What is weight stigma?
Weight stigma is comprised of the assumptions we have about a person based on their body size. It expresses itself in the way we treat people (and view and treat ourselves). It manifests in our culture through who gets access and who doesn’t, based on body size.
Weight stigma is heavily embedded into our medical system, health and wellness culture, and schools.
It’s routinely expressed in families and social circles.
What are some common examples of weight stigma?
Assuming someone is healthy or unhealthy based on their body size
Not being able to shop at clothing stores because of sizing favourable to smaller bodies
Being bullied, harassed, or made fun of
Assumed to be lazy, stupid, or unprofessional if in a larger body
Getting passed over for jobs in favour of someone in a smaller body
Being indoctrinated into believing that smaller bodies are more attractive
“Smaller is better” is a belief not a fact.
We have been indoctrinated to believe that smaller bodies are “better”. We have internalized this message so we believe it about others, and about ourselves. It ends up dictating so many aspects of our lives, leaving many of us feeling ashamed and not good enough if we don’t have a body like the “ideal”. We end up believing it’s “our fault” if we can’t keep weight off.
Weight stigma is real, and it’s a problem. It’s affecting children at younger and younger ages: “By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life.” (from NEDA website)
While it’s absolutely true that people in thin bodies can experience negative comments and assumptions about their health, the scales are tipped heavily to one side in favour thinness to fatness. This preference is woven into our social systems, creating systemic discrimination (e.g. receiving inadequate health care if in a larger body).
So what do we do?
We can begin by questioning everything we’ve been taught to believe is true about fatness as it relates to health and attractiveness. We can notice what assumptions we make about others based on their body size, and how we subsequently treat them. We can stop reinforcing weight stigma by not commenting on peoples’ bodies, (especially weight loss).
And, we can start changing how we treat ourselves and our body based on its size. For this, I can offer some help.
Just like in the natural world animal and plants come in all shapes and sizes, so too do humans. Let’s shift our focus towards accepting people all of body types, instead of insisting they change. Acceptance can do wonders for ourselves, and for the world.
Photo Credit: NEDA