What Vlogging My Weight Loss Taught Me About Fat Shaming

Let's not allow concerns about society's expectations of beauty stop us wanting to be healthy.

by Harry Hitchens
25 November 2016, 4:03pm

The author before

By what would seem like a miracle to me three months ago, I'm no longer that fat. I'm not skinny, but I can fit into the clothes I wore at university when I lived on a cocktail of reduced-aisle products and liquid meals. And I'm no longer clinically obese, which is a nice bonus.

For about ten months now I've been uploading videos to YouTube documenting my weight loss. The series is called "Feel Good" and it's a lazy man's guide to getting fit. Rather than some ripped dude tensing his abs and telling you how he got there, you get to watch my chubby self look for a sustainable way to lose weight. And I found it: shedding the pounds happens to be as simple as eating less bad stuff and moving around more. Who'd have thought it?

Thousands of people have tuned into the series and I've garnered a lot of support from fat and thin people alike. Quite a few of them, however, can't handle the fact that I want to be slim. Some people see publicising my attempt to get healthy as "fat shaming". One person went as far to say that I should be "grateful" for the body I had before, as if there was some extraordinary power that has gifted me a beautiful bulging fat body. How dare I have a want to better my own health and feel better about my appearance? According to them, I should learn to love the skin I'm in.

Thing is, I find this a little counterproductive. And by counterproductive, I mean statements like these are plainly and literally encouraging me to be unhealthy. What do they want me to do? Quit the gym, buy a box of 20 chicken nuggets and love myself for it?

The author now (Photo: George Muncey)

I'm not afraid to admit that, first and foremost, I lost weight to feel better about how I look. I wanted to wear clothing with a fit that I felt was attractive, comfortable and cool. As an obese person I couldn't fit into a single item off the shelf of a shop in any shopping centre, and that felt pretty shit.

I knew I'd never fit into those clothes and feel good about myself unless I gave up the fried chicken, but I understand where my viewers were coming from – all they're asking for is acceptance and for brands to cater to everyone, not just the "skinny elite", as one person put it. And they're right: people should be able to wear what they want. It also goes without saying that some people are obese through no fault of their own, as a result of strong steroids or medical conditions.

On the whole, though, obesity is no good thing. Eating shit and exercising less is likely to reduce your lifespan: that's the fact of the matter for the majority of us. Losing weight is about benefitting your general health. The amount of saturated fat entering my body was desperately unhealthy, and without the societal pressures I experienced as an obese person I doubt I would have lost the weight. I don't think that's necessarily a good thing – but it's hard to claim it's wholly bad. And in many ways I actually took the easy route: instead of staying obese and campaigning for Zara to do those corduroys I liked in a bigger size, I just lost weight.

But it took me a while to get to this point, and you can't make people lose weight until they truly want to. Plus, I'd argue that new approaches aren't exactly helping: Liverpool City Council wanted to ban the word "obese" from its health campaigns at the risk of offending people, and it's that type of ludicrous political correctness that has seen our population plummet into a chasm of obesity. Same goes for some of my viewers, who instead of encouraging me to lose weight, decided to do what they believe is supportive by encouraging me to damage my own health.

We live in a world that's suffocated by white, slim people. In this context, it's a good thing that there have been so many attempts to promote body positivity – but the problem is, I'd class each and every one of them as patronising and ill-judged.

Body positivity isn't just about obesity; it's about defying what is stereotypically beautiful and being proud of your appearance, whatever you look like. We're at a point now, unfortunately, where people who promote such an idea are in an echo chamber. Left-wing, young, creative people – similar to the ones I surround myself with – are campaigning to the converted. At its worst, this can make it seem almost like those leaving the circle but changing their lifestyles for the better are traitors.

Someone could tell me that they're happy to be obese, but I'm not sure I'd believe them. I don't understand how you could possibly be happy about being obese in a society like ours. That's a sad thing to say, but it's the truth. However, that doesn't mean that getting thin makes you part of the problem. Losing weight doesn't stop people clicking on "sidebar of shame" articles about models flashing their "toned tums" or buying magazines that shame celebrities for putting on weight.

Despite the culture these outlets have created, talking about health and weight shouldn't be taboo. No one – not even my own parents – told me I should lose weight. Yet once I had lost it, there was nothing but an outpouring of positive comments about how much better I looked. People were "relieved" to see I was doing something about my weight. It's as if people waited for the media to dismantle my self-esteem before plucking up the courage to give me the kick up the arse I needed.

So from one ex-fat person to the world, I implore you to see getting fit as a step towards a healthier life, rather than solely an obsession with vanity. Tabloids and trashy magazines are the ones who say getting slimmer is all about the looks. Let's admit to ourselves that's partly why we want to lose weight, and take pride in wanting to be healthier, too.


More on VICE:

Is Obesity a Psychological or Physical Problem?

The Crushing Depression of Morbid Obesity?

The Unhealthy Truth Behind "Wellness" and "Clean Eating"

Fat Shaming
Views My Own
Vice Blog