Is it ever OK to tell someone she’s fat?

Imagine watching your daughter, niece, or best friend try on outfit after outfit in the mirror only to declare that no matter what she puts on she’s looks horrible because she’s so fat. Now imagine that instead of insisting that she looks just fine you say, “Yes, you’re right. You are overweight – and the only person who can do something about it is you.”

According to The Daily Mail, that’s exactly what a 48-year-old mother in England told her 13-year-old daughter after the girl had reached 182 pounds. Her words may seem harsh but her daughter Amie now says it was the best thing her mother could have done. The talk pushed Amie to revamp her food choices and start losing weight.

Still, this anecdote begs the question, is it OK to tell someone, especially an insecure teen girl, that she’s fat?
Here in the U.S. obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of American children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese, with black girls significantly more likely to be obese than their Caucasian counterparts.

And the numbers don’t get much better when we look at adults. Over 35 percent of U.S. adults are obese with African Americans having the highest rates of obesity at 44 percent.

Obesity has been linked to some of the leading causes of death including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Some might point to this as evidence as to why it is absolutely necessary to tell an overweight relative or friend that she needs to shed some pounds.

But does a person’s weight necessarily dictate her health? Can you be fat and fit?


Anansa Sims
image via Glamour


Plus-size model Anansa Sims believes you can. In the March issue of Glamour magazine Sims, daughter of legendary supermodel Beverly Johnson, says she starved herself, took laxatives, and overexercised to break into the modeling business. Sims told Glamour, “People said I looked great, but I felt miserable because I was depriving my body of nutrients, and the more weight I lost, the more my self-esteem fell.” Now a size 12 to 14, Sims says she’s the healthiest she’s been in years.

Linda Bacon, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at City College in San Francisco, also weighed in on the matter saying it’s well documented that overweight people can lead long, disease-free lives. Bacon, author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, even went as far as to say that body mass index (BMI), the measure used to determine if a person is overweight or not, is almost irrelevant. “If you’re fat but fit – meaning you can be active for 20 to 30 minutes – you can live longer than people who are thin and out of shape,” Bacon told Glamour.

If you do have a loved one’s whose health you’re concerned about because she’s overweight, encouraging her to go on a fad diet to reach a certain weight is probably not the best move, according to Bacon. Adopting healthy eating habits and exercising regularly, in other words making true lifestyle changes, may be the wiser thing for her to do. Bacon said: “If you eat a good diet and exercise, you’re likely to be healthy, no matter what the scale says.”

Do you think it’s OK to tell a girl or woman she’s fat? Do you think it’s possible to be overweight, yet healthy? 


Related link from Jezebel.com: Mom Puts 7-Year-Old on a Diet in the Worst Vogue Article Ever

11 Comments

  1. That’s a really interesting topic you brought up. Since I came from a health organization that would scream from the rooftops about healthy BMI and the correlation between that and your health, it is nice to hear that some people can be considered “fit,” at least internally. I am plus sized, but I am very active – plus, I do tend to make healthy choices when eating – but I also make bad choices, which keeps me from really making a difference.

    I don’t know if it is ever a good idea to call someone or tell someone they are fat. However, if we concentrate on whether or not someone is “healthy,” that might bring about a better response.

    • I completely agree. I think we need to stop focusing on the scale and even appearances so much and focus on health and strength. And I’m preaching to myself and my views of my own body when I say this.

  2. Unless a woman is blatantly gorging herself, going from Olive Oil to Jabba the Hunt overnight, I’d never EVER mention her weight. Heck, I never even tell a woman that she’s LOSING weight unless I know she is dieting. I don’t want to risk her wrath when she says ‘so you thought I was fat!?!?!?’

    Weight is such a touchy issue that I leave it alone most times.

  3. There are so many different factors that influence weight–social, societal, economic, genetic. I have a friend who started getting lots of compliments about how thin she was getting; her effective new “diet” was getting cancer. If you’re eating in a way that nourishes your body and getting activity in a way that keeps you fit and you still don’t get skinny, that could indicate that you’re just not a skinny person, and further efforts to get skinny for the sake of skinny could be unhealthy.

    That Daily Mail story makes me irate. “Yes, Amie, you’re right. You’re overweight–and the only person who can do something about it is you.” Um, no, MOM. She’s 13. She was 11 years old and dealing with the death of her father by feeding her grief and not being active, and then she was suffering social stigma, and you were in complete denial except for being ashamed of how chunky she looked next to the other girls. Why do you get to go straight to “tough love” when a little bit of regular love could have helped her from the beginning?

    Instead of giving her exactly the same kind of pressure she’s getting from her classmates, how about, “Well, we haven’t been eating properly. Why don’t we look into some healthier foods that still taste good?” Or, “You always loved dancing. What do you say to starting dance class again?” It’s not like a 13-year-old can do it by herself. And if she eats better and starts dancing again and she’s still chunky? You’ve got a fat daughter, Julie. Try not to let her see your shame.

    GRR.

    Sorry. Done now.

    • Not to get your blood boiling even more, but did you read about that Vogue article of the mom who put her 7-year-old on a Weight Watchers style diet? I would love to hear your thoughts on that. (I linked to a Jezebel piece on it at the end of this post.)

  4. This is interesting. I personally don’t think it’s necessary to tell anyone that he/she is overweight or fat. If the person really is, they already know it. I can’t think of one person, unless he/she is blind and never comes into contact with others, who wouldn’t know they were overweight already. So, I’d never want to be the person they remember for telling them something so negative.

    Now, the question, “Does this make me look fat?” is different. If a person is a friend of mine and I know he/she actually wants the truth – Yes, I would tell him/her that an outfit is unflattering.

    • Yes, I hate when I go visit my old church and in Kentucky and all the old ladies keep telling me how much weight I’ve gained. Wow, thanks for telling me I had no idea. I mean it’s not like this is my body or anything. Family members are guilty of this too.

  5. As a female who has struggled with weight, these topics hit close to home with me. I just don’t think shaming somebody will ever produce results. Especially a child. It’s taken me until just the past 6 months to really start learning about how to eat healthy and how to take care of my body. And it didn’t come after someone made me feel bad about myself, but after just feeling bad myself for too long.

    I might never be skinny but I am getting healthier. My situation is unique because the time I was my fittest was playing high school soccer, but I certainly wasn’t healthy as far as eating went. Now I’m certainly not as fit, but I’m eating healthier than I have in my whole life. So I don’t know…maybe you can be fat and healthy, but I just want to be healthy.

    Thank you for starting this conversation! I love your blog so much :)

  6. I am a dude. In the Army my average weight was about 220-225, that is running less than 12 minute 2 miles, doing 100 push ups and sit ups until the time ran out. That was working outside in blazing heat 10 hours a day. I am now out of the Army and I weigh about 245. I can still run 4 miles do 80 or so push ups and probably as many situps. I recently went on a rant because I was wearing size 40 pants and got down to 220 but I was probably the weakest I have been and was starving myself.

    I say that to say this. I think 245-250 is where I supposed to be. I don’t eat horribly, I am active dancing and I am more physically fit than most of my peers, however, I do have a little tummy (as my son reminds me) and a rounder face. What am I to do? I am enjoying this size because I don’t have to overly obsessed with my weight. I go to the gym work out, stay active and let the chips fall where they may ;o)

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