Weight Stigma Awareness Week Sep 23-27
We live in a world where ‘fat’ has become a dirty word.
We are surrounded by messages every day, both explicit and subliminal, that emphasise a thin body being more worthy than a larger body.
This begins in childhood where we are thrown into a world of weight watchers, air brushed supermodels and unflattering cartoon portrayals of larger bodies. There’s no coincidence the “evil sisters” and “villains” generally have a larger body whereas the “prince and princess” represent an unattainable thinness.
These negative portrayals continue into adulthood. Our body shape, we are told, emphasises our personal attributes. The messages surround our screens, billboards and conversation. They tell us it is bad to be big.
We are not born with an inbuilt system of rules surrounding what bodies should look like. There was a time when sexy meant full bodied, round and curvy. It celebrated, what is for many, a more natural body type. A change in this cultural definition of beauty does not change our biology.
Instead as a culture we fight against our natural body shapes, believing they should fit today’s standard of beauty.
Have you stopped to consider how you are influenced by these stereotypes?
Our thin culture is causing damage.
Many thin people understand their body size as a reflection of their own actions, sometimes looking down on the less accepted body shapes. While many fat people feel their body is wrong, it is their fault and they accept the looks of rejection.
Our body size is determined by genetics, socioeconomic status and our environment, rather than our own choice of actions.
While our natural body size is biologically predisposed, our environment impacts whether we remain at our natural shape. This includes poverty and education but also our diet-obsessed culture.
How does our diet culture influence our weight?
Dieting leads to increased weight. Most people who diet to lose weight regain the weight they lose, often more. When we try to change our body’s genetic shape through restriction it rarely ends well. If we manage to shrink a genetically larger body into a culturally perceived ideal, it will feel like a constant battle.
How often do you see portrayals of larger people being active, eating mindfully, working hard or just doing normal things we consider fulfilling?
Where does weight stigma come into this?
Our obsession with fatness creates an environment that stigmatises larger bodies and limits opportunity for healthy behaviours.
We encourage restrictive eating and dieting leading to weight gain, cravings, worse psychological health, stress, shame and poorer physical health.
Many healthy activities remain trapped in a thin environment that appears unwelcoming to larger people. Are we all free to enjoy running, feel comfortable at a pool or participate in social sport? How can our focus on weight loss improve health when we are making our world feel inaccessible?
When a fat person loses weight due to illness and we say that weight loss is a silver lining, how can we really say our focus on weight loss is about health?
Those with the privilege of being thin do not often understand the daily challenges of living in a larger body.
Not knowing if a seat will be big enough, your shopping basket being judged or just simply taking up “too much space”. Then there’s the fear of whether the doctor will take your concern seriously or spend your whole appointment telling you to lose weight- even if you went in with a headache.
From school age, bigger bodied kids are given lower expectations leading to worse grades. As adults, larger people have statistically less chance of getting hired and receive statistically lower salaries.
This is weight stigma.
It leads to increased stress, increased rates of disordered eating, increased weight gain, increased blood pressure and blood sugars, lower self esteem, reduced healthy activities as well as poorer medical diagnosis and treatment.
Completely independent of actual body size.
Weight stigma, not weight, is harming our health.
Weight stigma itself is leading to poorer health and lower quality of life independent of body size
Where can we go from here?
There’s enough evidence showing that being thin does not improve health and that dieting leads to poorer health outcomes and weight gain.
We need to change the mindset of our thin culture. We need to foster an open mind to understand what has influenced our own biases and challenge ourselves and others when weight bias pops up.
It’s not about realising we are wrong. It is about realising our views have been influenced by our thin culture but we are free to challenge these biases and help create a world that is welcoming and health promoting for all people.
All bodies are good bodies
Are you wanting to escape dieting with the stress, loss of control and shame it brings? Or simply want to learn more about weight stigma?
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Weight stigma and weight bias in no way imply if you are thin, you are privileged. This is one type of privilege in a world with many. This article is focused on the privilege surrounding weight. Our weight does not predict our physical or psychological health. We can have thin privilege while being unprivileged in other ways 🙂
Puhl, Latner, O’Brien et al. (2015): A multinational examination of weight bias: predictors of anti-fat attitudes across four countries
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(Puhl, Suh (2015): Health Consequences of Weight Stigma: Implications for Obesity Prevention and Treatment
Vartanian, Porter (2016): Weight stigma and eating behavior: A review of the literature.
Himmelstein et al. (2015); Intersectionality: An Understudied Framework for Addressing Weight Stigma.
Fettich, Chen (2012) Coping with obesity stigma affects depressed mood in African-American and white candidates for bariatric surgery.
Sutin et al. (2014): Perceived weight discrimination and C-reactive protein.
Schafer, Ferraro (2011): Low socioeconomic status and body mass index as risk factors for inflammation in older adults: conjoint influence on C-reactive protein?
Schvey et al. (2014): The stress of stigma: exploring the effect of weight stigma on cortisol reactivity.
Tsenkova et al. (2011): Perceived weight discrimination amplifies the link between central adiposity and nondiabetic glycemic control (HbA1c).
Tomiyama et al. (2014): Associations of weight stigma with cortisol and oxidative stress independent of adiposity.
Lillis et al. (2009); Teaching acceptance and mindfulness to improve the lives of the obese: a preliminary test of a theoretical model.
Puhl, Brownell (2006): Confronting and coping with weight stigma: an investigation of overweight and obese adults.