Chrissy Metz Shares What It's Like When a Parent's Obsession With Your Weight Is Abusive
In an interview with People magazine — which included an excerpt from her new memoir, “This Is Me,” — “This Is Us” star Chrissy Metz detailed the fat-shaming and physical abuse she experienced growing up at the hands of her stepfather, who she calls “Trigger.”
And while his behavior — which included forced weigh-ins, humiliating comments and physical abuse — may seem shocking, it’s not as uncommon as you might think.
In fact, women with obesity report that family members were more likely to shame them for being overweight. According to a report about weight stigma and children, 37 percent of adolescents who attended weight-loss camps reported they had been teased or bullied about their weight by a parent.
“One of the reasons fat-shaming is such a destructive behavior is because it’s culturally sanctioned,” Harriet Brown, science journalist and author of “Body of Truth,” told The Mighty. “There’s this whole idea of ‘I’m looking out for your best interests.’”
As Metz shares in the excerpt from her book, her stepfather’s fat-shaming behaviors were abusive and extreme.
My body seemed to offend him, but he couldn’t help but stare, especially when I was eating. He joked about putting a lock on the refrigerator… When I was fourteen, Trigger began weighing me. He’d get the scale from the bathroom and clang it hard on the kitchen floor. ‘Well, get on the damn thing!’ Trigger would yell. ‘This is what you need to know.’ He sat in a chair next to the scale as I got on. ‘Good God almighty!’ he yelled every single time.
But even fat-shaming behaviors that are less “in your face” or abusive can have long-term consequences for a child. While some parents may falsely believe shame will motivate their child to lose weight, the opposite is true. Studies have found that fat-shaming actually contributes to behaviors such as binge eating, social isolation, decreased physical activity and increased weight gain.
“Wherever it’s coming from, whether it’s coming from a place of overt abuse or not, the research is super clear that the biggest risk factor of the kind of health problems associated with obesity are dieting and restricting food,” Brown said. “Shame doesn’t make you want to spend the time to make a nice meal or go for a walk. Shame makes you want to curl up under a blanket and eat more.”
Metz said as someone who had lived through times of food insecurity, food was a source of happiness. After the fat-shaming began, she started eating in secret.
I’d get up in the middle of the night and eat. I’d sneak food to eat in the bathroom. Cookies, chips. Things I could eat as fast as possible to avoid detection. Things that would give me the brief bliss of numbness.
Metz said she now has a “positive” relationship with her stepfather, and that she used comedy to cope with hardships. “We all go through stuff,” she told People. “But I truly believe that everything that happened to me, happened for me. [I’ve learned] some beautiful lessons.”
In a world that so often rejects and ridicules fat bodies — a study of adolescents seeking weight loss treatment found that 71 percent reported being bullied about their weight — Brown says parents who are worried about their child’s body or relationship with food should remember that shaming them is not only damaging, it’s ineffective. It teaches them that their body is not OK.
“Think about how you felt if this was done to you when you were a kid,” Brown said, “If it was done to your sister of brother, how did that make them feel? Think about that fact that if you do have a kid who has a larger body, they are going to face shame and stigma from the rest of the world. What they really need is a haven from that, where they are loved and accepted just as they are.”
Image via Wikimedia Commons/Chris Roth