Last month, I watched Lady Gaga's Super Bowl performance in disgust.
Not because of her 12 minutes of pure athleticism, trapezing herself around the stage, and throwing her mic to catch a football, as she lept off the stage.
Not because of the incredible talent she displayed, with her high energy, perfectly choreographed dancing, and piano playing , all while keeping perfect pitch.
Not because she used her position of influence to send a not-so-subtle message of equality to a certain president.
But because of the stream of tweets from those who chose to overlook her obvious talent and fat-shame her because of her 'belly roll.'
Fat-shaming is rife in our society: from pleas for airlines to charge people based on their weight, to supplement companies and gyms telling us that we shouldn't look like anything less than a Victoria's Secret model if we wish to go to the beach.
We've been told that weight is controlled by calories. If you're overweight, you've been binging on burgers while watching a few too many episodes of Made in Chelsea.
This calorie equation is at the crux of fat-shaming.
Fat-shaming, or talking about someone's weight, or making them feel inferior because of it, is publicly acceptable. People who are overweight are deemed to be responsible for the position that they are in, and shaming them should serve as motivation. But motivation is meant to be positive encouragement, not a demeaning and hurtful conversation about how someone looks.
You would never see cancer-shaming because we perceive cancer as something that is done to us, that we have no control over. Whereas obesity is entirely self-inflicted, right?
And studies show that women bear the brunt of fat shaming. Women are not only fat shamed at a lower BMI than men but they are also fat-shamed three times as often as men for equal obesity. But we already knew this; we see it all the time. Not only Lady Gaga's belly roll, but Oprah has "fallen off that infamous wagon, once again," and Britney's "blown out."
But this isn't just by the media, certain presidents, and internet trolls. The calorie model leads to a lot of self-deprecation. We tell ourselves that we just can't control ourselves, that we deserve to feel inferior and down about how we look, all because of the mindset surrounding weight and calories.
Looking through holiday photos is complete with self-deprecating commentary. We've all done something like this.
But science has moved on from this calorie model of weight, we just haven't kept up. While calories still play a part, we now know that our bodies have a another, more sophisticated system of hormones that control weight. In fact, if calories were the only mechanism of weight then no one in the world would be able to maintain a constant weight without calorie counting. We would be constantly over or underestimating our energy needs.
Leptin is one hormone that does this. Leptin is our 'starvation hormone.' It's released from fat into the blood and tells our hypothalamus, or 'fat thermostat,' whether we have enough fat to survive the next famine. If the fat levels are deemed to be too low our body will drastically reduce metabolic rate and increase hunger significantly, so that we will eat anything in sight. But if fat stores are high, the opposite should happen.
The problem occurs when the fat thermostat loses its sensor, or more accurately, its ability to sense high levels of leptin and it thinks that we are underweight. The result is that it will try every trick in the book to sabotage our efforts. If we eat less, it will continue to reduce our metabolism and make the urge to "seek out food" so great that not even the iron-willed can ignore.
We shouldn't really be surprised by this. When our body controls all other essential processes of life, such as breathing and heart rate without our intervention, why would it leave survival up to whether we are motivated enough to go find food?
Until we give up on calories as the only controller of weight, we will not end fat-shaming or self-deprecating talk. The human body is much more intelligent than we give it credit for, and there are so many more factors at play.
So instead of shaming people into losing weight and thinking we are motivating them, let's focus on what the science is actually saying and help them.
Wondering how Gaga herself feels about all this fat shaming? Well I only hope her lyrics ring true: 'I don't feel the pain 'cause I'm a pro, I sink in but I don't let it show'. However, for someone who has openly discussed that she's suffered from anorexia and bulimia since she was 15, I highly doubt this is the case.