Body Shaming in the Vegan Community

Body Shaming in the Vegan Community

By |2018-08-29T18:36:47+00:00August 9th, 2018|25 Comments

I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel with Andy Tabar of Compassion Company and JL Fields of JL Goes Vegan at Vegfest Colorado in late July. We spoke about body shaming and food shaming in the vegan community.

Although this is admittedly an unusual topic for a vegfest, it’s an important one. Not just for those who are already active in vegan and animal activism, but also for newcomers who might wonder if there is a place for them in this community.

Andy posted a live recording of our presentations on his Bearded Vegans podcast, and you can view the slides from my presentation here. I looked at some of the potential consequences of over-hyping the health benefits of a vegan diet and at how some tactics used in animal advocacy contribute to body shaming. Andy and JL shared personal observations about body shaming and food shaming among vegans and explored ways in which our community can do better.

While some examples of body shaming are obvious, others are subtler. For example, suggesting that some particular type of vegan diet is the “secret” to permanent weight loss is not only simplistic, it also shames vegans who don’t lose weight. It suggests that they just “aren’t doing veganism right.” Memes and cartoons that make fun of the bodies of non-vegans are body shaming that masquerades as humor or animal advocacy. Suggesting that a vegan diet will make people more “attractive” or “youthful-looking” is body shaming (and it’s also ageist.)

Shaming others, vegan or not, belies the compassion that is at the core of a vegan ethic. It moves the focus onto our bodies and away from animals. And it makes assumptions about who should be allowed to speak for animals. Andy, JL and I all noted that we hear far too often from people who are reluctant to admit that they are vegan because of their health or how their bodies look. Or they feel reluctant to participate in animal advocacy. But as Andy noted, “The animals are in a state of emergency. They need every single body working for them regardless of how they look.”

This is what we can do (and not do) to counter body (and food) shaming:

  • Don’t promise people that they will lose weight on a vegan diet.
  • Don’t assume that everyone is trying to lose weight.
  • Accept that someone else’s body is not your business.
  • Don’t use terms like “junk food vegan.”
  • Resist the temptation to comment on someone else’s food post about how you “would never eat that.”
  • Recognize that there are many variations of vegan diets that are healthful.
  • Recognize that we do not have all the answers about diet and health.
  • Recognize that vegans can get sick.
  • Don’t make assumptions about why someone got sick.
  • Instead of celebrating certain vegan bodies, celebrate all vegan efforts to do justice.

I hope you’ll have a chance to listen to the body shaming panel.  And if you’re in the North Carolina area, please consider attending the Triangle Vegfest where you can hear JL and Andy speak on this topic later this month.

 

 

25 Comments

  1. Amanda Ehrenford August 9, 2018 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    I agree with this article.

  2. Rebekah Jaunty August 10, 2018 at 3:08 am - Reply

    “Instead of celebrating certain vegan bodies, celebrate all vegan efforts to do justice.”

    Beautiful.

  3. Andy T August 10, 2018 at 5:15 am - Reply

    I would possibly add the following:

    “Accept it that people on a vegan diet might decide not to choose the most healthful diet for themselves, just like people on a non-vegan diet do every day (but there nobody bats an eye)”

    As long as there are people out there who decide to smoke, this should not need to be pointed out.

  4. mrs d August 10, 2018 at 6:58 am - Reply

    Some non vegans put comments like”ive seen lots of vegans that are FAT” ! its not just certain vegans ,some meat eaters body shame !

  5. Dori August 10, 2018 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this! I am obese and I’ve wanted to transition to a vegan diet for a long time (I’ve failed so far). I have a ton of mental/emotional baggage around food and eating, and as much as I want to stop eating animals, the food-chatter nonsense in my head is amplified when I try to take steps toward veganism (it is replaced by guilt when I don’t). It doesn’t help that a couple of (misinformed, in my opinion) therapists have discouraged my efforts. My fear is that veganism might make my food and weight issues worse.

    Enough about me! Thank you for this post. I like that it focuses on the animals and advocates for them, while discouraging weigh bias. I really appreciate it.

    • Dori August 10, 2018 at 2:22 pm - Reply

      Thank you for this! I am obese and I’ve wanted to transition to a vegan diet for a long time (I’ve failed so far). I have a ton of mental/emotional baggage around food and eating, and as much as I want to stop eating animals, the food-chatter nonsense in my head is amplified when I try to take steps toward veganism (it is replaced by guilt when I don’t). It doesn’t help that a couple of (misinformed, in my opinion) therapists have discouraged my efforts. My fear is that veganism might make my food and weight issues worse.

      Enough about me! Thank you for this post. I like that it focuses on the animals and advocates for them, while discouraging weigh bias. I really appreciate it.

      I just read the slides from your presentation, where you mention that some folks might miss recommended health screenings because they feel they are protected by a vegan diet. It made me think of the time I was reading a message board on the website of a well-known vegan advocate (who focuses on health). He was actually discouraging colonoscopies! As a colon cancer survivor, I found this so sad and discouraging. Colonoscopies save lives.

    • Varsana Myers September 2, 2018 at 8:31 am - Reply

      Hi, Dori, if you are interested in chatting, I’d love to help you transition to veganism. There’s no perfect way to do it, but of you need help or suggestions, I’d be happy to help in any way. I hope I’m not overstepping, just would like to help anyone who’s thinking about going veg.

  6. jacquie astemborski August 10, 2018 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    yes thank you for this important post. unfortunately, body shaming along with ageism are seemingly rampant in our current culture and have a very negative effect on many. why can’t all beings no matter there size, age, ableism or 2-legged or 4 be treated with compassion and kindness?? Is it so wrong to want and strive for that? and no i am not perfect and do make mistakes which is why i’m so glad that people like you are giving us little reminders to be kind to all.

    I also wanted to let Daryl know that he is not alone in having health care practitioners try to dissuade me from being vegan as they feel it will hinder/prevent my recovery from an eating disorder. But for me it is spiritual in nature and one of the few things in my life i can feel good about.

    namaste

  7. ginger August 10, 2018 at 8:37 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your poast, Ginny. Many, too mny vegans need to hear this, especially prominent vegans.

    Many years ago Dr Neal Barnard appeared on a local call-in talk show. I called to ask about treatments for osteoarthritis. Barnard asked me if I was vegan; yes, 11 years at that point. He then began to disease-shame me on the air by saying that veganism cures arthritis and that I must be doing somehting wrong. He said I need to be “responsible” for my own health and improve my diet and my arthritis would just go away. I never was so angry and ashamed over a prominent vegan in my life. To this day I have no respect for Barnard or his group. I’m amazed he still has a medical license.

  8. Chelsea August 10, 2018 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    I am a long time fat vegan activist and have had my share of fat shaming and prejudice from the vegan community. Fat liberation is a social justic issue and so I appreciate you talking about this issue. I will add, however, that we need to go a step further. We need to celebrate body diversity in the vegan community. And this includes fat vegan bodies. We shouldn’t just take the focus away from bodies. Doing so reminds me of a horrible experience I once had. I was protesting veal at a restaurant with other animal rights activists. One person came out of the restaurant and targeted me with fat hate speach. Instead of telling the man I am beautiful, I am healthy, I am amazing- they just told him he was being mean and should stop. I did not feel supported and I left feeling like I was not a part of my community. I hope that makes sense.

  9. Chani August 10, 2018 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    This is one of the reasons I started Unlikely Vegan and co-founded bodypositivevegans.com
    Vegans can be in bigger bodies and NOT want to lose weight. Vegans don’t have a certain “look.” Thanks also for bring up ageism. Thanks to you and JL and Andy for speaking up about this.

  10. K August 11, 2018 at 11:53 am - Reply

    This is a useful post. However, I’ve decided not to share it on social media due to the fat-shaming image that accompanies it. Circulating this kind of bigoted representation harms fat people.

    Fat and super-fat vegans exist, and we need a vegan movement which gives *no* attention to what bodies look like, as well as one that decisively disavows the myth that weight has any bearing on health.

    • Ellie August 29, 2018 at 2:26 pm - Reply

      I agree with other commenters that the image of the larger body woman (looking sad) and smaller body woman (looking happy), even using any *body* at all further body shames people–the direct opposite of what your amazing article was trying to achieve. The post is wonderful, but please change the image. I noticed that on the homepage (theveganrd.com) the image is still the same (with the two women), but on this page (theveganrd.com/2018/08/body-shaming-in-the-vegan-community/) it has been changed (thank you!). It would be great to change the image on the homepage as well.

      • Ginny Messina August 29, 2018 at 6:38 pm - Reply

        Okay, I think I fixed it! Sorry — the image was meant to be an example of body shaming, but I can see why it wasn’t the best choice.

  11. Robin Asbell August 11, 2018 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    In the mid eighties, I went to a lecture by Dr Michael Klaper in Champaign IL. He talked for an hour on veganism. When he took questions, one of the most devout vegans in the room stood up and lamented that she was vegan and just couldn’t lose weight. This has been the conundrum for vegans forever.
    He told her she just had “survivor genes” and that she might just have to accept her body, quite kindly. (I’m paraphrasing.) Obviously it made an impression on me.
    As a food writer, I am so tired of talking about weight loss that I just don’t do it.

  12. Hilary August 12, 2018 at 10:03 am - Reply

    I SO agree about the image at the top of the story.. I just can’t bring myself to share this story with that image. Excellent article; but why accompany it with a picture that portrays a large woman as sad and slouchy, and a thin woman as happy?

  13. Mary Ellen August 12, 2018 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this valuable information. We are all beautiful in our very own way. Animals don’t care what you look like but they do feel what we feel and do for them. Stay strong and think of what’s important to them and will all be better off.

  14. Dan Moskaluk August 12, 2018 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    Albeit nobody deserves to be shamed for any reason, the normalization by the media that obesity is a normal healthy physical state is dangerous considering the serious health ramifications that are scientifically proven to be linked to obesity.

    Without shaming anyone, we still need to be able to discuss the serious negative health ramifications of obesity without that discourse or discussion be automatically labelled as “body shaming”.

    This normalization and creation of a “taboo” label on talking about obesity will stifle the importance of education and awareness regarding the negative health consequences of obesity. Without sensitive and factual conversation and education, many adults and children will suffer from unnecessary chronic illnesses and or premature death.

  15. Maybe Never August 12, 2018 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    Dan Moskaluk: Except that it isn’t scientifically proven that having higher amounts of adipose tissue – what is medically known as obesity – is hazardous to one’s health. What is hazardous is treating fat people like second-class citizens, food shaming, and dieting.

    See “Weighing In” by Julie Guthman.

  16. Leigh August 14, 2018 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    My favourite attempt at shaming me for eating a vegan diet and wanting to lose weight came from a trainer at my gym! She wanted to promote losing weight with muscle tone and stamina with anything BUT a vegan diet, because she had another client who said she was vegan, but then ate nothing but Doritos and lettuce and was miserable all the time. And rightly so–she ate a crappy diet. Said trainer would NEVER acknowledge MY strength and stamina and devotion o ample athletic nutrition, but if I had an off day, she was ready to blame it on my vegan diet. Even when I trained myself and ran a 50K trail run. I could never be thin enough, fast enough, strong enough. Finally I said enough is ENOUGH. No more trainer. And I began to seek out support from other vegan athletes, and even married another vegan last year! Neither one of us have any health issues, but it’s amazing how our non-vegan friends won’ot make a connection between diet and health. Because there IS one, and vegans have the potential to be SUPER healthy–it all comes down to food quality and choices.
    And by the way, to all the ladies above who want to lose weight but say they’ve failed: I went vegan gradually. I just stopped buying meat and dairy and when I ran out, I switched to vegan options. What started as a 30 day “experiment” is now my lifestyle, 11 years later. Read Alicia Silverstone’s book “The KInd Diet” and be kind to yourself. Alicia writes in a funny endearing way that will help you make the transition if that’s what you really want to do. Good luck!

  17. SJoy August 15, 2018 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post Ginny. As someone who often feels like crap, meat eating or not, it was a total relief and stress-free to finally follow my veganish diet for no other reason than my conscience. Now on days when I feel like crap or feel fat, there’s no excuse to flip to yet another diet. I no longer care about being thin, and I know my vegan diet will not guarantee perfect health. I say “veganish”, because as a perfectionist, it’s too stressful for me to be “ pure” vegan in this imperfect world. So I avoid obvious meat, fish, fowl eggs and dairy, and I allow myself incidental by products in food. Thank you for your posts over the years. Body shaming must end, and unfortunately, some vegans are still pros at it.

  18. Hillary August 16, 2018 at 11:53 am - Reply

    I think it was in ‘Eat to Live’ where I found Dr. Fuhrman’s ‘formula’ for the ideal weight for a person. The number I calculated with that formula was an impossible goal for me to reach and helped lead me down a crazy path. I know of others who had the same reaction. Some of the ‘big names’ in the vegan-sphere are VERY weight-focused.

  19. Karl August 21, 2018 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this! I’ve been a vegan for about 20 years and have never really had weight issues personally, but I think all the points you were making on the panel are very important for expanding a vegan movement, especially these days when it feels like the mainstream appeal is so much greater than a decade or two ago. There is so much less potential if the focus is on slimness, athleticism and perfection, as it’s likely to either turn people away from the start or make them feel like failures down the line.

    What I would personally be interested in hearing more about as well, is veganism and disability. My kids have been brought up as vegans, but are still pretty young (8, 6 and 3) so who knows what paths they’ll follow as they grow older. Our oldest child was born with a relatively rare genetic disability, which has all kinds of impact (physical, developmental etc) and it’s not something he’ll “grow out of”, although he’s still in a regular school with additional support. I don’t so much care about whether someone would think “did veganism cause his disability”, although I would be offended if someone did ask him or me that. But if I’m talking to someone, I do occasionally catch myself feeling like the disability is not a positive promotion for veganism and it makes me frustrated and disappointed with myself when I do, because veganism has no direct connection to the disability, instead veganism is an ethical family lifestyle choice for us.

    And when I follow that thought about disability and vegan promotion, I realise I also subconsciously tend to think the athletic, tanned, exuberant vegan is a better role model for promoting veganism than someone with a less desirable physical appearance (“desirable” as being promoted in popular culture). So I hope the vegan movement can work on becoming more diverse in this respect, and I definitely still have work to do myself with my own outlook as well!

    Thanks for all the research and outreach you’re doing!

  20. Erica Wachs August 23, 2018 at 9:51 am - Reply

    I try to stress that veganism isn’t a diet. I’m overweight and have been vegan for nearly a decade. A friend of mine recently was advised by her doctor to “eat as vegan as possible” and going gluten free as a means to lose weight. It isn’t working. I usually encourage people to listen to their doctors but sometimes even qualified professionals give terrible advice.

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