By Sue Scheff
YouTube sensation Whitney Thore gained international recognition after posting a video called “A Fat Girl Dancing: Talk Dirty” (scroll down to view). The video shows Whitney at 380 pounds trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Whitney was once a slim dancer, but over the course of just one year at college, she gained 200 pounds due to a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
While many view the video as a triumph for fitness at all sizes, negative comments flooded the YouTube clip. One user recently wrote “Fit boy: barely winded. Fat cow: ready to die.”
Whitney is not the only one experiencing this kind of cyberbullying. A Facebook page called “530 Fatties” targeting overweight individuals in the Northern California 530 area code fell under fire on “The Today Show.” The page no longer exists, but the photographs and memory will plague those people targeted by cyberbullies for a long time and the emotional and psychological effects can be life-altering.
Eliza Kingsford, the executive director of Wellspring Camps, is all too familiar with the impact of cyberbullying on weight and fitness practices. Historically, the campers have not had access to their phones or electronic devices. But this year, Wellspring is allowing access to their phones due to overwhelming pressure from campers and their parents to have access to the devices that they so strongly rely on in their everyday lives. The camp is prepared for potential cyberbullying issues now and has trained the staff to talk about social media.
How can parents and friends encourage a healthy fitness dialogue when cyberbullying overweight and obese individuals is so prevalent?
Cyberbullying and its impact on fitness
Bullying individuals about their weight has become such a critical issue that British researcher Dr. Sarah Jackson believes mocking overweight individuals should be illegal. Jackson conducted a study of 5,000 U.K. adults and found that overweight people who feel discriminated against experienced a 70 percent increase in symptoms of depression. The research suggests weight discrimination accounts for 40 percent of obesity’s negative psychological effects.
Depression can affect motivation, including the motivation to exercise, reports Harvard Medical School. Depressed individuals may lose motivation to exercise due to lack of enjoyment or low energy levels. Exercising releases mood-boosting endorphins, so lack of motivation to exercise perpetuates the cycle of sadness.
Cyberbullying takes place using electronic technology. This includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. Cyberbullying is often most feared because it can reach a child 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even when that child is alone and not in school. Cyberbullying is not unique to overweight or obese children, in fact it’s just another unfortunate example of teenagers and adolescents today to be cruel to one another.
Cyberbullying is a practice that should not be tolerated. Below are some tips on how to deal with cyberbullies and maintain your commitment to a healthy and happy lifestyle.
Responding to fat-shaming cyberbullies
Speak up It can be hard to feel like you want to tell someone what is going on, especially if you’ve told someone in the past and nothing has happened. But the truth is, silence only makes the bully stronger. And no one can help you if you don’t tell someone (even if it’s over and over again) how you feel. Don’t keep quiet. Talking takes the power away from the bully and starts to put it back in your control.
Focus on the positive When individuals are being mean, it’s easy to start to feel like no one cares about us. It’s easy to start to focus on the negative and start to believe all of the mean words people are using to bring us down. Take a moment each day to think about the people you love and care about, and who love and care about you. Think about a nice thing someone said to you or the things that you are thankful for.
Role model being a good friend and classmate Just because a bully is acting inappropriately and hurting other people doesn’t mean you have to act that way as well. It feels good to be nice to others. Try giving someone a compliment or being nice to someone in class. It will make you feel better about yourself and others.
Sue Scheff is an author and parent advocate. She founded Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, Inc in 2001. Read more about Sue here.