SP Premium

You Got Called Fat. Now What?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
During childhood, SparkPeople member Katie* endured all sorts of abuse about her weight. Eventually, she grew up, finished college, found a good job, got married and had children, her weight fluctuating throughout the years.
In the 1980s, Katie was carrying 260 pounds on her 5'2" frame. She knew she was very overweight, but tried her best to not care—or not think about—whether people were judging her. "As long as I didn't know their thoughts, I figured I was fine with it," she says.
But then came the day when she visited a hardware store with her husband. As they were talking to the owner about what they needed, the owner's wife struck up a conversation with Katie.
Suddenly, she said, "You have a lovely face."
At first, Katie felt gratified by what seemed to be a nice compliment. Just as she opened her mouth to thank the woman, there came the kicker: "...so why don't you lose that weight so everyone can see how pretty you are?"
Although the woman didn't use the word "fat" itself, the meaning was clear as a bell. Katie was shocked into silence, her mind reeling. She whispered to her husband, "We need to leave." Back in the car, Katie burst into tears and cried so hard that it took awhile for her to be able to explain to her husband what had happened.
"We never went to that store again, but it didn't make me feel better," she recalls.
Katie's experience was shocking and hurtful, but sadly, it wasn't unique. Every day, countless people are shamed, ridiculed and judged, either directly or indirectly, as a result of comments about their weight. No matter how determined and motivated someone is, a single spoken criticism can be enough to elicit crippling self-doubt and bring progress to a screeching halt.

How Hurtful Words Affect Weight Loss

Psychologist Dr. Kathryn Smerling notes that these types of comments can potentially have a lifetime effect on their target. "Hurtful comments could lead to eating disorders, and will definitely have an effect on someone's self-esteem," she says. "They may feel self-conscious, embarrassed and ashamed."’
In some cases, Dr. Smerling says, this type of criticism and judgment can cause people to internalize their feelings and eat more, using food as a source of comfort. Others may externalize by getting angry and lashing out at the person who has hurt them. Over time, they could react with feelings of self-loathing.
These types of hurtful experiences can bleed into other areas outside of weight loss, as well. "If you can't master weight loss, then perhaps you assume you're not great at anything else, like work or relationships," says Mike Dow, Psy.D., Ph.D., author of "Think, Act and Be Happy."
"The word 'fat' might seem like something you can't change; it leads to a feeling of hopelessness, and makes people feel like they just want to throw in the towel."
When Teresa (TEXASHSMOMOF3) received hurtful comments about her weight, they were often a trigger for emotional eating. "I smiled big, blinked back the tears and then ate something as soon as I could," she admits—the perpetuation of a vicious cycle.
Even if someone has made significant progress toward a goal, being called or referred to as "fat"—or even a more politically correct euphemism, like "heavyset," "husky" or "portly"—is enough to send them into a downward spiral and cause them to abandon their efforts.

But you don't have to let a three-letter word derail your progress. While you can't control people's comments, you can control how you react to them.

Healthier Ways to Respond to Hurtful Comments

1. Recognize that it stems from insecurity.

In high school, SparkPeople member KATBRUNNER recalls a time during gym class when she had to change into gym shorts. During class, an athletic boy looked at her bare legs with an air of disgust, said "She has absolutely no muscle definition," rolled his eyes and laughed with his friends.
"I just remember feeling so ashamed of myself," she shares. "I was already so self-conscious, but that made it so much worse. It has taken me over 25 years to get over that. Even now, I think there is part of that conversation that I still hold inside."
Over the years, though, Kat has come to realize that the boy's problem wasn't with her, but most likely with his own insecurities, as he often pointed out negative things about others to make himself feel better.
Kat's advice to anyone who experiences being referred to as "fat" is to reach deep within to find their confidence. "Know that your shape does not reflect the person you are and what you have to offer the world," she says. "Words hurt, there is no way around that, but when other people call you out for being overweight or fat, just realize that their issue is theirs, not yours. Their opinion is irrelevant."
During her lifelong battle with her weight, Debbie F., a member of SparkPeople’s Facebook group from Cincinnati, Ohio, has fielded countless negative comments from strangers, friends and family members. One of the most frustrating was "You're so pretty for a fat girl." There was a time when such words greatly bothered her, but eventually Debbie came to the conclusion that a person can change their physical appearance quite easily, but it's not so easy to change what's on the inside. "People who call others fat are truly ugly on the inside, and that's much worse than being called fat," she says. "I can change being fat."
2. Throw yourself into productive activities.

Instead of dwelling on negative comments, Dr. Dow suggests redirecting your focus to something you're good at, or something productive that you've been meaning to get done. "This will help you to take your mind off the rumination so you can move on as quickly as possible," he notes. This can be anything you enjoy that will add a positive element to your life, whether it's finishing a painting you've been working on, clearing out a junk drawer or making an overdue phone call.
To take it a step further, Dr. Dow suggests reminding yourself of three things you do well and three positive things you’ve done for your health.  
Dr. Smerling suggests burning off that negative energy through a physical outlet, such as going for a run, meditating or doing yoga—anything that benefits the body while also calming the mind.
3. (Try to) brush it off.

Throughout her more than 20 years of being overweight, Dawn (PENNYLANE15) has been called "fat" to her face a handful of times. "It always seems like 'fat' is the worst thing a person can be—but when did it become such an awful word?" she asks. "It's always said with disgust or laughter and makes it seem like you're a bad person because you're not skinny. Fat doesn't always mean unhealthy and lazy, but to people who aren't fat, that's all they see."
Over time, Dawn has realized that the best way to deal with being called fat was to try her hardest to brush it off. "Your first instinct is to insult back, whether it's to the person who called you fat, or [by] agreeing with them and therefore insulting yourself," she says. "Don't give them that power to control your image."
Whenever someone tried to throw an insult Dawn's way, she would ignore them and mentally remind herself both that "fat" isn't a personality trait and she has so many other admirable characteristics.
4. Use it as a motivator.

When DIANEDOESSMILES saw a doctor for her chronic back pain, his response was, "It's because you're fat and your stomach is where you carry the weight. That's why your back hurts." Diane explained to him that her back had been hurting since a car accident a few years prior, before she was overweight, but he continued to insist that the extra pounds were to blame.

Although the doctor's comments made Diane angry, they also motivated her to prove him wrong. She has vowed to visit the doctor again after she has reached her goal weight. "We can turn hurtful words into motivational ones," Diane says.
SparkPeople member AUTUMN C is no stranger to hurtful comments about her weight. "One side of my family is thin and they are not so tolerant of the other side of my family, which tends to have a weight problem all around," she says.
Although Autumn believes no one should be subject to cruelty or allow someone else's words to make them feel inferior, she does think that being called "fat" can serve as a springboard to make a change. "If you are overweight, you must be willing to admit that; if you are not, you cannot fix it," she says. "Obesity or even being overweight is not healthy—not socially, emotionally or physically."
Now, when someone mentions that Autumn is overweight, she responds with, "Perhaps…but I'm working on that."
Teresa agrees that the bluntness of those types of comments can help to propel forward progress. "The word 'fat' stings. It hurts. It's embarrassing," Teresa says. "But you have to ask yourself: Is it true?"
In her case, Teresa felt it was. At 321 pounds, she was at the heaviest weight of her life. "I hated my life, but felt at a loss to make the change," she says. In her case, the hurtful words were the not-so-gentle nudge she needed to take action.
"The next time someone calls you 'fat,' don't let your emotions take control," Teresa suggests. "Stop, be objective and think about it. Are you fat? If so, then find the courage to do something about it. Find a group of like-minded people, reach out, ask for support, ask for help. Don't let that word destroy you—let it change you and make you better."
5. Learn to accept your body in every state.

Although it may seem like losing weight is the ultimate "comeback" to hurtful comments, clinical counselor Lisa Bahar points out that hitting your goal weight won't magically erase the emotional impact of being called fat.
"The goal in this area is body acceptance and self-love, no matter what the weight is—unless there is a medical necessity to lose for health-related concerns," she says. "The individual has to be their own nurturer, accepting of themselves and their body before they can change it."

Ironically, when a person reaches a state of self-care and self-love, Bahar has noticed that destructive activities, like binging and emotional eating, tend to decrease.
"The process may require that the individual seek out therapy and end destructive relationships, along with eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep and reducing mood-altering substances," she says.
6. Turn to a supportive community.

When someone's hurtful comments threaten to derail your motivation, seek out those who are supportive of your goals, accept you at any weight and reinforce your efforts with consistently positive messages. At SparkPeople, our community offers unconditional support and positivity.
When KATHYJO56 was called fat, she said it hurt, but she initially felt like she deserved it. "Now I know that I didn't," she says. "I just needed some loving help. I got that here on SparkPeople."
*Name has been changed or withheld per member's request

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


CANDOIT54 11/2/2018
I would say I may be fat but you are ugly and I can do something about it . Not really, it would upset me and I would get mad. Report
I always look at them and go really? I did not know that, thank you for informing me then I smile and walk away Report
KARISSATX 11/1/2018
I was playing tennis one day with my husband when a carload of teenage boys drove by. One of them yelled, "Even fat girls need love!" It really hurt my feelings because i'd been working so hard to lose and had, at that time, lost 20 lbs. All my confidence in my recent weight lose went right out the window. My awesome husband reminded me that they were idiots and that he was really proud of me. Having a supportive friend or spouse makes all the difference in the world! Report
CHRIS3874 11/1/2018
You know for me its ONE THING if a close relative / close friend were to say that - TOTALLY different and INAPPROPRIATE for a co-worker/stranger/ acquaint to say something NOT NOT NOT OK. Report
GOLFCHICK2-0 11/1/2018
I've heard the 'your face is pretty, but" so many times that I have a 2 pat answers:
1. I may be fat, but I am also compassionate.
2. Yes, but I can lose weight, can you gain intelligence? Report
NANASUEH 11/1/2018
thanks Report
ANNEMARIE001 11/1/2018
I remember gym class as an elementary student. Arg! Once per year the gym teacher weighed everyone in the class. Of course, me being the fat kid, the whole class laughed and threw cruel comments, in class and out (for years). It was never controlled, and I think it the bullying really had a negative effect on me. Report
CHARRELL25 11/1/2018
My response is usually, "What???? Omg... how could I have missed that?" while rolling my eyes, or "Gee, why don't you tell me something I don't know?" The fact is, I am fat. So what? It's my business and nobody else's so if someone wants to comment...the bottom line is, it is true. I do not give people permission to hurt me in thst way. Report
CHARRELL25 11/1/2018
My response is usually, "What???? Omg... how could I have missed thst?" while rolling my eyes, or "Gee, ehy don't you tell me something I don't know?" The fact is, I am fat. So what? It's my business and nobody else's so if someone wants to comment...the bottom line is, kt is true. I do not give people permission to hurt me in thst way. Report
RYCGIRL 11/1/2018
thanks Report
LISALU910 11/1/2018
The old "you have such a pretty face," comment is common among motherly type women who mean well. "Why don't you lose some weight, dear?" is all they mean, in a concerned, motherly way. My dearly beloved grandma said to me one time, "honey, you're getting fat!" (which was about 15-20 pounds overweight for me) and she wasn't shaming me but rather just making an observation. I didn't take offense because none was intended. While the comment in this story was hurtful, it wasn't so much what the woman SAID as the truth behind it. The girl was hugely obese, but she wanted to stay in denial and the woman's comment made her face the truth. The woman didn't call her ugly names or intentionally insult her, she just took it upon herself to point out the obvious. That being said, the lady should have minded her own business since she was speaking to a stranger. What might be acceptable coming from your grandma is out of line coming from a stranger because it's none of their business any more than if someone stopped to tell you that you'd be beautiful if you'd just color your gray hair or get a nose job. Report
BOOKNUT52 11/1/2018
People who say things like that will find something else to comment on, because that is what they do. I once had a lady in a waiting area of an airport, upon seeing my husband and I with our 3 young children, tell me, "You shouldn't have done that!" I felt like saying, "Get a life!" but didn't. Truly, if it isn't that they will find something else. If there is any way to see such comments as reflective of the person speaking and not take them personally, it would help. You know who you are, and don't let the turkeys get you down! Report
RASPBERRY56 11/1/2018
People seem to NO LONGER BE CAPABLE of keeping their $#!@# MOUTHS SHUT when shut mouths are appropriate (not just in areas like this, but in GENERAL) - this world is in deep, DEEP TROUBLE! :( Report
Medical professionals should have the education and experience to make a suggestion to lose weight for health reasons in a non-insulting way. I had a doc a long time ago make a crack that I was "fat, fair and forty". I never returned to his office.

In this politically correct world it's still OK to ridicule those with a weight problem. I had another doc make some really insulting comments to me about my weight. I've since lost about 40 pounds, but don't have the same relationship with her that I had previously. I'm definitely not very friendly with her, thought she was cruel and unfeeling. My MIL is very nasty with the name-calling. When her SIL told me that the lovely MIL was calling me a fat a__ behind my back, have to admit that the relationship between us went even further in the deep freeze. There's just no reason for the meanness, other than people who feel jealous or threatened do it to make themselves somehow superior. It doesn't--just makes them petty and small. Report
ANHELIC 11/1/2018
Thank you for the information. Report
EVIE4NOW 10/26/2018
Not much effects me any more. I would probably say... oh i didn't notice. I will be happy to share some with you. Should be a show stopper lol. Report
I have learned to blow it off. Well, except when I was on a particular flight and had to sit next to someone for a few hours and he obviously was feeling I was somehow infringing on his flight comfort. Now, mind you, I still fit into my seat area and do not require a belt extender, so really was not infringing on his space. But, he obviously found me "disgusting" as he let out a heavy sigh literally every time I moved.

Now, hear comes the part where I got the last laugh. I was in the window seat, he was in the middle seat, and unbeknownst to me, the woman in the aisle seat was someone from my company going to the same conference I was. I noticed she had something with the company's name on when we were collecting our items to disembark, and asked her the obvious question. Well, although middle seat man did not say anything, he looked like he was going to blow steam out of his ears when he realized that this woman would probably have traded seats with him and he would not have had to sit next to someone so "disgusting" as me for 4 hours. :-) Report
Thanks for the info, I would say don't look Report
If you don't have something nice to say avoid the conversation. Report
Thanks for the thoughts Report
I got a judgmental comment in aerobics class this week that might be on the other end of the spectrum, but I was hurt. A woman who was rejoining the class after not attending for a few years ssid"you're too skinny to be with us, you should go to the advanced class." If I had was less secure, I might have left a class that I adore. Report
This is good. My relative and I were grocery shopping, and a woman came to our cart and took my brother's junk food and my husband birthday cake out and told my sister in law that she didn't need that. She was overweight, I wasn't at that time. I was shocked and sister in law was close to tears. The person who did that didn't know her or know if those foods were hers they could have been mine and the cake technically was. Report
I think of it like this ... I "have" fat, I am not fat. I also have fingernails but you wouldn't call me a 'fingernail', would you?

That being said ... I am overweight and would never (NEVER) hold it against a medical professional for (appropriately) bringing up the topic. Why? IT'S THEIR JOB TO MONITOR MY HEALTH, it's why I go to the doctor's office. You wouldn't go to the salon and get mad at the hair dresser if they said something like, "Girl, your hair is a mess." Especially if they're stating fact. Report
The human word, whether written or spoken, is the greatest of weapons we have when interacting with each other. When there is a choice, choose kindness! The physical and sexual abuse I received as a child pale in comparison to the lingering results and triggers of the emotional abuse I received throughout my life due to my size. Even after I had lost 210 lbs and weighed 160, my doctor and my family told me I was "still" fat. Report
Growing up bullied mainly by my mom because of being fat and ugly, I was always patiently waiting to prove her wrong. And I did, not only to her but to other people. It was a great motivator. Report
Great blog! Report
Not a surprising scenario - all too common Report
Thank You Melissa!!! Well done article.

I've read parts of this over and over. I love the think of something you're good at instead!! Powerful!!

People can have the power over us, that we allow them to. May we use our power kindly.

I did a blog of the complete story with the back Dr tonight(September 27th) if anyone would like read it. Report
I had my Dr. bluntly state you know you ate onese right? and no I don’t need to be coddled however there are ways to say things. She threw that and left it. Didn’t acknowledge a four pound loss at the next visit. I walk and exercise and eat accordingly and 20-40 pounds would be lovely to lose. Yet I won’t let her broadside me sgsin she herself is overweight so I have no idea where her nonsense came from. I am 65.5”4’ and between menopause and medication it makes that hard. Report
Once or twice I have spoken up and said: that is a very rude and hurtful comment. And then I walked away. My extremely slende friend has had a similar problem; people have no problem telling her she looks like she has anorexia. This is also a very rude and personal Comment; the truth is she is naturally slender and has cancer. Report
I agree it hurts but if it is true then use it for motivation. I know someone who was greatly overweight and their doctor suggested losing weight. I hate to hear people use it as a weapon against each other. Report
Yes, it hurts. But it is honest. I am 4'11", 60+ years old, and weigh 200 lb. And oh by the way, I teach 8th grade. I begin each year with a simple declarative statement, "I am short, fat, and old." I have their attention. I have also performed a preventive problem strike. My height, weight, and age are no longer weapons. Some students are upset, other confused, a few even angry. I tell them it is the truth. We must all be honest with ourselves. Without that honesty we can never hope to improve, to be more than we now are. Lastly, gave me a level of "street cred" that encouraged students to speak honestly with me about all sorts of personal issues. Strategy is not for everyone and every instance, but for me it works. Report
My stepmother made it her mission to let me know I was fat, homely and stupid. It took me a long time to get over that. Words can be so hurtful. Report
Thank you for this blog. I haven't had someone out and call me fat specifically but rather... as I carry my weight in my stomach... ask me if I was pregnant. I'm actually infertile and did want a baby but wasn't in the cards. So whenever a coworker asked me that ... hey when are you expecting... I always felt a double whammy-
hey you're fat and you look pregnant but can't have kids.
I even went to HR as I was mortified as one coworker (whom I didn't have that close of a relationship with) asked me TWICE! HR didn't help me- told me not to be so sensitive.

People don't think before they speak. Again, I appreciate your words. Thank you. Report
In some cultures this would be an insult, whereas in others it is a compliment. In today's multi-cultural world it is silly to get offended about cultural differences. Report
Thank you Report
Thank you Report
There is a huge difference between being called fat and having someone respectfully have a conversation about health and weight.

I've never been a small person - 5'9" with a heavy bone structure, broad shoulders, and the physical strength to match. Even at my most svelte in high school, when, looking back at those pictures, I can tell I was toned and conventionally attractive, I weighed about 190 - more than the BMI tables indicated, so I was constantly told by medical people that I was overweight (never mind that I ran 5 days a week, biked on the weekends, lifted weights 3 days a week, and participated in at least one sport every season).

I feel more comfortable in men's jackets because women's don't have the width in the shoulder for me to move my arms freely when running/biking. I still lift both of my kids daily - one is nearly 100lb (healthy weight for his age/height).

I'm almost the same weight I was when I got married (about 20lb over my goal weight of 190lb), but my body is a completely different shape after 2 kids. I can run farther, bike faster, and swim longer than I could in my early 20s, but I have this soft, squishy tummy that my daughter loves for snuggling.

One of my daughter's friends, whose mother is quite focused on physical appearance, asked me almost daily for about 3 weeks "why is your stomach so big?" (she was 7 at the time). She always seemed a bit puzzled when my response was just a calm "That's just how my body is shaped. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and this is mine." I kind of wonder if maybe there was some self-body-shaming going on at home, since most kids her age barely register anything about me physically other than that I'm tall and strong enough to still pick up my 10-year-old. Eventually she stopped asking the question.

I've had doctors try to blame ridiculous things on my weight, like chronic tendonitis in my shoulder. MY SHOULDER. How exactly would that be affected by weight, pray tell?

I also had a doctor try to pressure me into following a particular diet right after I shared with her how what I was doing (whole foods, high fiber, 1/3:1/3:1/3 ratio for carb:fat:protein) had helped me lose nearly 15lb since the previous appointment. I ended up writing her a pretty detailed letter on where her conversation went completely off the rails of medicine and into pressuring, and switching to a different primary care doc in the same practice. Report
Thank you Report
I still do Aikido, so people don't usually insult me. Report

My sisters called me only that, growing up. Report
This is a great Blog. Thanks. Report
some people make such hurtful statements to strangers and friends ... thank goodness the great majority of people still recognize each other's dignity and respect their privacy when the shamers or bulliers are at their worst it takes great restraint to not reply in kind because Report
I think the word fat is kind of the same reason why they won't use Voldemort's name in Harry Potter. It definitely has a bad connotation, and people shouldn't necessarily be fat shaming anyone, but I also know I have talked about myself being fat. And my best friend would tell, no, your not fat and say something positive. I would say, I appreciate that, but I am fat. For those of us that are "FAT" we need to accept that word, and we need to use it as our motivation. On the flip side, I was called fat my entire life, by my parents, by kids at school.... I got so used to being called fat, that when I finally looked at pictures of me as a kid, I realized that while I weighed more than other kids my age, if I hadn't accepted my fate, I would have grown into a healthy adult... Instead, I embraced being fat, and lost control of my eating, and now I am here at 34 with 200 pounds to lose. So, if someone calls you fat, ask yourself two questions. 1. Do these people care about me, and 2. Am I actually fat? Don't look in the mirror, use a scale, do some research, talk to a doctor. Fat is a terrible word, but sometimes we need to accept the truth, instead of hide from it, but more importantly, know and care about yourself enough to know if you need to do something about it. Report
I worked in a dental office and had a great rapport with most of my regulars. But one day one of my favorites said to me “You’re so kind & caring with such a beautiful face, if only you’d lose weight you’d be happier.” Well I felt like I’d been slapped in that beautiful face. All that comment did to me was make me even more self conscious than I already was & I backed off being so friendly to that man.
I knew it he didn’t mean to offend me consciously but it did change how I dealt with people for awhile. Do people really think that we don’t already know we’re fat and why do they feel the need to remind us of the fact? Report
I haven't been exposed to many comments like that; the intention of the comment would matter to me. I know that I'm fat. I try to talk about it candidly. Unfortunately, my body bears witness to my struggle in life. Everyone has something; it's just not all as evident as mine. I learned that my husband's family comments on each other's weight gain as a show of love and concern; they try to keep each other in check. They can be very insulting, but they do it with humor and love. My Dr. called me fat, but he is also fat and used himself as an example. Sometimes people think they are helping. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I'm older, 59, and not so insecure anymore. Report
If I valued random people's unsolicited opinions, being called fat might bother me. I mostly just feel sorry for them that their lives are so empty that they have to insult random people to try and fill the gaping holes in their souls. Report
It's dead wrong to judge others. And it can cause pain. People should look at their own faults and work on those and learn to love their neighbors. The world would be a better place. Report
40 years later it still makes me feel bad Report
thank you Report
Walking Guide