Fat Stigma and Social Justice with Dr Samantha Thomas

Fat Stigma and Social Justice with Dr Samantha Thomas

Have you heard of fat stigma? If you’ve ever felt criticised or misunderstood, put down, ignored, ashamed or diminished because of your body size, that’s “fat stigma”.

You’re not alone in feeling it either. I know it often feels like you are alone because the continual messages from governments and the media push scary messages that we’re overweight and obese and we’re all going to die a horrible death!

Recently Australia was officially pronounced as the third fattest country on the planet, with the US first.

But more and more people are experiencing that awful sinking feeling about their bodies, about never being good enough and not only it is painful, it’s also confusing when you do all of the “right things” to lose weight but your body just doesn’t co-operate by getting thinner.

Fat Stigma Research

Dr Samantha Thomas is one of Australia’s leading researchers into how all these negative messages of fat stigma in society impact on everybody – not just on the people who are being targeted.

She’s a health sociologist and head of the consumer health research group at Monash University in Australia.  In 2009 she was chosen by the weekend Australian newspaper as one of the top ten emerging health leaders in Australia.  She worked at the World Health Organisation in Geneva at the Institute of Psychiatry and at Kings College, London, and she’s regularly invited to speak at national and international conferences.

She’s also a regular commentator in national and international press on consumer perspectives on health and well being.  She’s appeared in television programs like Sunday Night Capitalist, the 7.30 Report, Today Tonight, A Current Affair and many others.

“Fitness is a much better indicator for your health and well being than fatness.

“And yet all of those messages that we give in our public health campaigns from the weight loss industry, from the commercial sector, from NGO’s repeatedly, repeatedly tell us that if we’re fat we’re lazy, we’re gluttons, we have no self control, and that if only we tried a little bit harder we could actually become a responsible citizen within the community,” she said.

“So we’ve almost created this situation within the community where if you are not skinny, you’re less than patriotic – that’s an absolutely disgraceful place to be when we’re thinking about the health and well being of our population,” she said.

As to why we keep giving these very confusing mixed messages that build fat stigma in the community Dr Thomas says there are many factors at play: government, media, and the medical profession, plus hundreds of studies which have confusing and inconclusive results.

“Most of the ‘solutions’ for being overweight not only don’t work, but also make people’s health worse in the long run.”

People selling ‘solutions’ that don’t work are profiting enormously. The rise of obesity surgery is an example that concerns Dr Thomas hugely.

“These wonderful sells that we get about this being the winner in the battle against weight or fatness or overweight – when really we know that there are so many problems with that type of intervention, both in terms of the health risks, in terms of the emotional risk, but also in terms of the long term data which shows that for most people that option will not work,” she said.

Dr Thomas raised many more issues around the diet industry, and offered solutions to real health and wellbeing in Series 2 of The Body Image Revolution.

This article is part of the Body Fat: Good, Bad or Ugly? series, click here to read more.

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