Bias. Stereotyping. Prejudice. Discrimination. Bullying.
These ugly words describe the serious problem of weight stigma. Ending weight stigma is a complex, multilevel challenge because it stems from deeply entrenched weight bias. Sometimes referred to as fatphobia, weight bias is the belief that fat is bad, people with fat are bad, people who exceed a BMI of 25 are unhealthy, only a narrow range of body sizes are beautiful, and a person’s weight is a choice and reflects their character.
When weight bias becomes action (intentional or unintentional), it is called weight stigma. Weight stigma includes actions, comments, and/or policies that discriminate against people based on their weight. If you have been victimized by weight stigma, it is not your fault!
Whether subtle or blatant, weight stigma is broadcast into our living rooms and shows up in our classrooms, break rooms, and exam rooms. People in larger bodies experience many forms of oppression in their daily lives, from seating in restaurants, airplanes, and doctor’s offices, to discrimination in the workplace. And weight stigma disproportionately affects already marginalized communities.
In fact, the stress and resulting inflammation of weight stigma may account for some of the associations between body size and chronic disease. Further, weight stigma in health care results in over-attributing symptoms and problems to weight, failing to refer for diagnostic testing, and failing to consider treatment options beyond weight loss.
To be clear, weight loss doesn’t stop weight stigma. Weight stigma is a social justice issue!
All people deserve to live free of bias and stigma.
And that includes you!
Internalized weight bias
For some people, weight bias hits close to home: Right between the ears!
Internalized weight bias is when a person applies negative societal or cultural beliefs about body weight to themselves. Internalized weight bias has been linked with a range of physical and psychological issues, including disordered eating and binge eating.
Billions of dollars are spent trying to attain our culture’s thin ideal in order to reduce stigma and oppression, but the more we diet, the more disordered our eating becomes.
When we internalize cultural biases about fatness, we are condemned to living within its limitations. The bully has moved into our brains. Again, weight stigma is not your fault, but there are a few things you can to reduce the harm that it causes.
In the next article, Ending Internalized Weight Stigma, we’ll explore specific strategies for addressing internalized weight bias and stigma.
This article has been updated from a previously published version.
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