A couple of months ago, I was among several dietitians who voiced concern to PCRM about their Your Abs on Cheese campaign. Based on the thoughtful feedback I received, I felt confident that this body shaming approach to vegan advocacy wouldn’t continue. So when I saw the group’s latest media effort targeting obesity, I was stunned to say the least.
The “tongue-in-cheek” commercial suggests that airline passengers should be allowed to pay $10 to sit next to a “trim and fit” vegan. For those who don’t opt for this perk, there is the risk of “getting squeezed by a more ample neighbor.”
I have a great deal of admiration for PCRM’s advocacy on behalf of animals. I also have reason to be personally grateful to them. They gave me my first job in vegan nutrition back in 1992, which was a big turning point in my career. During the years I worked for them, I was also exposed to a new-to-me animal rights culture that had a profound and life-changing impact on me. And for the past 10 years or so, they’ve generously allowed me to be on their advisory board. But this weekend, after thinking a lot about these two obesity campaigns, I resigned from the board. It was certainly no skin off their nose, but for me, it was a hard decision.
Body shaming is nothing new to the vegan community, of course. But, there are two things about this particular commercial that make it different and especially sad to me. First, this ad goes well beyond health and even appearance considerations by suggesting that overweight people are an unpleasant annoyance and that others should be willing to pay money to avoid them. It elevates body shaming to an entirely new level.
Second, this doesn’t come from PETA, it comes from a group of doctors and dietitians. I think that was the thing that truly knocked the wind out of me when I saw it. Because in my 30 years as a dietitian, it would never have occurred to me—absolutely not ever—that it was okay to make someone feel ashamed of their body. Health professionals don’t do that. It’s unprofessional, unkind, and completely ineffective. People who struggle with their weight are often already ashamed and sad about their bodies. Nobody needs those feelings reinforced.
The point of these PCRM media pieces is to establish some type of positive association between “vegan” and “thin/attractive.” But it’s awfully hard to imagine that happening with a message that provokes feelings of guilt and embarrassment.
In her response to the PCRM commercial, VeggieMightee blogger Kasey Minnis noted that overweight people feel real angst about air travel. She says that one of the most commonly-asked questions in the popular Fatshionista community is “how will the airline treat me?” (Imagine feeling afraid that you’ll be humiliated every time you get on an airplane.)
These “skinny vegan” messages are simplistic and exaggerated, too; we all know very well that a vegan diet is not an automatic weight loss diet. This sets veganism up for failure since many people will indeed find out that going vegan doesn’t live up to a promise of weight loss.
But these messages don’t just alienate those people we want to reach with a vegan message, they also alienate overweight vegans. In a 2008 newsletter, physician John McDougall suggested that “fat vegans” aren’t good animal advocates because people are likely to be “so distracted by their appearance” that they won’t hear their message. The overall effect of this kind of callous judgment is to shame and silence vegans who end up believing they are poor role models. (In fact, people are actually more likely to be open to a message when it comes from someone who is like them—which suggests that vegan advocacy is well served by people of all sizes.)
A number of twitter and facebook comments suggested that the PCRM commercial was “funny” and people should “lighten up.” But laughing at and shaming people about their body isn’t lighthearted humor. It’s bullying. And when we advocate for animals, we’re supposed to stand against the bullies, not adopt their culture of unkindness, disrespect, and mean-spiritedness.
Unny Nambudiripad, who is the Executive Director of Compassionate Action for Animals—one of my favorite animal rights and vegan education groups—said this on his facebook page last week in response to the PCRM ad: “Let’s be sure to demonstrate a compassionate approach to helping animals by being respectful, understanding that veganism isn’t a cure-all for any health or weight issues, and by using good science to back up our claims. We can do this by leading the way.”
Let’s all of us who stand for kindness, compassion, and an ethic of justice lead the way. We need a community where everyone feels accepted and valued. And we need a world where people learn to recognize vegans by their super-sized hearts and unshakeable commitment to justice and integrity—not by what size jeans they wear.
Edited 4/3/12 to add: The following is a comment sent to me by PCRM’s president Dr. Neal Barnard, printed here with his permission.
From Dr. Barnard:
The question seems to be this: Everyone likes PCRM’s research studies, books, lobbying, litigation, Food for Life classes, online Kickstart program in North America, Europe, India, and China, etc., etc. So why would we want to post controversial advertisements? And are the ads fair?
The short answer is that Americans are still eating a million animals per hour, the population is in terrible shape, animal industries are taxing the environment, and these problems are rapidly spreading to other countries. Because not everyone reads medical journals, we present simple messages in other forms. Our past advertisements have hammered McDonalds, the dairy industry, hot dog manufacturers, etc., and we explore various ways to try to reach people.
The billboards that linked cheese to obesity were well received by the media, but did generate some upset responses from people who felt that, beyond linking cheese to obesity, we were making some sort of comment about obese people.
About the images: One was a large abdomen and the other was a large thigh. They depicted obesity exactly as it is and nothing more. However, some people called them “disgusting,” “ugly,” or even “pornographic,” reading all manner of values into these everyday images. The airplane ad used humor to present an everyday problem in an obviously ridiculous light, making the point that vegans are, on average, considerably slimmer than other people, an important medical fact.
So how should we view obesity? The answer, of course, is to view it as a disease risk factor, like high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol. When it occurs in children, it should be a particular cause for alarm.
A healthy plant-based diet is nearly always effective at preventing obesity, and helping people understand that is a major goal.
Losing weight is harder than preventing weight gain. So in dealing with obesity, a low-fat vegan diet should be the first step, and some people need to go further, dealing with an elevated appetite set point or addictive behavior, which can take many forms. But we are not doing anyone any favors by ignoring the foods that cause problem.
In the midst of all this, PCRM commissioned a survey on colon cancer. The context is that colon and rectal cancers are strongly linked to processed meats (eg, hot dogs, sausage, bacon, etc.), and health organizations have tried various ways of getting the word out, to no avail. Our survey showed that 39 percent of Americans did not know where their colon is, and 70 percent had no idea of what foods would increase the risk of colon cancer. So we erected billboards around the country with a cartoon image of a man holding a hot dog, with the text, “Hot dogs cause butt cancer” and the subtext, “Processed meats increase colorectal cancer risk.” The hope is that this blunt language will force parents and their hot-dog-eating adolescent children into a useful conversation that might ultimately stem the tide of a disease that attacks 140,000 Americans annually and is untreatable in about half the cases.
We assess each one of these campaigns for its effectiveness as we go along, welcome comments about them, and use that assessment to plot the smartest course ahead. It is vital not to lose sight of the problems we are trying to tackle and to be as creative as we can in trying to address them.
Thank you for writing this.
Is this an April Fools post or what? What doesn’t help veganism is being “PC”. This whole “obese people have feelings, we don’t want to hurt their feelings” being held over animals being killed is totally ridiculous. If you’re a fat vegan then you don’t eat right and don’t exercise.
There a lot of reasons people are overweight, for me it’s an autoimmune disease + 7 years of bulimia.
If you think we are all overweight because we don’t know how to exercise (hello over-exercising as a part of my eating disorder) or eat right, you are just ignorant. Nothing more than that. You are oversimplifying and vilifying. Go to your McDougall and shame with him. The rest of us are trying to be compassionate to ALL animals.
Jamie, it’s not about hurting people’s feelings. It’s about promoting a culture of bullying and shaming about body size or anything else. Whether or not this is a “more important problem than the problem of animal use doesn’t matter because we should be able to address one problem without exacerbating the other.
And unless you are an expert in obesity and have read the research, you should be very careful about where you place blame. Obesity and weight loss are complex and poorly understood.
Great answer, Ginny. We can’t blame the victim.
Jamie: wow, what an ignorant statement. You don’t know me or anything about my diet. I eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet with no fast food or soda or candy or junk, and I exercise regularly, yet I am a fat vegan. I started gaining weight when I began taking antidepressants, and it has been a struggle for me to keep the weight off. Shame on you for making such a blanket statement.
Shaming people is no way to gain advocates to a cause–any cause. But, using bullying tactics to convince people to adopt a kind lifestyle is particularly oxymoronic.
I have been a fat vegan for 11 years. I went vegan because I believe in animal rights. The reality is that using oppression to fight oppression simply does not work.
As for your beliefs about anyone who is fat, you are quite misinformed. There is ample research demonstrating that weight loss diets contribute to health issues and weight gain. That only 5% for people are able to maintain weight loss for longer periods of time.
Please do some research into Health at Any Size.
Yes, indeed thanks for writing what you did and taking the very thoughtful stand that you did. Compassion means compassion…for all. I wrote to a local progressive newspaper a few years back when a very obese man in a swimsuit and googles was on the cover of their summer guide. I said it was shaming and hurtful. They said …it was funny and I obviously did not have a sense of humor. There was just no way I could see the human in shaming and making fun of someone. Why is it OK with the overweight and not subsets of the community? Shaming is never, ever funny.
I can understand how hard it must have been to decide to resign from their board, but I think you made the right decision.
I, too, thought the first fat-shaming effort they did would be a one-time thing. After all, they received a lot of flak online for their insensitivity. Yet the fact that they decided to go the same route again only a few months later shows me that they simply do not care. And that saddens me.
As I pointed out in my blog entry on this issue, the Daiya fat-shaming debacle was only a couple of weeks before their original “abs on cheese” campaign. It makes me wonder if they’ve decided to go the fat-shaming route deliberately just to get press, as PETA is wont to do.
I agree 100% with every word you said. I have huge respect for you for walking away from PCRM’s board. While I have huge respect for the work PCRM has done for spreading the vegan message, I too am ashamed and embarrassed to be associated with the underlying message of the new ads. I am a huge proponent of learning to be happy and healthy at any weight because I truly believe this is possible. Promoting fat shaming further propagates the idea that vegans are judgmental and elitist. PCRM is losing opportunities to communicate with people by encouraging feelings of anger and shame. Well said.
This post is a good reminder that humans are animals too and deserve compassion.
Yes, I agree!
Well said, Ginny.
Good for you for resigning from their board!
I lost an awful lot of respect for them over the last 3 or 4 months thanks to some terrible decisions about how to promote their message. Honestly, I’m baffled they would take that approach, and I suspect it’s going to do them much harm in the future in terms of support.
Thanks for writing this great post, Ginny.
Thank you for writing this! I am not (yet) vegan but I am a vegetarian and a nursing student. While I like and admire the PCRMs message about plant-based health and compassion for animals their recent campaigns have been far less than compassionate to human animals.
I disagree with fat acceptance groups (and I say that as an obese person who is struggling to lose weight for health reasons) but I also strenuously disagree with body shaming. It is not compassionate and it is not professional.
Do you also disagree with the Health at Every Size approach? I think it’s important to have overall-health emphasizes as more important than just weight. And you can eat healthily and still not lose weight through health complications, by making it seem like weight it the number ONE health complication it just makes starving yourself like a healthy and good option when it’s not.
You have hit the nail on the head on the many troubling aspects of PCRM’s new campaign approach. Thank you for your forthrightness and courage in resigning from the Board of this group. As I’ve posted elsewhere, I have the sense more than anything that PCRM has hired a communication team that is tone-deaf as to what is effective (both short-term and long-term) in actually shifting people to a plant-based diet, and you have lucidly pointed out the reasons why. As Vegan Outreach says…we want a vegan [compassionate] world, not a vegan [skinny] club. These new campaigns will not get us to a vegan world. I hope that PCRM hears your message and my (and others’) support of you loud and clear. I say leave the stunts to PETA.
Amen, sister! If anything, a fit yoga-doing person would’ve alienated me in the pregan days, not encouraged me to change. People should be accepted and loved no matter what size they are. That article just made me sad and angry.
It brings me near to tears that an organization I once respected has alienated and lost a person I respect so highly. I admire the decision you’ve made, but I’m so sad they created a situation where you had to make such a difficult choice.
Thank you so much for speaking out on this issue. Thank you so much for setting an example as a healthcare professional. Losing faith in Dr. Barnard and PCRM as a whole has been a painful experience, so it’s a relief to know that there are leaders in vegan health who don’t support this type of bullying.
This, exactly. Thank you for having the courage to stand up for what’s right, even if it means distancing yourself from an organization that has done a lot of good. We’ve got to keep each other accountable, and your action and comments on that are a sterling example of doing just that.
Thank you Ginny! Your response is professional, compassionate, and takes the long-view on education and support. I truly appreciate someone standing up for the variety of body shapes and sizes in the vegan community.
I totally agree Ginny. Someone at PCRM has taken an odd and, in my opinion, wrong turn.Their new colon cancer ad seems developed by the same misguided team. I’ve always respected PCRM and Dr. Barnard but I’ll withdraw my support if this continues.
Thank you, Ginny, for such a well-written and right-on response. I’m saddened and honestly, pretty confused (how could they be so ignorant?) by the PCRM’s decision to use this tactic. It takes a lot of integrity to do what you did, so congratulations.
Also, I just recently realized that we will both be speaking at the Mad City Vegan Fest this summer – I’m so excited to finally meet you!
I don’t necesssarily agree with this article. There is too much tiptoeing around some issues. Call it for what it is: sitting next to an obese person on a plane, or worse still being sandwiched between 2 obese persons, is the stuff of nightmares. And working with obese ppl means doing more than your fair share of the work. Know of someone who can scarcely make it to her desk in the morning without collapsing, and then does not leave there, despite her role requiring this, until end of the workday.Hardly equitable is it?
Good on the group for having the politically- incorrect guts to focus on this. I’ve had obese ppl mention that it took a wake-up call to motivate them to lose weight. It well could be a life-saving message PCRM is employing: not only for the unhealthy humans but for nonhumans too. However I do agree with Ginny that there is the potential to eat an unhealthy vegan diet leading to obesity and other issues.
So because you work with a fat person who doesn’t do her job, that means “working with obese ppl means doing more than your fair share of the work”? You’re apparently stereotyping an entire group based on the actions of one co-worker — isn’t that kind of messed up?
Do you realize how demoralizing it is to be a fat person and have these stereotypes lobbed about every single day — that I must be lazy, or a slob, or ugly, or I shove my work off to everyone else at my job? It’s really discouraging, and it doesn’t exactly inspire me to “take care of myself,” that’s for sure. I care a lot more about my health when I feel like I am a person with value and worth… and it’s a lot easier to feel like I have value and worth when I’m not surrounded by pervasive opinions that my fat makes me a terrible person.
Jo, I eat a very healthy vegan diet. I’ve been vegan for 24 years AND I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. Yet my doctor is unconcerned about my weight because my bloodwork, blood pressure and overall health are all so good.
Further, I have an excellent work ethic. Please don’t make sweeping generalizations about people — it betrays an unflattering prejudice.
Very interesting article – I hadn’t seen the ads before, but I think you did the right thing about taking a public stance on the issue.
The issue of vegans and role models is really quite complex. As others have pointed out in the comments, super healthy looking vegans might actually reach less people as their level of health and/or lifestyle seems unattainable to many people. Of course health and fitness should be promoted, but not unless we realise that not everyone will look like someone in a fitness magazine.
The issue of vegan role models has also been a very personal issue for me during the last couple of years. Our first child has a relatively rare congenital genetic illness, that delays many of his developments (growth, speech, motor skills etc.) – and I’ve often felt awkward telling people about his vegan diet. I worry that they’ll either assume that he’s small and slow in his development because he’s raised on a vegan diet; or if I tell them about his illness – which most people will never have heard about or know anything about – they’ll think that it might be due to our vegan/vegetarian diets as parents.
I have the feeling that he will never be seen as a good role model, because many might simply judge his illness as related to his diet.
Wow, thank you for sharing that story about your son. It really shows what happens when we judge someone–it’s possible to be completely wrong.
Thank you so much for this, also, Vegan RD!
Thank you so much. I hope your resignation will make them think twice about using fat-shaming tactics in future ad campaigns.
Thank you, Ginny for raising this important issue. I too am saddened and frustrated by this marketing campaign.
You did the right thing in resigning. I don’t think I can think of anything to add that hasn’t already been said. Congratulations. It may have been a hard decision, but it is certainly one of which you can be proud.
Thank you for the courage and compassion to take a stand on this issue. I started a small Facebook page nearly a year ago to provide a safe haven without bullying for people wishing to explore vegetarianism. I have struggled for the last ten years to become vegan myself. I am now accepting two major facts. The first is that my personal circumstances will never allow me to be completely vegan. Followed closely by I still should live each day with compassion towards myself, other people, the environment and animals as demonstrated by making vegan choices whenever possible.
Thank you for a well-written post. And also thank-you for standing on principle for resigning for the board. Fat shaming has no place in helping to improve the understanding of veganism as a life-style choice.
I’m truly suprised at Neal Barnard whom I respect very much not only for his publications but also his literature. Why he or anyone at PCRM would think this is acceptable is beyond me. It reminds me of the irresponsible PETA campaigns “Got Beer Yet” on college campuses as a spoof on the “Got Milk Yet” campaign or even worse the tasteless and irresponsible “Got Prostate Cancer” campaign featuring Rudy Guiliani with a white mustache (Guliani had suffered from prostate cancer and PETA was hoping to exploit the connection between prostate cancer and dairy products).
When PETA went socially irresponsible, I started giving to the Humane Society instead. I think what I’m going to do with PCRM is discontinue supporting them and support the Nutritional Research Project (www.nutritionalresearch.org) instead.
[…] As this blog demonstrates daily, nothing is beneath animal agribusiness. To defeat them, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Link. […]
But…. fat people are burden to ecology. Because of them the freight is heavier and more fuel is used by the airplane, just to give you one example. Being fat is a choice, atleast long term, it’s not a character given by birth. So it’s about balancing with resource destorying fat people and empathy. I say, at crucial times like these, we need to supply more information and less empathy. Let save the latter for the starving children in Africa.
The cheese consumption has increased about 400% in the last fifty years (USDA data), the least we trim vegans should do is to inform the “fathionistas” that there’s most likely a strong correlation between their big belly and cheese consumption. If I was a fat, I’d love to hear that in order to make adjustments that lead to better health (and environmental) outcome.
I personally love what PCRM is doing. There’s room for loads of different approach in the vegan community. We need to appeal to a broad array of dirrent themes, animal cause, health/vanity etc.
If you were fat, you would have a much deeper understanding of what it means to be a fat person and would have written a very different reply.
I would love to show you my whole-foods, plant-based vegan diet, which is probably healthier than yours. I would love for you to come to the gym with me five days a week and work out like I do. Then I would love to see you tell me to my face that being fat is a choice I have made, despite my hardest efforts.
being fat is by choice? You think we have a masochist gene or something. Where does your argument lead…. young disabled people or old people are a burden. In Sparta, they let them die or they let them suffer. Veganism is a philosphy of compassion toward animals. Making fun of people because of their weight is the antithesis of ahimsa.
“Being fat is a choice, atleast long term, it’s not a character given by birth.”
I call B.S. on this one. I am part of a family where the entire female side of the family is large and the entire male side is stick-thin without any effort required. I have a transgender family member that, immediately upon transferring to female hormones increased in size despite numerous and vigorous efforts (including vegan options) to keep the weight off.
I’ve been working for years to get my weight off. I’ve spent thousands on a proper nutritionist and personal trainer. I eat what they tell me, and do the work-outs they set out for me. And yet – I’m still overweight/obese.
Check your facts before you make statements like the one above.
Well said. It’s hurtful to be ridiculed no matter your size. I actually find my weight (which is healthy because of my exercise routine not necessarily veganism) to be a liability in vegan advocacy. I’ve heard too many times “You really think we should be vegan so we can all ‘look’ like you?” It hurts at any size.
We all have insecurities – no one needs to exploit them, especially the PCRM!
“And we need a world where people learn to recognize vegans by their super-sized hearts and unshakeable commitment to justice and integrity—not by what size jeans they wear.”
That’s the best quote ever! Thank you it makes me cry. As a not skinny vegan I’ve struggled for the past 12 years in my advocacy constantly feeling pressured to be skinny and that I wasn’t doing enough for animals because I am not a skinny vegan and therefore not a good advocate. You have no idea how hard it is! Being a non-skinny person in society is hard enough, being a non-skinny vegan is downright awful. I always feel like I stand out at vegan social events, etc. I remember once I wanted to purchase a shirt from a well known animal rights group and they only had small and medium shirts and they were too tight on me. I asked if they had a larger shirt and they said no and implied that why would they need a larger shirt if they were selling them to vegans. In fact the Boston Police Department even used my weight as a way to try to divide my animal rights group. They wrote an anoynmous email in 2007 saying “there was one member of our group who surely wasn’t vegan because she was too fat to be and we all know she was eating hamburgers on the side when she wasn’t at a protest.” It absolutely killed me.
Anyway thank you so so so so much for this!! Great post!
I agree with you. My sister struggled with weight her whole life, yet she was the kindest, most compassionate person I’ve ever known. She became a vegetarian in the 70s as an 11 year old in Austin, MN,( the home of the Hormel Co). with no role models. And she had an incredible amount of willpower, so the suggestion that it’s someone’s choice to be obese just sickens me and makes me want to cry. My sister suffered from people’s prejudices and unkindness all her life. I respect the work of Dr. Barnard PCRM very much, but I will NEVER support an organization that treats obese people in this manner.
Thank you for bravely and publicly taking a stand against these kind of shameful tactics. Indeed, let us not meet violence with more violence, and may we widen our sphere of compassion to include all species, including homo sapiens.
I can say for sure that veganism does not insure weight loss or improved health especially if vegan food consists of vegan junk food. I applaud your decision and hope you are at peace with your decision.
I’ve already commented above, but I wanted to add a little more…
I’m a 41 year old male. I’m 6’6″ and weigh 235 lbs. I have been overweight much of my life, nearly hitting 290 at one point. I was overweight when I ate animals (prior to 2000) and overweight for all the years I ate a lacto-ovo veg diet. And yes, after 4 years of eating no animals and animal products, I’m still overweight!
Yes, my blood #s (cholesterol etc) are fantastic now, but my point is that I’ve always had a tendency to be overweight. I don’t fit PCRM’s rigid model of what a vegan looks like.
Vegans are as diverse as the overall population. People are often surprised to find that I don’t eat animals or animal products. I don’t fit their preconceived notions of what a vegan looks like. I’m tall, male, overweight, with no tattoos, no piercings, and I wear conservative clothing.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with those types of personal adornments; they are wonderful if that’s what you like. My point is that PCRM’s ad is not only mean-spirited, it’s misleading and in the end, counterproductive.
Veganism is not a crash diet. It’s a noble endeavor to live lightly. It’s about differentiating between wants and needs. It’s about reducing suffering — and what grace that it can be done in a sound, logical, science-based way that either preserves or improves one’s own health in the process!
In my opinion, the end does not justify the means; in fact, I believe that the means dictate the end, so let’s take the high road to our destination, PCRM!
Well said, Dave. I hope such comments will lead some of the more critical commenters to maybe re-examine their thinking. We all sometimes are quick with judgements – later with reflection , we realize we may not have been accurate.
Thank you for posting this. I am in the process of converting to veganism and was going to start their 21 day challenge. But these adds put me off the whole site. So I am going to do the challenge on my own. I applaud you for taking the high road and resigning.
[…] my friend Ginny Messina, The Vegan RD, has found the words and she takes PCRM on in her piece Body Shaming Fails Vegans and Vegan Advocacy. I would love to hear your thoughts on the ad – and on Ginny’s […]
I am so proud to call you mentor and friend. The ad sickens me but, more importantly, the people who I have trusted for so long (PCRM) have truly disappointed me. They have let us down. Why must someone be the butt of moving our cause forward? Veganism, to me, is about compassion. To ALL beings.
Bravo, Ginny, Bravo!
Who is authoring PCRM’s ads now? PETA? Who’s going to take them seriously now?
I agree with Richard who wrote ” I say, at crucial times like these, we need to supply more information and less empathy. Let save the latter for the starving children in Africa.”
Why not applaud the work of these physicians ? They are being ‘Responsible’, instead of protecting one of their proven income sources. Obesity is a major contributing factor to many diseases resulting in an increased doctor and hospital visits..
Information is not necessarily helpful. This ad may turn off more people to veganism, which would hurt the animals. I almost feel ashamed to be vegan around this sort of ad.
Effectiveness, and compassion for all, should be goals.
a wonderful piece. thank you for leading the way in kindness, compassion and ethics of justice. this is one instance where i am glad to follow.
Ginny, your blog is always enlightening, helpful, and positive, and I greatly appreciated your reasonable and principled response to PCRM’s ad. Going vegan was the best decision I’ve ever made and has done incredible things for me, but it hasn’t made me a waif. Ads like these make me worry, whenever I’m in a group of vegans, that there’s going to be someone scrutinizing me for extra pounds and deeming me unworthy. But I believe that I can be an effective advocate for animals by being informed, understanding, positive, and compassionate. Your words and many of the comments here make me feel more confident that we can be a compassionate and inclusive community!
This post really resonated with me, for a variety of reasons. Well said, Ginny.
I’m disgusted by the ad. It is that type of arrogance that makes me a closet vegan. (I eat vegan but try to avoid discussions about it.) The holier-than-thou attitude of my vegan friends made me resist veganism for a long time. As someone who struggled with anorexia and other forms of eating disorders, I am appalled at the public body shaming and how they are equating thinness with health and superiority. Thank you for your thoughtful response and voice against false claims from the vegan community.
I am a proud meat-eater, and I saw those ads. The arrogance displayed towards people who are not vegan has done NOTHING to make me like or support their cause.
Regardless of how you feel about these ads, it’s important to remember the message that they’re trying to get across with them. I don’t think they intentionally meant to offend anyone or shame anyone for their body size–I think they were just trying to think of what people would pay attention to to get the message about nutrition and health across. Research does show that overall, vegans tend to be thinner than meat-eaters. This doesn’t mean that everyone who is vegan has to be thin, it just means that cutting meat and other animal products out may help reduce the chances of developing obesity, which can increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc.
Does this research actually show that a vegan diet makes people thinner? Or could it be that veganism tends to attract highly educated, higher-income, very health-conscious and driven people who tend to be thinner? Not trying to be snarky, but I have a sneaking suspicion these confounding factors have not been studied. It makes me think of the Harvard nurses health study, which showed the nurses who took estrogen had a 40% lower risk of heart disease than those who didn’t. Further research showed that women who took estrogen actually had a 30 % higher risk of heart disease. It turned out that those nurses in the previous study who took estrogen were the health-conscious ones, who also had other healthy habits which likely led to their improved outcomes. Methinks the veganism/thinness connection could be a similar red herring.
You don’t think they intentionally meant to shame people? Seriously?
We live in a society which hates fat people. In a society where a fat person states that they exercise, or eat healthily, or vegan, and are called a liar.
These ads purposely jump on the bandwagon of fat hatred and fat fear
That ad is not about nutrition. It is about shame and hatred.
As has been said before, thank you so much for this thoughtful post.
I suspect the people who see these types of ads as bringing out a positive message are completely unfamiliar with the social stigma and other problems that people who are overweight/obese have to deal with. I also suspect they have no idea how difficult weight loss actually is.
As a chunky vegan, I find McDougall’s newsletter about fat vegans absolutely abhorrent. Do I want to devote my life to healthy eating? No. Not all of my grains are going to be whole, not all of my food unprocessed. I still eat significant quantities of “healthy food” too, and I still get the prescribed 3.5 hours of exercise every week. Of course, if someone isn’t satisfied with my physical appearance, enough to warrant pushing me aside as a “bad advocate”, well, that’s their problem, not mine.
I applaud you for your stance against PCRM’s insensitive ads regarding obesity. I have been an obese vegan for 11 years now. I constantly battle to lose weight but strive to eat a healthy plant-based diet and exercise daily. I do not need to be shamed into losing weight nor be told by health “professionals” that I am inferior because of my weight. I am raising 4 vegan children to eat healthy and exercise AND to accept people for who they are, not what they weigh. This phenomenon, that veganism=skinny is just so tiring to someone who has battled with their weight their entire lives.
Dr. Barnard’s response to your critique was a piece of fluff. His response contained nothing of substance and neither provided a solid understanding of PCRM’s attack on obesity nor an apology to the millions who fight to be healthy daily, many who are now less likely to go vegan because of this type of advertising.
Ginny, you rock. I had a lot of respect for your integrity before, but now… you’re just off-the-charts awesome. I really appreciate your comments here and your courage in stepping down from PCRM’s board.
I did see just yesterday that PCRM posted a listing for a communications director. Imagine the mess that person will be stepping into. I feel for that individual. Though then again, a vacancy in that position could explain the lack of nuance in this ad campaign.
I was really struck by this text in Dr. Barnard’s statement:
“It is vital not to lose sight of the problems we are trying to tackle and to be as creative as we can in trying to address them.”
His words are curiously apt, because, in my opinion, that is PRECISELY why there’s such an uproar about this issue – many vegans are saying that we should not lose sight of the magnitude of the problems we’re trying to tackle by isolating and shaming overweight or obese vegans. If PCRM is serious about reducing the consumption of animal products in this country, isn’t the objective to ask ALL Americans, regardless of their size, to seriously consider veganism? I think it is a major misstep on Dr. Barnard’s part, and PCRM’s, to assume that the vegans objecting to this ad have anything but the magnitude of the problem we are all trying to tackle.
Also, the critically important distinction Dr. Barnard makes in his statement is not present in the ad. A VEGAN diet is quite simply not synonymous with a HEALTHY VEGAN diet. As we all know, there are many, many conflicting health messages out there regarding quantities of calories, sugars, sodium and fats that are considered “healthy,” and excess of specific nutrients in any diet, a vegan diet included, can result in weight gain and preclude weight loss.
It not only makes sense, but I have personal experience to testify to this fact. I related this story on PCRM’s Facebook page, but I was vegan for darned near 13 years before I left the “obese” BMI category for good a couple of years ago.
In fact, when I started out vegan, I was in just the “overweight” category, near the “normal” BMI. From there, I gained weight – all while still on a vegan diet – and reached that “obese” BMI, and stayed at that BMI for something like ten years.
As a vegan for almost sixteen years now, after a LOT of work with my diet and activity (and I’m talking a fair amount of activity – I train for marathons now), I’m still just barely in the “normal” BMI range. Why? It turns out that refined grain products, oils, nut butters and refined sugars are all vegan but in excessive quantities (easy to do) also contribute to obesity. Clearly, simply eating a plant-based diet did not render my BMI into the “healthy” BMI category, and I know from other vegan online communities that I am not an outlier in this experience.
The vegan community, PCRM included, has been known to (deservedly) address the conflated claims made by the dairy, beef and egg associations in their advertising. Why is PCRM falling prey to the same practices and making such an easy target of veganism?
Great post, Erin.
I work at a college and deal with the reality of young people with eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and shame everyday. It is unbelievable Dr. Barnard is supporting this ridiculous ad campaign. Very saddening.
Talk about confirming the popular belief that many vegans are puritanical and judgmental of the unwashed masses.
The fact is that cheese has been eaten since antiquity and is central to local culture identities in many places–this is a campaign that fails any conceivable measure of “effectiveness,” Dr. Barnard.
“Talk about confirming the popular belief that many vegans are puritanical and judgmental of the unwashed masses.”
Bad grammar aside, this quote sums up a big problem. Sometimes, I feel like being vegan has landed me back in a old-school protestant church, where I will never be free enough of sin to earn God’s love.
But then I come to Ginny’s page and I remember that most (or at least some) vegans aren’t like this. Most vegans actually care about bringing compassion into the world. And compassion can’t be a part time occupation. It needs to touch everywhere, even, gasp, fat people.
Dr. Barnard supports this campaign because he has a personal axe to grind with regard to cheese, and he is not ashamed to be hurtful or to blatantly lie (his oft quoted cheese is 70% fat, so it’s like Vaseline…not even close to true). Okay, so vegan is a good, ecological way to go. But vegan ideals cannot possibly be furthered by obvious distortions of the truth.
I can’t read all the comments since the ignorance displayed is horrible, but I did want to thank you for this well written article! I am a fat vegan and know what it is like to be fit and fat and a target of judgment. The funny thing is, regardless of my size, people have told me they are surprised I am vegan because of how healthy I look since I have a lot of color and energy. But I have also been treated differently in the animal rights community because I am fat as well. The animals will be better off if we concentrate on veganism and acceptance of all body types.
Thank you for writing this and for standing up for true compassion. I’m a fat vegan (fat since toddlerhood, vegan for many many years, vegetarian for over half my life), a scientist with a strong interest in nutrition and food, and a long time supporter of PCRM. Their recent actions have felt like a slap in the face, and I’ve gotten absolutely no response from them when I’ve tried to reach out and talk about what they’ve done. I feel like they’re purposefully being inflammatory and hateful.
Thank you for resigning from PCRM’s board. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but this act speaks volumes. I appreciate what you stand for, and that your actions are consistent with your words. I’ve loved your blog and work for a long time, but I’ve gained so much respect for you for how you’ve responded. I’ve experienced a lot of body shaming from the vegan and medical communities (as well as our culture in general, of course), and for an RD to stand up to baseless bullying like this is empowering and gives me hope.
I really can’t thank you enough.
Dr. Barnard says:
“The answer, of course, is to view it as a disease risk factor, like high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol. When it occurs in children, it should be a particular cause for alarm.”
When other issues occur in children, such as autism or cancer, it’s also alarming, but we don’t stoop to making fun of those children and making them feel as if there is something wrong with them to the point where no one will want to sit next to them on a plane. Instead we address their problems with proper medical care, ALONG WITH, compassion.
The good doctor’s response does nothing to justify why the PCRM needs to resort to these ugly shaming tactics in order to get their point across. Yeah, sure, we all get the joke doc, it’s just not very funny.
Ginny, I think you articulated perfectly what others have missed: an organization comprised of medical doctors and health professionals should not be in the business of putting down overweight people. The oath, I think, is to “do no harm.”
What MD’s *should* be doing is trying to help those who are in need of guidance. And the real shame of these ads, I think, is that they will alienate the very Americans whom PCRM claims to be trying to help. People who are overweight because of lifestyle choices and diet (which is of course not ALL overweight people) will invariably feel ashamed, irritated, or turned off by this TV ad. So what progress has been made in trying to coax them into more healthy and humane choices?
I admire you for walking away. Dr Barnard disappointed me with his response and lack of compassion on this issue. Eleven years ago I gained 30 lbs over a 2 months period when my thyroid went completely out of wack. I’ve kept those 30lbs since. Overweight comes from all sorts of origins and it’s as if he thinks that overweight solely comes from a lack of “education” of nutrition. Inciting shame in human beings never leads to positive outcomes.
Thank you Ginny, for a thoughtful and kind response. It’s so easy to be sharp and hard-hitting in a just cause and forget to check to see if anything unintended is happening concurrently. It’s not that easy being kind. And I agree with you that the ad is at cross purposes with itself.
I admire this stand you are taking, Ginny. As an obese vegan (yes, a ‘real’ one who eats plants not animals, doesn’t buy leather, etc), I feel marginalized by this PCRM ad. My reaction is shame, and the feeling that I must conceal my veganism to help PCRM (and other organizations like PETA) promote their message that vegans are slim. And OMG, I’m old too! How politically incorrect of me. Instead of being vegan, I must be the ‘anti-vegan.’
Good job, Neal Barnard (and Ingrid Newkirk, for that matter)–you have chilled me to the point where I don’t feel I should speak out in defense of animals because I don’t fit the right image. My will designated PCRM as a sole beneficiary of my estate upon my death. I’m calling my estate lawyer this week to redraft it.
thank you for your brave stand. really, i am in ‘community organizing’ to coin a phrase, and a way to win people to your cause…is,,,guess wht… not by villifying a group of people for the most shallow base and vile reasons. It’s not really helpful if you have a long term goal of changing animals lives for the better. It’s just another case of ‘fat people are gross’ line of ‘reasoning’ and the easy excuse for bigotry.
I actually have to side with PCRM on the mentioning of obesity in general. While yes, it is an oversimplification, it is true that vegans are slimmer on average, and I think drawing attention to this (in some respectful way) is an important requirement to make a health argument for veganism. Also, I don’t think it sets veganism up for failure the way some people have suggested, only because, once you go to PCRM’s website, they do a pretty solid job of leading you towards a particularly healthy vegan diet, one that most people would see at least some improvement on. Also, they almost always qualify the “vegan-weight” connection with “low-fat vegan diet” and the like.
However, I agree that the ad in question was offensive, only because it did purposely make overweight people seem annoying and something to avoid. And while they can argue that they are merely representing our bigoted culture, they should be working against something like that and not embracing it, so that was wrong.
Anyway, I still think it’s great that you had the courage to resign because they went against your values. Most people probably wouldn’t.
FYI. No fat person is ever going to go to PCRM’s website after seeing that ad. For those of us with emotional eating issues, we are far more likely to go straight to McDonalds. Perhaps PCRM is secretly being bribed by McDs to up their sales. (Kidding?)
Trust me, they are loosing potential vegans every day with their ads. I’m sure there are plenty of overweight people thinking about going vegan right now who are so put off by those ads that they won’t look any further.
You have to understand. The only people really motivated by fat shaming ads are people who are already thin and scared of getting fat. People who have been fat for a long time just zone out when we hear this stuff… again.
I got scared skinny when I did my stint in nursing assistant training for 16 weeks in a nursing home. Who cares if it’s vegetarian, vegan or whatever. I am a vegetarian now, but I was a vegan for 6 months to get rid of the weight. The reason? In my NA training I used a “Hoyer Lift” to move our patients. It was a crane for humans. Put the overweight people in the sling and move them so you can at least clean them up. It was a tragic scene. The bed sores, the diseases they suffer from a lifetime of over eating. Yes, over eating. Most obese people do not have a “genetic condition or disease.” Or in the last few years our genes must have changed dramatically because obese people are new in the US in the last 100 years. Most of the patients at the nursing facility were stuffing their faces just like I did. The new cigarette ads by the I think the CDC are pretty graphic about what happens to smokers – they are not even trying to be humorous. What is it going to take to get people to just say “no” to food, if it isn’t a genetic disorder or “hereditary. Body image? Shame? The kid gloves approach doesn’t work – get moving and change the eating habits or that Hoyer lift is waiting.
Well said Rhonda!
Rhonda, I am sorry but obesity is definitely not caused by will power alone… I am actually quite familiar with obesity research so I know. By the way I am not overweight so I’m not defending myself.
You’re right that it’s kind of incorrect to say that obesity is caused by genetics. It’s not really as though some people are born with a fat gene and doomed to be fat. It actually does happen, but usually it’s just a poor lifestyle that starts very young. To be fair, you have to admit that a child raised in an obese home has no control over what their parents feed them and other lifestyle choices their parents make for them. I’m sure you would like to think that they can make the choice to be healthier at any point in adulthood, but that’s not even remotely true. Your brain structure and fat composition changes greatly due to overeating, inactivity, and the like, and makes these things more likely to continue. For a severely obese person, it takes a ridiculous amount of will power and fighting against their bodies to exercise or cut down on food, far far more than it would take me and probably you too (though obviously I don’t know your highest weight or BMI).
So yes, it’s not really genetic. And yes, these people often do eat more than skinnier people. But it’s not because they have less will power, it’s because once you reach a certain point you can’t just switch your metabolism back on to what it was when you were born.
Eating, unlike smoking, is not something you can just quit doing. To comparing eating to smoking is faulty logic. And contrary to what you believe, many, many overweight people do NOT eat more than their slimmer counterparts.
I feel like you and others that have made similar comments should really have a look at obesity research. It’s actually a much more complicated issue than you would think. This is borne out when you consider the amount of time and money spent in society trying to combat fat with seemingly little results. Statistics show that only a small percentage of people who lose a significant amount of weight actually keep it off. What gives? I don’t know either! Lets support open inquiry into these issues that doesn’t simplify causation.
Thanks for doing the right thing Ginny, and thanks for this post. To those who think that shaming people is an effective strategy to get them to change their habits, they may want to read Nick Cooney’s Change of Heart, and The Science of Willpower by Kelly McGonigal. Many studies have been done which demonstrate that shaming is not effective. I would prefer that the vegan movement embody compassion for everyone, and I’m happy to report that you can use very effective strategies to convince others to become vegan without ever being unkind.
Thank you Ginny for this article. I respect your authenticity and integrity. I don’t really follow PCRM and hadn’t seen the ads, but am indeed surprised that they would take this sort of low-blow approach.
On the other hand, I find the whole ‘body acceptance’ movement hard to swallow. I am aware that there are a host of factors that determine weight. I used to be overweight myself and am prone to gaining weight easily. Luckily healthy eating and exercise works for me and keeps me at a healthy weight. I think it’s curious that ‘fat acceptance’ appears to be a mostly American phenomenon. I’m a US expat living in France and in my two years living here, I can confirm that the ‘French paradox’ is a reality. Why might this be? Perhaps these PCRM ads will force Americans to take a good, hard look at their eating/exercise habits.
Overall, I think common sense would dictate that it’s not nice for a group of doctors (or anyone) to make people feel bad about their bodies, and such an approach isn’t going to win veganism any converts. Nevertheless, the evidence is there for all to see – obesity is a serious problem in North America. How are you going to solve it?
[…] I received as well as reading the comments on well written blog posts on the subject such as this and this, that body image and fat shaming are a serious issue in the vegan […]
This is tough for me. I’ve struggled with eating disorders through high school, college, and only now am “getting better” a year after graduation. I understand the pressure to be thin, to be fit, and what that can do to a person. But I also understand why we value these things. Fitness and health are important, and those things tend to go along with a certain (yes, thin) aesthetic. If a vegan diet is to be promoted as healthy, then yes, people are going to comment on thinness. Call it shallow. Call it shameful. But it is what it is – and it’s not changing.
[…] of awesome points have been made about these campaigns, here and here. But something I haven’t seen mentioned that really bothers me, is the idea of commodifying a […]
Ginny, thank you for writing this piece. I hope one day I get to sit next to Neal Barnard on a plane. 🙂
I’ve been vegan for a few years. I’ve never been skinny, but I’m not fat either. My weight fluctuates and I go from thin-ish, to sometimes 10-15lbs overweight. Anyway, I work out pretty regularly, and do a lot of cardio. My entire family is really big. I’m by far the smallest (by no less than 80lbs). They all also deal with a lot of health problems that I don’t have to deal with because I don’t eat animals or their byproducts. The point is though, just because someone is vegan doesn’t guarantee being skinny. My boyfriend lost 30lbs over the course of a year when we first went vegan. he was a little chubby when we started dating, but now he’s a lean, mean, fighting vegan machine! haha. I work out more than he does, and eat far BETTER (he frequently noshes on french fries, pizzas, brownies, cookies, etc) yet I’m not the thin one. IMHO, sometimes genetics do come into play, and I’m always going to have a certain body type. I will continue to eat well and exercise because I like being healthy, not because I want to fit the image of what a vegan should look like. And really, being vegan should be about the animals, and if someone is a fat vegan, who gives a shit? if their heart is in the right place isn’t that more important than promoting a certain image?
As a vegetarian trying to become vegan, and someone who has battled with obesity her whole life because of severe and inadequately treated thyroid disease, it is so disheartening for me to see such holier than ‘thou’ ignorance and bigotry against fat people by some in the responses here, and by Neal Bernard.
Dr. Barnard’s response is disheartening.
I am a long-time vegan with a colon disease that is often stigmatized (Crohn’s disease). How is it exactly that a survey showing “that 39 percent of Americans did not know where their colon is” justifies a billboard with the text, “Hot dogs cause butt cancer” and the subtext, “Processed meats increase colorectal cancer risk”? If PCRM were interested in meeting people where they are, the text would have been “Hot dogs cause intenstine cancer.”
Instead of providing information that helps people make good choices to prevent disease, the approach seems to be to stigmatize people with colorectal cancer, and by extension, other colon diseases — by falsely equating the colon with the “butt” (which I’m pretty sure most 5th graders know is the “rectal” part of that disease).
All to say that this response and the analogy to the crass “butt cancer” ads underscores the accuracy of your criticism about how this ad ostracizes people who are overweight. I agree with the problem that PCRM identifies but disagree with this approach as the solution.
I worked in an “alternative” environment during college. Lots of people who were “*ists” among my coworkers. One valuable lesson I learned is that if you care about your cause, NEVER harsh on someone outside of it, while being identified with your cause.
They will remember. They will hold it against your group and your cause, fairly or not, for years to come. They will not listen and they will talk against your mission.
[…] research. Additionally, I’m glad to mention her this evening, because she recently wrote a tremendously brave and impressive post on the recent PCRM “body shaming” campaigns which I’ve written about here and here. I’m […]
I hope Dr. Barnard knows that publicity stunt style commercials come at a high price: the loss of credibility.
PETA has a lot of useful citations on their site, but I can’t use them when talking with people unless I can trace those citations back to a source before PETA.
PETA could declare that the sky is blue, but people will automatically not believe it with the “PETA” name associated with that utterance.
The big strength of the PCRM is medical/scientific credibility.
They are going to piss that way if they do many more commercials like this. No disrespect.
This is my first time ever reading your blog and I’ve officially bookmarked it so I remember to come back.
I admire you for your decision to leave the Board. Having been on it for so long, I’m sure it was a very difficult decision, but you stood true to what you believed in and saw that their views were no longer meshing with your ideals. Good for you.
I, by no means, am big enough to feel ashamed or uncomfortable on an airplane, but I am overweight and working on it every single day. It’s been a huge struggle for years. I am slowly adopting a vegan lifestyle and have faltered many times, but I’m not giving up. I do believe that a plant-based diet is going to lead me in the right direction for weight loss, as long as I continue to exercise and quit all the bad stuff. It’s certainly difficult, but I’m going to work at it. Ads like this I don’t think are effective and they are definitely not sending a positive message about the vegan lifestyle. I think a non-vegan would look at this and say, “Wow, look at those snotty vegans thinking they’re better than everyone else. Screw that.” People can be EXTREMELY closeminded about this lifestyle because they are not at all educated on it. They think we much on carrots all day and starve. It’s simply not true, but we’re never going to convince ANYONE with these kinds of negative advertisements.
The Beet-Eating Heeb is going to risk doing something that few, if any, commenters on this post have done: Stake out a centrist position.
On the one hand, Ginny and most of the commenters are exactly right: Shaming fat people should be eschewed and condemned.
On the other hand, the backlash to this latest PCRM video is typical of another disheartening trend in our culture: Taking everything so seriously, being so hypersensitive, and losing our senses of humor.
All this said, PCRM obviously displayed bad judgment in this case and will hopefully use more discretion in the future.
The airline commercial could easily be “opt to sit next to a runner” as, using Dr. Barnard’s logic, runners are generally “slimmer and trimmer.” It’s one thing for vegans to laugh at sensible humor, but this antagonistic, self-righteous humor isn’t viewed that way by the rest of society.
How offensive would it be for someone to start the “opt to sit next to skeletor” airline campaign? Or, to put up a billboard of an extra thin, pale person (we all know these people!) that shows ribs, bones, and no muscles that says “Your body on a vegan diet.” Most of us WOULDN’T be laughing!
Having a sense of humor means that WE can laugh at OURSELVES. PCRM went overboard – unprofessional for a group of Doctors and Dietitians. Leave the “over-the-top” marketing to PETA. Most people don’t think much of them any more.
Thanks for this wonderful blog post Ginny!
Thanks for the article, I deeply agree. To promote values veganism is about in public, we cannot advocate opposite values, this is simply counterproductive and reflects a kind of helplessness rather than sound, fact-based, scientific approach to diet and health issues. This is very shallow, misguided approach, hope PCRM will realise this and change.
[…] out this article about the counterproductiveness of body shaming as a tactic in vegan activism. Share […]
[…] The Vegan RD >> Body Shaming Fails Vegans and Vegan Advocacy […]
Sorry I didn’t drop by earlier to comment but this is really inspiring. Displays of integrity like yours seem so rare that it’s completely burned me out on veganism. Thanks for standing up for your beliefs. Shouldn’t that be, after all, why people go vegan in the first place? You’re setting an inspiring example. You rock!
Thank you for this thoughtful, insightful post.
I hope PCRM changes their advertising trend, because they are losing credibility and ads shaming peoples bodies are just fiercely disappointing.
thank you for being you and taking a stand.
as an overweight person, i do feel shame and struggle with myself. i struggle every day with physical and eomtional issues. to those who think it is because of choice or laziness, ask yourself if you want to be in my position.
i am against prejudices of any kind. making fun of someone because of their body size (too fat or too thin) because it does not fit the norm is wrong.
[…] worry. It’s probably better that way. If you still wanna know, Ginny Messina wrote an excellent article on the whole thing.) To be honest, it has been bugging me for quite some time how veganism is often […]
I don’t have time to read the above posts…but I completely support PCRM. Obesity is a far more important issue than the “feelings” of a few obese vegans.
You should take the time to read them, since I think it might help your perspective. There is a big difference between “hurting people’s feelings” and endorsing efforts that end up promoting bigotry and bullying. And we should be able to promote veganism in more respectful ways.
If you believe that PCRM is “promoting bigotry and bullying” then I can see why you would want to resign. I think that you are mistaken and that Dr. Barnard’s letter eloquently speaks to PCRM’s motivations. Obesity and metabolic syndrome are perhaps the most important health issues in the USA.
Ginny – I am very sorry that you felt compelled to resign from PCRM’s advisory board. I appreciate your position, and I can see both sides of the issue. Thank you for posting Dr Barnard’s response. That said, I wish you could have found a way to remain on the board to continue to add your voice to influence PCRM’s important work.
Thank you for all of the work you share with the larger community in your books, articles, and blog.
I haven’t seen the fat-shaming ads, but they don’t surprise me because I’ve been monitoring Dr. Barnard’s 21 day Kickstart forum for a week, and receiving the e-mail “encouragement”. The tone is shaming and blaming.The diet may not be safe for anyone, let alone those diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Eat more grain and fruit? Eat lots of beans (more carbs.). How’s that going to work for blood sugar levels. Well, the participants themselves tell us: they report that their “numbers” are not going down. This is met with more blaming and ridiculous and potentially dangerous diet advice.
Sorry you didn’t see fit to post my comment. I suspect it was the brief reference to low-carb diets. I’m not a proponent of either Vegan or Low-carb, or any diet, but there is an independent study which showed participants fared better at weight loss with low-carb, and the authors did admit it would be safe for the short term. But of course we don’t know how many (if any) of the participants were women. As with Barnard, other-diet founders are well versed in shaming and blaming WOMEN for, essentially, being women with our female bodies doing what they *will* do to protect us, and provide us with our own estrogen stored in our fat.
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not fixated about female beauty. (It) is an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” Naomi Wolf
The majority of the members at the 21 day Kickstart (online) are women. The tone there is shaming and blaming. But really that is not unique to Barnard et al. Revere animals. Hate women.
Sorry! I was away from my computer so didn’t get to post your first comment earlier.
Thank you Ginny for having the integrity to stand up for others,
To those of you who are so quick to condemn the obese, dismiss their feelings and who are so comfortable marginalizing another human being, this is the letter I sent to PCRM:
I don’t have the opportunity to see many of PCRM’s ads. I don’t have a television in my home, I really only listen to NPR, don’t read mass media news and haven’t seen any here in my home town of Seattle, so I only hear about them occasionally. So, it was through your forum that I heard about PCRM’s “airline” ad. While I have no problem with any ad that shows obesity as a result of eating animal products, in the same way that I have no problem with the new ads that show the physical results of smoking, I have a huge issue with ads that “jokingly” portray the obese in a negative light. The condition is painful (physically and mentally), often chronic, and ultimately, terminal. Would you jokingly suggest that an airline passenger pay more to sit next to a healthy individual rather than say, someone suffering from kidney disease, because their body may emit an unpleasant odor? Or perhaps someone with a fused knee joint who cannot fold up their leg? At what point exactly do you determine which health conditions it is ok to mock? Do any of YOU know what it’s like to suffer this condition and spend your entire life fighting it and yet still suffer the slings and arrows of painful comments and treatment even from those whose purported purpose is to help? Somehow I doubt it.
I’m sad that Dr. Barnard thinks it’s funny or that anyone thinks that the overweight can’t be taken seriously as vegans. Yes, I am obese. I am physically hungry all the time, even after bariatric surgery. It is infinitely worse in the evenings. I am addicted to food. I would like medical help and therapy but I have no insurance. I grew up in a home with a morbidly obese abuser who forced me to eat when I wasn’t hungry. What I didn’t finish at one meal was brought out for the next meal. He beat me if I threw it up and kept a padlock on the fridge the rest of the time and often told me I didn’t “need” to eat anything. That man, my father, is now dying of kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes. I KNOW why. I try my best to follow PCRM’s low-fat vegan guidelines but sometimes the baggage of what I endured overwhelms me and I fail. I’m telling you this because I am the face of the obese person your ads think it is acceptable to make fun of.
Is it funny now?
I’m an overweight vegan. I’m also a registered nurse and I can outwork a lot of people. I’d like to see many do what I do in a shift. Cruelness to people over their weight is just cruel. Working in the medical field I’ve seen many conditions wreck havoc on people’s bodies, not just weight.
My weight problems started early in my childhood. My mother survived the Holocaust, I starting comforting myself with food to survive my mother. You never know who a person is or what they have been through just by looking at them.
I think the vegan community (so called since I don’t believe in it) needs to be more accepting themselves of all people and not judge by looks. I wish people were more like the animals and care how you treat them, not how you look.
Unfortunately, the PCRM is just shooting itself in the foot. PETA used to be a very respected organization until they started with all their publicity stunts, now people just roll their eyes when you mention PETA and they become a punch line with late night talk show hosts. PCRM is heading down the same road with these stupid ads.
They also are just reinforcing the belief that vegans care more for animals than people. As many of the comments have shown there is a real phobia boarding on neurosis, among people when it comes to fat and the sense that the overweight and obese somehow have less value because of a number on a scale. I have considered becoming vegan in the past but can’t really handle all the dogma that comes along with it. (the reason I left the church too but that is a story for another day)
How can people call themselves vegan and compassionate yet support behavior that if directed towards any other group of people (i.e gays, the disabled, etc) would be condemned. It doesn’t line up and seems hypocritical of those who have commented on this board in support of the PCRM’s ad campaign and made just flat out rude comments about those who are overweight.
I admire you Ginny for following your heart and doing what you thought was right and resigned form the PCRM. I hope Dr. Barnard will rethink his stance before the PCRM becomes the new PETA.
Its great that everyone has pointed out to PCRM has done wrong. Your feedback to PCRM is very beneficial to them. I am sure they won’t make that same mistake again.
All that PCRM has done to help people shouldn’t be all thrown away just because of one mistake.
If they are searching for a communications director, they apparently want change and improvements for the future.
I love PCRM even if they weren’t perfect one time. I bet they will be better than ever now thanks to your feedback.
Thank you Ginny for a beautifully written and thoughtful post.
[…] (I don’t want to link to those ads. Instead I’d like you to read Ginny Messina’s reply to these […]
I agree with Dr. Barnard.
I am obese and came to the vegan diet in efforts to lose weight. Whether you all like it or not, using the idea of a vegan diet for weight loss is a great selling point and most people are fixated on trying to lose weight and could give a crap about the environment, animal cruelty and would rather pop a pill for any disease condition rather than taking responsibility for their food choices. I’m also a nurse and that’s the general consensus around health.
The truth is, despite all the outliers of obese/fat vegans (such as myself), the research is promising for obtaining one’s natural weight on a vegan diet. Reasearch shows that vegan’s have the lowest BMI compared to meat eaters, vegetarians, and fish eaters. Let’s brag about it and get people on board!
We live in a nation where people are chronically dieting to lose weight. People are willing to adopt crappy diets like paleo, Atkins, cabbage soup, whatever. This may be the golden ticket to convince the vast majority of the mainstream population who are struggling with their weight to go vegan!
Being 45 now, I have watched all my friends and former classmates pile on the pounds over the years…none of them fat in high school. The fat vegans here are outliers; most people just need to understand that they need to put down the twinkies and chili cheese fries. A plant-based diet WILL make most people healthier and lighter. I know of two people personally who dropped 40 lbs and another who dropped 10 (she is very tiny to begin with). Most Americans are not fat despite being health conscious/ regularly exercising vegans…they are fat because the eat horrendous sugar and transfat laden diets.
Interesting discussion! I really learned a lot. I had never heard of fat shaming before, and I personally am not all that compassionate towards obese people (being honest!). Reading all that has given me a new level of understanding, and I know that giving people compassion rather than ridicule really helps personal growth.
I just want to say that I disagree with the majority of people that say they are obese while eating very healthy and exercising. I’m not disagreeing that you are doing this, but rather that you are doing it correctly. Now, I know that this might offend you, however stick with me for a moment.
A few reference points; (1) The Biggest Loser – a terrible show, promotes poor thinking on weight loss, and all that – BUT, all those people do lose weight, you can’t argue with that. (2) I do Crossfit, an intense form of exercise and there are no obese people there, (3) when I go to the gym at 6am on Monday morning, I only see fairly trim people. (4) I love Bikram Yoga, and I don’t see almost any obese people there. I could go on…
I am a personal coach, and have coached many people that are overweight, and say similar things to what some of the people have commented here, e.g. “I eat healthy and exercise, and I’m still obese” – like it’s in their genetics, or not their fault, or something along those lines. In my experience these are limiting beliefs.
Obese people that think they are eating and exercising right but are still overweight in my experience are doing these things wrong:
(1) they have no real understanding of weight loss and nutrition – yes, you can eat healthy and be overweight, often all it takes are small tweaks, but even worse in most of these cases they have a certain stubbornness about it, and an unwillingness to be open minded. Weight loss is a very complicated subject, and often you need a ton of really hard science to make it work.
(2) often they have no real understanding of exercise and weight loss. There are lots of people that spend 5, 10 even 20 hours in the gym and are overweight. This is also where science plays a part. I guarantee that no obese person has a dozen books on their shelf with some really sophisticated fitness and training techniques.
(3) in my experience (and this is a gross generalization, so I apologize) most obese people (and I’ve met a ton) lack a certain mental toughness, especially about being physically pushed and experiencing pain. You aren’t going to see obese people in marathons, ironman competitions, triathlons, tough mudder, etc etc. Most really fit and in shape people I know have a love for pain and being pushed to the max, other people don’t.
I guarantee without a doubt that anyone can get within a reasonable sense of fitness, body shape and health with the right nutrition, training and discipline. In fact, anyone that says that it won’t work, I bet I could make it work for them. I promise that they haven’t even come close to what they need to do to get into great shape, and when put into the heat of what is required will want to quit or make excuses.
Also be careful with playing the health/sickness/something-wrong-with-me card. Certainly some people have medical conditions that effect weight loss and weight gain, and some people have things wrong with their body that make certain exercise hard. However, in many cases this is often used as an excuse (don’t hate me!). A guy started Bikram Yoga recently (which is extremely hard, and I’ve seen many obese people leave halfway through their first session because they couldn’t handle it), and he didn’t have any kidneys.
This year I’ve put on about 20 pounds, so I’m not Mr Perfect. I’ve been pretty relaxed, let loose a bit and let my nutrition slip. I’ve got a fairly solid build and put on weight very easily. So I’ve bought some calipers so I can do my skinfolds and measure my body fat weekly, have been doing Crossfit, Bikram and a new martial art, have been researching tons of science on Vegan nutrition especially in terms of weight loss, and have put on a mild competition with some of my friends to get into shape with prizes.
I’m confident that I’ll get into great shape pretty quickly, mostly due to me pushing my limits, and enjoying the pain of the experience, and my never-ending search for great science and information, and my open mind to try almost anything. I’ve not got a big head here, and it’s slower to get in shape at 35 than 25, but I’m under no illusions that it will happen with the right plan.
I’ve had obese friends and in just about every case this is what I found: (1) hated exercising in the mornings, especially really early – often the best time to exercise, (2) weren’t willing to do an extreme challenge to make it happen, e.g. going to a 1 or 3 month kickboxing camp in Thailand, or something else – basically not doing a massive transformation experience, (3) had the wrong goals, e.g. not training for a certain event in 2 years, (4) not constantly learning enough – you might try 100 eating and training plans before you find what works for you – this is the most important part, that level of determination and persistance, (5) not having a real passion for exercise, like doing it to get results, not doing it because they love it.
Now my post my even be construed as negative or an attack or something, it isn’t. I think the most important skill for anyone to learn in this situation is self-compassion. To learn how to not beat yourself up, deal with making mistakes, be kind to yourself, and make yourself feel good, plus dealing with negative emotions effectively.
I just want to say honestly that I feel a certain judgement of really overweight and obese people. I’m going to work to change this. Part of this is because I know that even if they have 100 reasons why they are obese and nothing can be done about it, it could be changed with the right plan. However I’m really giving enough understanding to their own personal circumstances, and what challenges they may be going through, and what makes it hard for them.
My personality is a bit more of the aggressive go-getter type so I have trouble understanding those that don’t get results no matter what. It’s hard though for many people to lose weight and deal with their situation. There can be a ton of emotional baggage, bad previous experiences, and issues under the surface. So I’m going to make an effort to be more understanding.
I’m glad to hear that you are making more of an effort to be more understanding and less judgmental. That you are able to recognize that you have an issue with this speaks volumes about you. One thing that struck me with your comment is that the theme seems to be that people would be physically fit if they put enough effort into it. I agree with this and can see how this can cause you to feel judgmental.
But try looking at it this way. If a person is not putting all their effort into being physically fit, where is their effort going? Are they doing other amazing things with their life? Just because someone is overweight doesn’t mean they are not contributing. Many scientists, writers, teacher, and such are overweight because they are putting all their energy into their careers. A grad student who’s life revolves around school might not have time to prepare good food or to exercise. On the other end of the spectrum are people with mental or physical health issues. For someone suffering from major depression taking a shower is the equivalent of a five mile run for anyone else. A mother with small children may be putting all her effort into making sure her children are safe and healthy and putting her own needs aside for a while.
The point is that yes, if more effort was applied, most people would be in great shape. But not everyone has the effort to give at this moment. That doesn’t mean they always won’t.
Basically, everyone is putting out an equal amount of effort, just not in the same directions.
I hope this was helpful for you =]
For some people losing weight is very difficult and for the majority of people they will gain back any weight lost within 5 years. There is scientific research that shows yo-yo dieting not only creates health problems but contributes to weight gain. Please read Dr. Glenn Gaesser for more information on obesity myths.
Yes, I have stopped putting effort into dieting, because it is much healthier for me to focus on healthy eating and exercise. I have been a fat vegan for 11 years. My weight is stable, so clearly I’m not overeating. I’m also extremely healthy according to my doctor, so I must be doing something right!
Hotdogs may cause butt cancer, but I’m afraid that this group of physicians is reinforcing the idea that veganism causes mental deterioration. Please take your B12, Dr. Barnard!
[…] cult of body-shaming runs deep in Western Culture. It’s even in healthy advertising; national newspapers, Returning to ‘Skinny […]
I don’t think it was their best ad, but I don’t think we should try and tear down great organisations just because of one or two bad decisions. I think they’ve done a lot of good work exposing conflicts of interest at the USDA, lobbying against government subsidies to the meat and dairy industries, lifesaving work with diabetes patients etc. Plus their anti-vivisection lobbying.
Ginny, I hope you’ll do some blog posts in future about some of the good PCRM are doing and not just criticising them when you think they’ve done wrong.
What does veganism have to do with weight and health? I’m a vegan for the sake of the animals’ health and well-being, not mine.
I was skinny before becoming vegan at 42, and am skinny now at 55, but it is far from effortless and has nothing to do with being vegan. I know plenty of non-vegan, heavy drinkers/smokers my age who are thin and fit without trying.
As a vegan, I have a right to eat sugary fatty vegan food if I want to! My primary concern is the welfare of abused and exploited animals who have no say in their situation.
Holier-than-thou vegans should stop equating veganism with young thin healthy bodies because they’ll end up with egg on their face when they find out they’re just as mortal as the nonvegans.
For the record, I’d rather sit next to an obese person than an arrogant vegan.
I hope you don’t mind me saying, but this post epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the vegan movement.
If you look at the top of the Wheat Belly homepage:
you’ll see that William Davis MD is not only fat shaming, but also completely distorting the science to the extent that he blames the obesity epidemic on wheat. Furthermore, his solution to the obesity epidemic is for us to eat more meat.
So there’s a website that engages in fat-shaming, blaming obesity on a vegan food staple and touting meat as the solution to the problem, and you and your readers are spending God knows how many hours bashing PCRM and letting Mr Davis get away completely scot free.
Do you see the problem ?
The PCRM ad may have been a little on the provocative side, but unlike the Wheat Belly website, it was at least vaguely rooted in truth. Saturated fat is one of the leading causes of obesity, and cheese is the leading contributor of saturated fat in the American diet.
Please also take a look at the body mass index section of this webpage:
Quote: “on average, the evidence supports the notion that becoming vegan is conducive to permanent weight loss.”
Thank you so much for this article and for resigning from PCRM. I have been overweight for 5 years and vegan for 4. The airline commercial felt like a slap in my face.
I just found out about those ads and I cannot support PCRM any longer. I was pleased to find out that you had taken a stand on this issue!
As someone who gets marginalized for both being fat and vegan, it is particularly hurtful when it comes from animal rights/vegan groups.
The simple reality is that fat shaming is oppressive and denigrates the message of compassion for all living beings.
[…] I received as well as reading the comments on well written blog posts on the subject such as this and this, that body image and fat shaming are a serious issue in the vegan […]
[…] one / two / three. Also a shout-out to Rad Fat […]
[…] one / two / three. Also a shout-out to Rad Fat […]
[…] on whether veg*n activists should use health arguments, but hopefully we can agree not to use body-shaming to promote veg*nism. Addressing size discrimination might not be a priority of effective altruism, but that’s no […]
[…] on whether veg*n activists should use health arguments, but hopefully we can agree not to use body-shaming to promote veg*nism. Addressing size discrimination might not be a priority of effective altruism, but that’s no […]
As a vegan advocate, I would like to have some more information on the statement that “people are actually more likely to be open to a message when it comes from someone who is like them”.
Could you please provide some articles that I could read and share about it? Thank you.