As millennials have grown up, so has the rise of the obesity epidemic and the subsequent fat-shaming that follows idly behind it. 

Prior to the 1980s, obesity was simply not as prominent of an issue. But with the push to be efficient, the economic turmoil, and increase in processed food options, it inevitably skulked in to take its place around the dinner table. Then the statistics of the obesity “epidemic” began to creep into our standard repertoirebasically there are a lot of adults and children who are overweight or obese.

Obesity is typically followed by type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), heart disease, joint pain, sleep apnea, and/or stroke—which all have their own health ripple effects on a person’s systems. While it is an alarming health trend that cannot be ignored amidst our generation, neither can the fat-shaming and body-type obsession that we have been force-fed along with our processed foods.

The myopic focus on the appearance of obesity is misguided and harmful. There is a pervasive regime of body shaming in our society, which is not limited to just adult women. It affects every single one of us from the moment we are born to the moment we kick the bucket. We have the overly slim runway models, and recently there has been the countering rise of “plus-size” models, who are more representative of the size of the average woman these days. However, even as plus-sized models are touted as being “real women,” it results in shaming women who are naturally other sizes. As a generation in the midst of these tumultuous trends, we have the means to change society’s negative attitudes towards weight in general.

For example, the “Biggest Loser” received a lot of unwanted press for the gaunt appearance of one of their winners, who had lost 60 percent of her body weight. At this point, the levelheaded criticizers elucidated that the point of the competition is to see who loses the most weight—not taking into account the means taken to reach that end.  The “successful” people are most likely not going to have lost the healthy one to two pounds per week that is recommended by obesity researchers and medical professionals.

While I am all for the show finally getting some realistic coverage, it took 15 seasons for people to get smacked in the face with the true nature of the “Biggest Loser.” For 15 seasons we have been watching a show that is obsessed with making people lose massive amounts of weight to look a certain way. Never mind that the means to reaching that amount of weight loss is profoundly unhealthy. Will anything actually be done, though? Probably not. It’s not like anything has been done to constrain the rampant, unscientific diet fads that continuously wash over the public every single day. Instead the show will most likely continue to encourage an obsession with obesity that thrives on appearance over health.

What have we grown up believing about ourselves and others because of this obsession with the obesity epidemic? If this is the representation of “real people” via reality TV, is it any wonder there has been even more focus on disordered eating and depression? Where is the awareness of the very real health issues we face because of obesity instead of guilting people into looking a certain way? The implication is that their weight is the most important part of their person. Yet, I would argue that this is rarely done with people that are of the normal or underweight status. We should work to challenge this assumption!

The sheer reach of the obesity concept is immense. It is a critical health problem. It has infiltrated our minds to influence our opinions of people based on their weight, without hearing a word they have to say. But it is also going to shorten the life spans of many members of our generation if there is not a substantial lifestyle shift. We have the task of treating the medical problem that is obesity without projecting weight status as the person’s identity. It is a delicate and difficult balance that will, in all likelihood, be a long and arduous journey to attain. But, body shaming needs to stop—regardless of weight. Physical appearances are a dynamic state and highly undependable. Don’t be the shallow person that only sees what’s on the outside. We are the voice of our generation and we have a chance to change the weight mantra. I’ll leave you with the words of the sage Joanne Kathleen Rowling: “Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil, or cruel? Not to me.”