Body Shaming in the Vegan Community

Body Shaming in the Vegan Community

By |2018-08-09T18:19:48+00:00August 9th, 2018|17 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.

 

 

17 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.

  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.

  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. 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.

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