Fat Shaming as Public Policy? Appearance Obsession is the Real Epidemic Says Author Karen Kataline

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The Atlantic Monthly reported that bioethicist Daniel Callahan, in an editorial for The Hastings Center Report, made a case for "shaming obese people" He says that since diets, drugs and appeals to our health aren't working, being shamed and "beat upon socially," will. Karen Kataline, MSW author of FATLASH! Food Police & the Fear of Thin says that approach not only makes people fatter, but it is Daniel Callahan who ought to be shamed.

by Karen Kataline, MSW

FATLASH! Food Police & the Fear of Thin

Diversity, tolerance and bullying prevention are really important, but not if you're fat?

"People don't hate being fat enough," bioethicist, Daniel Callahan wrote in an editorial for The Hastings Center Report. Callahan's "edgy strategy," according to The Atlantic Monthly, is to "shame fat people" in order to combat obesity. He says that since "diets, drugs and appeals to their health aren't working, they should be "shamed and beat upon socially." Karen Kataline, MSW author of FATLASH! Food Police & the Fear of Thin says this not only creates and exacerbates eating disorders and weight problems, but it is Callahan and people like him who ought to be ashamed.

According to ObesityMyths.com, "Thirty-five million Americans went to sleep one night in 1998 at a government-approved weight and woke up "overweight" the next morning, thanks to a change in the government's definition. That group includes "overweight" celebrities like Will Smith, Pierce Brosnan, NBA stars Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tom Cruise, Donovan McNabb, and Sammy Sosa."

That hasn't stopped weight and appearance-obsessed researchers like Callahan who have come so unhinged about other people's body-size that he advocates a "tasteful" form of shaming. He goes on to suggest that overweight people somehow don't know there's a social stigma against obesity. He insists that we ought to embark on a new "era of zero tolerance for body fat."

"We have a billion dollar weight loss industry that hasn’t been able to come up with a magic pill to eradicate obesity," Kataline says, "but Mr. Callahan believes he can "make" people thin by proclamation and by normalizing bigotry and cruelty."

"What's the message this sends to children? 'Diversity, tolerance and bullying prevention' are really important but not if you're fat? Looking good and being socially acceptable is more important than character, principles or sound mental health? Is this a strategy of which the Lesbian/Gay (LGBT) community would approve? Perhaps Callahan should propose a new slogan, 'God Hates Fat People.'"

In Kataline's book FATLASH! she details her experience with her own weight and appearance-obsessed mother who also put her in child beauty pageants. At sixteen however, Kataline weighed 285 pounds. She says this was an unconscious reaction in part, to her mother's obsessive demands to be thin. This is what she refers to as a FATLASH reaction.

Kataline maintains that the causes of obesity are varied and complex, "but none respond positively to shame, force, or one-size-fits-all solutions. In many cases, extra weight is an unconscious boundary of protection against exactly the kind of intrusion and cruelty that Callahan thinks is good policy. In other cases, it is an act of defiance and strength against sexual abuse. Does Mr. Callahan believe he ought to be able to remove such psychological protection with force?" Kataline asks. "It is pathological hubris to think that's even possible, but to Callahan and people like him, the scourge of excess weight trumps all other social problems."

"Many people with eating disorders and weight problems do a good enough job of hating themselves almost out of a sense of obligation, before others even get the chance. Treatment for these patients involves working to undo the cycle of self-hatred—not to perpetuate it. In recovery they learn that people like Callahan have a problem, but it can't be eradicated with empty proclamations."

Karen Kataline, MSW, is an author, speaker and advocate. She received her master's degree from Columbia University and has practiced in a variety of non-profit and corporate settings. She has been an assertiveness trainer and public speaking coach for a Manhattan training firm and has taught communications at the New School for Social Research, Parsons School of Design in New York, New Jersey's Montclair State College, and Fairleigh Dickenson University, among others. She also lends her operatic voice to a variety of fundraisers and community events. FATLASH! is her first book.

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