Eating Bull May Be Fictional, but Sadly the Fat-Shaming It Depicts Is Not

“There’s not a day goes by I don’t know I’m fat, because no one will let me forget it.”

By Larali21 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Larali21 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

I heard the above sentence from a tearful, severely overweight teenager several years ago in my clinic. The words haven’t left me since. In fact, they’re part of what led me to make an overweight fifteen-year-old boy the protagonist in Eating Bull. That, along with the research I’ve done over the years on overweight/obesity, went into Jeremy’s characterization.

I gained further insight into the emotional toll of obesity after attending a seminar led by overweight public health practitioners. The focus of the meeting was to highlight the frequent fat-shaming that goes on in our society—including from the healthcare industry—and to shift the onus from weight loss to size acceptance.

Though I’m not ready to write off weight loss as a goal, the seminar was eye-opening, and it made me reevaluate some of my thinking. Although I’d already written Eating Bull when I attended, I made some changes to my protagonist’s characterization as a result, including how he is treated by a less-than-supportive ER nurse.

It is not an overstatement to say I was appalled by the tales these speakers told, tales of the shaming they experience on a regular basis (at least here in the U.S.). The horrible things complete strangers say to them. The horrible things healthcare providers say to them. The horrible things family members say to them.

Image from Microsoft Clip Art

Image from Microsoft Clip Art

So I knew if I wanted to recreate this inescapable cloud of shaming for my hero, I’d have to make his life hell. He’s fatherless with an overworked and often absent mother, verbally abused by his agoraphobic grandfather, and bullied in school for his weight. Plus, he has little in the way of coping strategies other than to get lost in his online game and eat.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I added a serial killer. Because, you know, first and foremost Eating Bull is a thriller, and in a thriller, horrible things must be heaped upon our protagonists, at least until they can stand up and fight on their own.

Writing about my character’s pain wasn’t easy, and I doubt it will be easy to read. Sitting in that seminar wasn’t easy either. But it got those of us who attended thinking, and it got us recognizing our own responsibilities in the issue.

So I’m sorry I put you through the ringer, Jeremy. I hope you’ll forgive me. Maybe between the two of us, we can get you to a happier place.

Any subject matters you find difficult to read about or watch?

*     *     *

standing color cropped tiny for blog postsCarrie Rubin is a medical thriller author with a background in medicine and public health. For more information, click here.

274 Responses to “Eating Bull May Be Fictional, but Sadly the Fat-Shaming It Depicts Is Not”

  1. pegoleg

    Can’t believe your publication date is almost here – way to go, Carrie!

    Fat is the last acceptable joke topic, now that race, ethnicity and sexual orientation have been taken off the table.

    Like

  2. Jilanne Hoffmann

    As so many of your readers have mentioned: child abuse in any shape or form makes me squeamish.

    WRT the topic of your post: I think there are many aspects to fat-shaming. One: family members are in a catch-22. I think they tend to say things because they’re afraid of losing their loved one(s) due to health problems related to obesity. And they think that if they don’t say something, they’re an enabler. But I think there needs to be lots of coaching on how to be supportive rather than negative and shaming. I wonder if relatives start out trying to be supportive and then switch to shaming when being supportive fails. But our food industry, as a previous commenter noted, is stacked against the individual. It’s not just the additives or taste manipulators that create the addiction, it’s also the food porn channels/magazines, etc. that create a disproportionate sense of need or desire for higher calorie foods. So it’s Kind of like blaming the alcoholic for repeated relapses.

    I do get concerned when I see the children of people who are obese (or one parent is obese) following in their parents’ footsteps. Eating habits are learned young, but it’s not just that. There could also be genetic factors at play.

    Then there is the societal cost of obesity-related diseases. It’s such a complex issue. I do think it’s possible to be overweight but fit, so I think that’s where the emphasis should be placed—on fitness.

    I feel bad for Jeremy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks, Jilanne. Your comment is spot on. It is indeed a complex issue with multiple contributors. As such, we need to target our interventions at multiple levels.

      Yes, Jeremy has it tough. But something tells me he’ll come out okay in the end. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Little Voice

    What a fascinating discussion about weight. I’m over 70 and am constantly self-talking about my need to lose weight. Some would say I’m not overweight, but I see my skin sagging, the roll at my waist increasing, my hips broadening…and I keep comparing myself to myself…the self that was 30 years ago when I was running 6 miles a day.
    Some of the answer lies in self control…or lack of…and some lies in what I eat. All I know is I don’t need others shaming me, I do a really good job of that all by myself.
    Thanks for the discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you for reading and weighing in. Yes, age takes its toll on us. We lose muscle mass, and our metabolism slows down which makes it easier to gain weight. Having to start eating less calories when we’re used to more isn’t a lot of fun. Luckily, by staying active and lifting weights we can ward off some of these things. Or at least keep them in check.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Same here. Even though my protag is 15, it was still hard to write scenes of people, including his grandpa, be so mean to him. But I couldn’t even go there with younger kids.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Cathy Ulrich

    Carrie,
    Your posts are always so though provoking. Yes, fat-shaming is a tough subject and I am looking forward to seeing what you’ve done with your protagonist’s perspective. So much of our society wants to depersonalize those who don’t fit our view of what is the right shape, age, gender, race. Only when we can see others as having the same basic human needs can we stop the judgement and open our hearts to compassion.

    Interestingly, I’ve been on a roll of reading books about World War II, especially about the viewpoints of those directly affected by the Nazis – “The Boys in the Boat,” “All the Light We Cannot See,” “The Reader,” “Life After Life.” Not fun, but enlightening. To think that something so horrific as Nazi Germany could have a happened only seventy years ago…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, isn’t that horrifying? Only 70 years ago, and sadly, things like that still go on in some countries, and we hear little about it (like Africa). I read “All the Light We Cannot See.” Very good. And my hubs really liked “The Boys in the Boat.”

      As for your choice of word “depersonalize”–that’s a perfect way to describe it, and that’s exactly what my killer does to his poor victims. Not always easy to write, but I take fat-shaming to the extreme with him.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Cathy Ulrich

        I’d highly recommend “The Boys in the Boat,” Carrie. And while I didn’t see the movie, “The Reader” was a wonderful book about the stigma of illiteracy. I’ll never think about that in the same way. Also, I loved a book I read this year about the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I – “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson. It is a beautifully crafted non-fiction story of the incident, but also of the political and Naval war-based issues surrounding this tragedy. And perhaps, it even informed me somewhat about Hitler’s background as a soldier during WWI.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! It’s got some pretty intense scenes with a disturbed killer, so it won’t be everyone’s thing, but thrillers are what I like to write. And with this one, I hope to get a message across as well.

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  5. Ocean Bream

    This is too real and raw. So many people who are fat shaming their kids aren’t even aware of he heavy psychological impact it may have on the child. SO looking forward to reading your book though, and a thousand felicitations on your completed novel! 🙂

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! And thank you for reading and commenting. You’re right–fat-shaming can come from parents, and they don’t even realize they’re doing it. Seemingly innocent comments like, “Ooh, you’re getting a little pudgy there, aren’t you” can have big impacts. In fact, research has shown comments from brothers and fathers carry the most weight, particularly for girls, but boys too. Words have great power.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ellamedler

    Oh my God, so many subjects! Verbal abuse, probably just a little more than the physical (don’t ask me to explain it!), injustice, inequality, ignoring someone because they just don’t ‘fit in’ or bullying them for the same… And that’s just what comes to me in ten seconds. You are doing a great job, Carrie. Please, please go on. I wish you the very best of luck! ❤

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks so much, Ella! Yes, there are a lot of difficult subjects in Eating Bull. It won’t be for everyone, I’m sure, but hopefully at heart it will provide a good story.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Léa

    Bravo Carrie! Despite not being a fan of ‘thrillers’ this will certainly go on my list of must reads, that is once it is in paperback. 🙂
    Shaming was part of my past, despite my efforts and some success. I’ve been here in France for nearly eight years but have yet to experience shaming of myself or others.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! Yes, it seems to be a cultural thing. I think we face more of a problem with shaming here in the US, at least from what I’ve heard from commenters from other countries.

      Eating Bull has some tough scenes with the killer, so it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but at heart, it’s a story about a boy trying to find his way through a difficult life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Léa

        I shall watch for the paperback. I’ve just encountered so much violence in my life, personally and professionally, that I don’t find it entertaining so avoid films that are filled with it (That leaves out much done in Hollywood). Thank you Carrie!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Jools

    An excellent and thought-provoking article, as ever, Carrie – on a very contentious modern-day challenge.

    As you and some of your other commenters rightly note, there are so many factors involved in obesity, not the least of which is the food industry and its unspoken aim to generate addiction – through perfecting ‘sweet-spot’ blends of sugar and fat and through relentless marketing, much of which is geared to youth.

    People are right when they say that obesity was less of a problem years ago. But does that mean that great swathes of people have simply turned their backs on self-control and suddenly chosen to become greedy, over-indulgent, undiscerning parodies of the human beings they would have been, had they been born 60 or 70 years ago? No. Self-control is certainly part of the problem, but perhaps even that was easier in days gone by, when food was plain and rarely eaten on-the-run. The processed and fast food industries are another part of the problem. The explosion in easily available, drive-by foodstuffs, colourfully packaged and super-sized. The onslaught of advertising and ever more intrusive ways to tempt and persuade, and derail healthy habits, are another part. Lifestyle and the boom in entertainments that keep us on our sofas, yet another. And then there are the things we don’t yet understand – the way the sort of food we eat and the chemicals we unwittingly ingest as part of modern life are impacting our digestive systems. Research in this area is in its infancy, but the universe of bacterias and toxins in our gut are already being implicated in all manner of diseases and conditions beyond the obvious.

    I hope one day that there will be a more enlightened understanding of the causes of, and ways to manage obesity – and a more compassionate society than seems to be the case in the USA (though my experience as an obese person in the UK does not extend – thankfully – to ever being ‘fat-shamed’ in the street, in the home, or in the doctor’s surgery).

    Talking of the UK, our GP’s have a useful tool in their armoury; a regular health check with their over-50s, where a short questionnaire, a few measurements and a moment on the scales reveals their ‘heart age’. To find your ‘heart age’ exceeding your real age by too many years – and to learn how that number would reduce with the injection of a few healthy habits and the shedding of a few pounds – is a powerful persuader.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks so much for the excellent comment. Spot on, all of it. I just attended The Cleveland Clinic’s Annual Obesity Summit last weekend. I try to attend often, because it’s such a wealth of information. New research and findings get us closer to understanding all the time. But there’s still a long way to go. I will preach until I’m blue in the face that it’s not as simple as eating less and exercising more. So many factors at play. Plus, our bodies resist weight loss. They’re programmed to do so. One of the speakers at the summit discussed how when we lose weight, our hunger hormones increase and our fullness hormones decrease. So even our body works against us. And what you said about the problem increasing over the past 30 years is very true–we didn’t suddenly all lose our willpower. Our environment played a huge role in the increased incidence.

      Liked by 3 people

    • philosophermouseofthehedge

      Great comment. Even back in the 50’s there might be one overweight kid in a class – but there weren’t that many fat children in the schools.
      Food and meals were different then. Kids also ran around and played outside constantly. Bikes, roller skates, hula hoops, chase, hurdles, all sorts of ball games, tag and dodgeball (and it wasn’t organized attacking of one child there) . Active kids with 2 recesses each day in school and PE K-12 (swimming included one semester in secondary grades each year). Recess has been eliminated for academics…probably the exact wrong decision for both physical health and learning (test scores) improvement outcomes
      Try to get kids unplugged these days. A real battle and realistically a safety issue for some parents/locations.
      All these fancy big wheeled strollers around here with kids big enough to walk are a bit of a concern. Our idea was to walk them as soon as they could – to tire them out..sports activities continued that a they got older. Good to keep them out of trouble and develop the habit of exercise. Good for stress, too.
      Fat shaming and negative treatment of the overweight ones is cruel. Everyone has a body weight appropriate for their health.
      I do have a concern that some use “acceptance of me as I am” as an excuse to avoid altering bad habits and lifestyle choices. There’s got to be a balance. How to gently treat this complex problem is extremely difficult and approach must vary with each individual. Being a doctor with an obese patient is a difficult job.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carrie Rubin

        Again, well said. We need to get activity back in our schools. Not only does recess–particularly outdoor recess–help kids stay fit, it improves their academic performance too. Studies have shown this. Really helps the ADHD kids focus more too. A prescription for nature, so to speak.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jools

        And a great comment in return… As a person dealing with an excess of weight for many years, perhaps one of the most significant things to note is that – obvious though it sounds – it didn’t happen overnight. The mistake the medical profession sometimes makes IMHO, is to expect an overweight person to shed ALL their slowly established, lifelong bad habits in one go. Overeating creeps on gradually – a little too much of this, a little to much of that; a once a month treat becoming a weekly and then a daily indulgence…. Reclaiming the healthy ground may sometimes need to happen gradually too. Your overweight patient makes one or two adjustments, and habituates them before addressing the next, and the next, building strength, positivity and a sense of achievement in their steps of self-control, alongside the inevitable sense of wellbeing from their better habits. I can’t speak for everyone, but this approach is working for me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Carrie Rubin

          Absolutely. And that’s the approach I set up for my character too (just as I did for my patients). Small changes over time are usually more effective than big ones quickly.

          Liked by 1 person

        • philosophermouseofthehedge

          You have a good plan. Fighting like crazy myself. My grandmother was huge – like having to go sideways through doors huge – but she lived until 95, was the happiest person ever, and was extremely active, flew on trips, climbed stairs everyday until her sudden death. She had thyroid issues and docs tried, but didn’t really have much to work with back then. Mom always prepared farm fresh fare and was active/walked all her life and never got large.
          Weight does creep up and it is sooo much more difficult when your metabolism changes with age. Little steps and little successes are definitely better than getting discouraged trying to completely change everything at once. I can’t do that, but I am determined to draw the line and work to keep a decent size/weight that feels OK. (even if it’s not where it used to be. Sigh. Now that’s probably not reasonable – med. research/my doc says as you age a little more padding is really healthier. Can only hope. 🙂 Enjoyed the chat

          Liked by 2 people

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! I’m going to check with my publisher when the paperback pre-order will be ready. But ‘yummy’ might be the wrong word for my killer’s scenes… 😉

      Like

  9. Audrey Kalman

    I do hope we are, as a society, able to bring some compassion to this issue. Especially since I am coming increasingly to believe that obesity is not necessarily influenced by individual choices. Something is going on at an epidemiological level. Aeon magazine had a great article about this a while back: http://aeon.co/magazine/health/david-berreby-obesity-era/.

    I’m sure “Eating Bull” will help people think about this issue just as the stories you heard in the seminar helped you do so. Fiction has tremendous power to bring attention to overlooked problems because it’s absorbing and emotional. Statistics are all well and good, but it’s the stories that spur us to act.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks, Audrey. And you are so right–there are many factors at play behind obesity, weight gain, and weight loss. That’s probably the main point I’m trying to get across in the book. My recent attendance at The Cleveland Clinic’s Annual Obesity Summit reinforced that all over again. Biological, genetic, environmental, psychosocial factors–all of these play a role. Even our prenatal environment affects it! That’s why multi-level interventions are so important.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. J.B. Whitmore

    It’s not something I think about, but easy to see once you point it out. As a physician you must have to walk a fine line.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Healthcare providers do have to walk a fine line sometimes. Patients can take offense. But done properly, the subject can–and should–be brought up in a mutually respective manner. (Wow, that sounded nice and clinical, didn’t it? 😉 )

      Liked by 1 person

      • J.B. Whitmore

        Very proper.

        There’s an article by MD James Hamblin in this month’s Atlantic about prescribing nature for mood disorders, obesity and more. Maybe you’ll be writing prescriptions for outdoor time.

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        • Carrie Rubin

          We already do! Well, I’m not sure how many docs actually write out prescriptions for it. But we should all preach it. Good for kids and adults alike.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Let's CUT the Crap!

    I had hoped tolerance and / or understanding were on the rise. Kids need propping up not knocking down. Your book certainly sounds a story for the times, Carrie. Weight is not necessarily a kid’s fault. Irregular meals, lots of pop and sweets, junk food, eating on the go are all the parent’s responsibility. Some don’t know any better and need to learn as well. o_O

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. You’ve summed up my protag’s home life well. There are so many obstacles stacked against individuals who want to lose weight. Even the body itself resists weight loss. It’s genetically programmed to do so. That’s why prevention is the best approach of all.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. My Inner Chick

    So sad and utterly unacceptable.
    I find it difficult to watch or read anything where one is being
    disrespected, shamed, devalued, belittled, bullied, demeaned, and hated…
    but I watch and I read on…
    because we cannot turn away from it.
    We must STAND up for the person without a VOICE))) xx

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      For sure. Ironically, to explore fat-shaming, I have to fat-shame my character (through the bad guys). But something tells me he’ll do okay in the end. 😉

      Like

  13. Alejandro De La Garza

    I agree that fat-shaming is an awful trend, but so is obesity. As a nation, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the numbers of people who are overweight, which in turn, corresponds with an increase in diabetes and higher rates of cholesterol. More children and teens are developing Type II diabetes, which was dubbed “adult onset diabetes,” because it generally impacted adults who led unhealthy lifestyles. More of our youth are also turning up with high cholesterol and blood pressure, as well hepatic disorders.

    I’m not a medical practitioner, but I can practically vouch for this. When I was young, I rarely saw overweight kids. Now, it seems, they’re all over the place! It’s actually disturbing; in part, because of the psychological implications obesity has on people, but mainly because of the health implications. I always used to tell people not to exercise and / or lose weight for cosmetic purposes; consider it a health issue. That way they’ll be more apt to take it seriously.

    A while back Michelle Obama pointed out something that most people hadn’t considered before: obesity is a national security concern. If kids now are developing diabetes and high cholesterol, what will their health be like 20, 30, 40 years from now? That is, of course, if they actually live that long. Are these the people we expect to fight our fires, fly airplanes, respond to natural disasters, etc.? Do we honestly expect someone with a childhood history of cardiovascular problems to have a career pulling people out of flooded rivers?

    Yes, some people are just big-boned and / or thick-skinned, but obesity is NOT a natural state of humanity. Fat-shaming is cruel on many levels, yet fat acceptance is not a viable solution.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. I agree with everything you said, and you’re spot on with the complications. When I was a pediatric resident in the 90s, I never saw a child with type 2 diabetes. In fact, they spent little time teaching us about it. Now we screen kids regularly for it. We’re also seeing fatty liver in kids now too. Sleep apnea, hypertension, joint pain. Such a shame. That’s why I still think the goal has to be weight loss and that’s the route I take for my protagonist. Of course, prevention is the best approach of all.

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  14. kingmidget

    In response to your question, the one I will always remember was the movie What About Bob? I don’t know why or what was going on at the time, but I rented it years ago and only got about 20 minutes into it when I realized that the movie was going to be one long joke about the mentally ill. I simply could not tolerate it at that moment and I’m not sure anything has changed.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I remember that movie. I don’t recall particularly liking it. Wasn’t my favorite Bill Murray movie, by any means.

      Like

  15. thomasreich

    Why is it that the most misunderstood, shunned and bullied groups in our society are the overweight population and those with mental illness? (Of which I suffer from.) We talk a great deal about compassion, but lets start seeing it. *steps down from soap box*

    Anyway Carrie, this looks like a great book and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! And I agree. In fact, in my Author’s Note I mention how it seems overweight people are the last perceived acceptable bastion of politically incorrect humor. Any TV show or movie shows that. Hopefully that tide will change. Mocking someone’s appearance or mental health is a cheap way to get laughs.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Perfecting Motherhood

    I have a hard time imagining doctors hurting their patients’ feelings because I don’t know a single overweight person around me who has ever been told they needed to do something about their weight, even if that weight caused health problems. If doctors care about the well-being of their patients, they should be willing to ask and help. Pediatricians do address children’s weight, so why does that have to stop for adults? Looking the other way has never helped bring change. Ignorance is not bliss. I’m sure patients would welcome some ideas but are embarrassed to talk about their weight. Doctors should make the first step.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      I agree–doctors definitely need to address this. The excuse has always been, “I don’t want to offend the patient.” That’s certainly something to avoid, but there are ways to discuss the topic without bringing offense. There’s a newer concept called Motivational Interviewing. It is a way to discuss topics that require behavior change in a sensitive manner and letting the patient guide the discussion, taking cues from him or her. But the healthcare provider needs to first broach the issue to get the ball rolling. Luckily, this is happening more often now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Perfecting Motherhood

        We have Kaiser and because they’re a direct insurer, it’s in their best interest to promote preventive medicine, rather than wait for a patient to get really sick since it would cost them a lot of money (in those more common set-ups where doctors and insurance companies are separate, doctors and hospitals make more money when patients are sick). When we go for check-ups or exams, they ALWAYS ask us how much we exercise every week, and for the kids if they eat a healthy diet and how many hours they spend sitting in front of a screen. Of course, I always answer no to the question: do you limit fat intake for your kids (pizza, milk, etc)? because if they didn’t have that fat, they’d be even skinnier. I grew up on bread, cheese and Nutella! It’s all about moderation and balance but doctors really need to start the dialogue.

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