Is (watching) a post-mortem about fat-shaming?

So the Philosophe and I recently found ourselves watching a one-hour doccie about a post-mortem of an obese person (a) because we had already had lunch, and b) because it’s been in the news about being a horrible fat-shaming spectacle, so I knew I needed to watch it to either agree with or be irritated by the Twitterers.


I was actually expecting to be horrified by it, which in truth I was initially, mostly because I am not as strong of stomach as medical professionals need to be, but more because I stupidly, and prematurely, bought into the media hype about it being offensive. To wit:

From The Guardian:

By using this woman’s body to speak for her unique history and experience, it is intimated that obesity is the fault of the individual, rather than an indicator of intersections of poverty and class, genetics, medical issues and psychology. The body, taken completely out of context, becomes dehumanised. Such portrayals can only intensify the pathologising of the plump, fuelling prejudice of a growing number of people. This programme is pure spectacle. If Obesity: The Post Mortem reveals anything, it’s that even in death, the obese are not free from gratuitous fat-shaming.

From New Statesman:

But let’s shove aside the ongoing, active debate about the actual correlation between size and health and assume for a moment that it’s all true, that fatness is both as clear a predictor of sickness as we’re told and entirely within the control of the individual, whatever their class, resources and physical limitations. Why would that be any reason for abuse, ritualised shaming, and denial of medical care?

Cue shock and horror, which indeed there was, but only for the reasons I mentioned (me not being strong of stomach). At no point did anyone – medical professionals nor talking heads – say anything to denigrate or “shame” the woman being autopsied. To the contrary, they only spoke about her gift to the medical profession (because she had donated her cadaver to science) in terms of being given the opportunity to see – and show – what happens on the inside when you get dangerously fat.

And those who think that the “fat-shaming” is the result of seeing what happens to the inside of your body when you you get too fat: just no. That kind of thinking is only the result of operating in a (social media) world where you’ve been encouraged to believe that anything slightly tricky or upsetting to watch or think about has to be translated into something offensive, or worthy of a goddamn hashtag.

It doesn’t. Fat probably won’t kill most of you. Neither will allowing for a bit of nuance.