotten it done anyway, but how I thought others would perceive my body did also play a small part.

How Is Fat Shaming Different For Men?

I think – and this might be an unpopular opinion – larger bodies or more body fat are more normalised in men, especially since dad bods became a thing.

That doesn’t mean it is ok. Fat shaming can be just as devastating to men as it is to women, and in some ways, it can be easier to do it to someone and pass it off as banter.

And it is much less likely as men to call it out or stand up to it, because talking about body image, being sensitive, and having feelings – they’re still not typically male ideas.

So the expectation is to laugh it off and bury it somewhere inside.

When I talk about these kinds of things, I do always want to emphasise that women have been judged and shamed for their bodies on a much more prominent and much wider scale than men, for such a long time, and women probably have to deal with it a lot more on a daily basis.

But as I am not a woman, I can’t speak for that experience – I can just acknowledge it.

However, I can speak about being made to feel super self-conscious about my body as a man.

Dealing With Fat Shaming As A Man

There isn’t one obvious easy solution to dealing with fat shaming.

We should all be doing our part to stand up to bullies, harassment, and discrimination. And we can call out individual instances but that won’t necessarily make you feel better in the moment or for a while afterwards.

I think one of my favourite quotes on this is actually from Adidas:

Love what you got, not what you’re not

Find appreciation for who you are as a person, the body you have, and the skin you’re living in. Yes, you can have goals and targets to change an aspect of your body.

But that doesn’t mean you should put other ideals on a pedestal or hate your current body because they don’t meet those ideals.

There is no such thing as a perfect body and just because society has a narrow view of “ideal” bodies, that doesn’t make you any less worthy of being who you are.

Closing Points On Fat Shaming In Men

I’ve been going on for a while so let’s start to wrap this up.

Fat shaming absolutely 100% sucks – regardless of who you are. It can have a devastating impact on your confidence, your mental health, and who you are as a person.

There is no easy fix or simple answer to overcoming it.

We can hold individual instances to account but to eliminate it entirely does need some widespread societal change, and even then, it’s unlikely it will ever go away entirely.

For some reason, human beings have a hard time letting people just live as they are.

We are seeing a shift towards more diverse bodies, and more inclusive messaging to cover different body types, so there is definitely hope.

We’re just going to have to take it one step at a time.

That is not the most positive note to end this on, so once more I am going to emphasise the quote from Adidas:

Love what you got, not what you’re not.

male fat shaming

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