What is Weight Stigma and Why Should I Care?
First of all, welcome to the first Weight Stigma Awareness Week. Keep coming as you are. So, weight is weight stigma? To put it simply, weight stigma, also often referred to as weight bias, is discriminating against someone based on their size. This can occur towards individuals in all body shapes and sizes, but often occurs most to those in larger bodies. This often leads to fat shaming, fat phobia, fears of becoming fat and fearmongering. While the definition seems simple, the concept is much more complicated and nuanced.
I would like to include a disclaimer for this and associated posts for this coming week that the “F word” may be used frequently. And by that, I mean the word “FAT”. You might be thinking “Why is someone promoting weight stigma freely using such an offensive word?” Well, the reason is not to be harmful, cruel, or judgmental but to simply take out the negative meaning behind the word. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, do you remember how most people referred to Voldermort as “He who must not be named” yet Dumbledore insisted upon using his real name as tip-toing around it ultimately gave him more power? Yeah, it’s kind of like that. The more we dance around using the word “fat”, the more it ultimately adds negativity/shame/judgement etc. around it and being in that size body. When I use the word “fat” I mean it simply as a descriptor for someone in a larger body like I might use the word tall, short, light-skinned, or thin. There will be more on this coming up later this week.
Our society is swimming in the waters of a weight biased culture. This includes the messages in our media, how we define health and wellness, the fitness industry, the clothing industry, public transportation, general public settings, and the healthcare industry. Not only are these biases wrong and not factual, they often harm people, regardless of weight or body size that person is in!
It is important to note that not all weight stigma is done with malicious intent, yet can be just as hurtful to the individual being stereotyped. During this week, I challenge you to think of some of the ways you may be contributing to weight stigma unintentionally and the harm it is doing to others, as well as to yourself.
Why Should I care?
Weight stigma impacts all of us, regardless of what size body you are in. This means that while I love Meghan Trainor for being “all about that bass”, she still uses weight discrimination while she “tells those skinny bitches that”.
Weight stigma leads us to believe that if we don’t fit into a certain size or BMI, then it is our responsibility to fix it. It does not account for the fact that healthy bodies occur on all different places of the size spectrum. This forces people to work towards a body shape that might not be attainable or healthy for them. It also puts morality in those that are “good” for having that “normal” (or below) BMI and “bad” for those of us that are anywhere above this “normal” BMI. We can’t consider ourselves to be “inclusive” towards others while still making assumptions about others based on their size.
It’s also important to think about the ways that weight stigma keeps society from moving forward. Take a moment and reflect on the last time you were out to eat at a restaurant. Did you change your decision on what you wanted to eat based on the number of calories in the meal instead of what sounded? Did you ask about the ingredients or further explore the nutrition information for the sake of dieting? Do you or someone at your table make a comment on how they were either being “good” or “bad” today because of what they were eating? Perhaps the phrase “cheat day” was used. Did someone comment on the body size of someone at the restaurant or praise someone for weight loss? Did this lead to comparisons of food, size or conversations of diet talk? These are all examples of how we face weight stigma and diet culture in our every day lives.
If we are so focused on changing our bodies to become smaller, we are utilizing time and space that could be used to do ANYTHING else. This could mean something productive, such as career advancements or time simply relaxing and enjoying much needed time with the ones we love. Both are equally important reasons to get rid of weight stigma.
Challenging weight stigma is a complex topic that requires work from all of us. Stay tuned, we will continue to unpack these nuances as Weight Stigma Awareness Week continues!
Katie Hill Stewart MA, LPC, LCPCWelcome! My name is Katie Hill Stewart; I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) practicing north of Kansas City in Liberty, Missouri. My mission is providing support to adults struggling with disordered eating, body image issues, trauma, anxiety and depression.