Fat Gay Vegan writes about body shaming, kindness and how veganism should not be used as a method for weight loss
Living as a vegan means you have chosen to reduce your dependence on animal-derived products as much as possible.
Simple, right? Veganism, first and foremost, is about reducing harm to non-human animals. There is no getting around this basic fact! However, as we enter 2018 there appears to be a bit of confusion surrounding the meaning of the v word.
A quick glance at mainstream press, plant based food advertising, and celebrity gossip sites might leave you thinking that veganism is all about getting thin and losing weight. I’ve lost count of the sensationalised stories attempting to champion veganism as a sure fire way to get skinny and even some of our best-selling plant based brands use body image as a marketing tool to get consumers eating vegan.
You might be thinking, “Hey, FGV. Whatever gets people interested in veganism is a good thing.”
Well, I would like to delve a little deeper for a moment by opening up a discussion about oppression and body shaming. Eating plant based food is not the key to losing weight and promoting images of what people should look like only contributes to our communities in negative ways. Imagery and messages about having a ‘better’ body only add to the stress of living in the modern world.
There is not one ideal body type and to suggest you will achieve this mythical physique by eating vegan is simply unethical marketing trickery.
Every single day of our lives we are inundated with the idea that we are not quite good enough. Advertising works to make us feel incomplete, unfinished or not thin enough all in the name of trying to convince us to buy things. Making people feel inadequate in order to try to convince them to live as a vegan is the opposite of compassion. Actually, it’s a form of oppression.
The daily onslaught of imagery we are bombarded with about weight loss, body perfection, and getting thin doesn’t just make people feel bad, it contributes to depression and negatively impacts our mental wellbeing.
It is a mammoth struggle to convince big name companies and animal charities to not use body shaming tactics to sell veganism. Sometimes it feels like an insurmountable challenge. But we can make a difference by starting to challenge body shaming imagery and language in our own real life and online circles.
First of all, remind yourself that another person’s body is none of your business unless that person has directly asked you for guidance or advice. Body shape is about as personal and complicated a topic as you can get. However, it is a topic on which everyone from your cousin you see once a year all the way up to complete strangers has an opinion.
You don’t need to tell any adult on the planet why you think they are overweight. If you feel the desire to make a comment about someone’s body shape or size, take a moment to talk yourself through the situation.
Why do you want to comment on their body? Do you understand that it will hurt their feelings? Can you imagine what it does to a person’s self-esteem to hear constant negative messages about their body every single day?
If a non-vegan asks you if they will lose weight by adopting a vegan diet, be honest with them and say you don’t know. There is no way you could know what will happen to their body but you can reassure them there are countless resources online about eating nutritiously as a vegan if that is a concern for them. Remind them that veganism is about helping animals, not anything else. Kindly let them know that every person is on their own journey of self-care and that veganism can be a small part of their personal wellness, but eating to suit their body and lifestyle is not a fundamental component of veganism.
Looking after our own bodies is a tough business that is only made more trying by people telling us we are doing it all wrong. If you are a vegan activist concerned with getting people to go and stay vegan, don’t use weight loss as a selling point.
We need to stop connecting a lifestyle concerned with helping animals with strategies for losing weight. Treat others with kindness, compassion and respect.
Celebrate people for their contributions to animal protection and be sure to challenge friends, family, businesses and charities who try and tell people that veganism will lead to weight loss.
Sean O’Callaghan aka Fat Gay Vegan has a monthly column in Vegan Life Magazine. To make sure you never miss what he has to say, you can subscribe here.