Project Harpoon: The fat-shaming movement that needs to be stopped

Celebrities like Rebel Wilson and Lena Dunham have been targeted by 'Project Harpoon'.

Celebrities like Rebel Wilson and Lena Dunham have been targeted by 'Project Harpoon'. Photo: Instagram

Last week, an anonymous group called Project Harpoon Photoshopped an image of Rebel Wilson without her permission to make her appear thin. Why? Because they wanted to show her how 'beautiful' she could be if wasn't fat.

The loose-knit group of anonymous online anti-fat warriors who congregate on 4Chan and Reddit have similarly 'harpooned' Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, singer Meghan Trainor, and models Georgia Pratt, Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday.

Holliday spoke out against the group's fat shaming tactics, "It's abominable that this [Facebook page] is using my image without permission to promote themselves," she told E! News.

Project Harpoon uploads photoshopped images of high profile women to make them look thinner, sparking public outrage

Project Harpoon uploads photoshopped images of high profile women to make them look thinner, sparking public outrage

"This kind of hit piece is exactly why I started #effyourbeautystandards. I am asking my followers to boycott this [page] and any others like it. Loving yourself is the most powerful message we all need to stand behind."


Until it was voluntarily shut down in response to a barrage of complaints, the images were posted on the group's Facebook page. But the unwelcome 'before and after' images are still being tweeted with the hashtag #thInnerBeauty, and published on the group's website.

The group has even stolen people's personal images, manipulated them, and then re-posted them back to their victims. The photos are often captioned with slogans such as "This could be you, if you stop telling yourself that excess fat is natural."

It's hard to know what to make of Project Harpoon and their supporters. It's tempting to write the whole thing off as a ruse by a bunch of internet trolls hoping to provoke outrage and media attention. And some of the discussion on Reddit about Project Harpoon supports this.

For their part, Project Harpoon appears as misguided as it is cruel. According to a spokesperson from Project Harpoon I contacted, who wished to remain anonymous because, ironically, they felt they were being vilified, the group is a social movement tying to tackle the obesity epidemic.

'What started it, I think, for me was the fact that…I was not a small boy, and neither of my parents were small, nor were theirs,' he says via email. 'I would get laughed at, and picked on, and in many instances actually beaten up.'

'Since then, I've put my nose to the grindstone, so to speak, and worked myself back down to a healthy weight, but one thought nagged me the entire time: "If I could see how much better I'd be looking and living and how much happier I would be, this would be so much easier."

The organisers of the site claim they're not sexist, despite almost all the stolen and defaced photos being of women.

They also say that they're not a hate group, even though their various discussion forums are littered with terms such as "fatties", "hams", "retard", "landwhale" and "heifers" who need to shut their "cake holes".

While the organisers aren't responsible for their supporter's comments, it's hardly surprising. It is called 'Project Harpoon' after all. The targets — mostly women — are the 'whales' who they plan to 'harpoon'. It's hard to see such imagery as anything other than misogynistic.

Even putting that aside, there are many problems with publicly shaming women about their bodies, not least of all, it doesn't work.

"Shaming people is never going to cause positive change," says clinical psychologist Louise Adams. "It makes people withdraw from healthy activities and isolate themselves. People who feel ashamed are less likely to go to the gym and perform self-care, and they are more likely to comfort eat."

Given that Project Harpoon's spokesperson has personally experienced fat-shaming and bullying, it's astounding that he doesn't seem to have any empathy for the victims of his own weight bullying.

"What he's doing is hateful and extremely dangerous," says Adams who runs Treat Yourself Well Sydney, a healthy weight management clinic. "There is no concern for people's well being; it's just cyber-bullying at its worst which can have disastrous consequences."

Aside from his personal motivation, the spokesperson claims that Project Harpoon was established as a backlash against the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement.

'"Health At Every Size, and other, similar, movements encourage, and even glorify, extremely unhealthy habits," writes the Project Harpoon spokesperson. "This is leading to a skewed perception of what a 'normal' or 'healthy' weight should be. We seek to reverse some of that damage by showing what healthy bodies actually look like."

But Adams says that, as the name suggests, Health at Every Size is entirely about health.

"Rather than renouncing exercise and self care, HAES is all about helping people to look after themselves. But it's done through non-dieting and non-weight loss focused means, in the best way possible for their body type, for their age, socioeconomic status, and gender," she says.

Unsurprisingly, Project Harpoon feels entitled to shame and harass fat people because they are just so worried about these people's health.

"I will not yield here, these people are unhealthy. The correlation between obesity and numerous health problems…is so strong it may as well be God-given fact," writes the spokesperson.

Dr Rick Kausman, author of If Not Dieting, Then What? questions the validity of measuring a person's health by their size.

"People come in all shapes and sizes and you can't tell just by looking at photo if a person is above their most healthy weight or not," says Dr Kausman who has run a weight management clinic for twenty-five years.

Project Harpoon claims that its good work is being misunderstood. In much the same way as Galileo and Van Gough, they are visionaries, simply ahead of their time.

"I have little doubt that Protect Harpoon although condemned today by mainstream media will eventually go down in history as one of the key moments in the fight against obesity," wrote one contributor.

To think that #thInnerBeauty is somehow revolutionary is nothing short of delusional. Our culture is already saturated with Photoshopped images of women and demands that people lose weight.

It's singularly arrogant that Project Harpoon thinks that adding its voice to the constant chorus of fat shaming will achieve anything other than harm.

All the supporters of Project Harpoon have done is pioneer a new form of cyber bullying.

Kasey Edwards is a writer and best-selling author.