Life After Diets
Do We Have a Fit-Shaming Problem?
What to do when you’re shamed for your health choices
A few months ago, I went to see Brittany Runs a Marathon. There were a lot of reasons that this movie resonated with me: this was a story of a woman who looked a lot like me, who fell victim to a lot of the same social and romantic (to be generous with that term) pitfalls I’d fallen into, and who experienced weight loss and diet-cycling on a similar trajectory to what I’ve experienced. So, I was excited about this movie, and, in spite of some of its flaws, I left feeling really good about the places where Brittany’s story and my own came together. There was another point that I had been grappling with recently and that I was surprised to find laid out so well, if only as a sub-sub-plot point: fit-shaming.
In the movie, over-weight party girl Brittany decides to begin addressing her physical and mental health issues by going for a run. One run. Just around the block. She later joins her neighbor’s running group and starts adding up the miles. Eventually and inevitably, she’s convinced to join her new friends in signing up and training for the New York City marathon.
Throughout the first half of the movie, Brittany regularly experiences insults, derogatory remarks, and outright discrimination because of her weight (not least of which is the doctor who brings up her weight as soon as he meets her, despite that not actually being the reason for her visit). But as her training intensifies and her diet and drinking habits become healthier, she starts to experience a completely different, and probably unexpected, kind of shaming. Her once close friend and roommate, Gretchen, makes it clear that she preferred Brittany’s former lifestyle, one that was mutually enabling and allowed Gretchen a sense of superiority over her “fat friend.”
Ultimately, Gretchen cannot come to terms with Brittany’s new lifestyle and is insecure about no longer having Brittany around to boost her own self-esteem, and so, the two begin to drift apart. In ways both subtle and direct, Gretchen makes it clear to Brittany that she doesn’t really respect her, her choices, or the changes she’s making in her life. At one point, she patronizingly tells Brittany that she’s “so cute with this…