Today is day three of the 4th Annual Weight Stigma Awareness Week, hosted by the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a stigma is “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.” In the case of weight stigma, the unfair beliefs are based on a person’s weight, shape, and/or size.
Sadly, weight based stereotyping is pervasive in our society and seems to be a socially acceptable form of prejudice. From the media to the schoolyard to the workplace, children and adults are judged everyday based solely on their size. For example, a person of larger size than what our society considers acceptable may be perceived as lazy or lacking discipline. A thin person may be wrongly labeled as having an eating disorder.
Verbal abuse, bullying, and discrimination are common manifestations of weight stigma. Whether the consequences are subtle or overt, weight stigma can negatively impact all aspects of a targeted person’s life, including their self esteem, interpersonal relationships, education, employment, and healthcare.
One way to begin combating weight stigma is to challenge our own misconceptions.
Wonder if you might hold any weight biases? Ask yourself these questions:
1. A thin person is healthier than an overweight person. TRUE or FALSE?
2. Weight loss is always a positive outcome. TRUE or FALSE?
3. If a person feels bad enough about their weight, they will be motivated to change it. TRUE or FALSE?
If you answered FALSE to all the questions, you are correct. If not, here is the truth:
1. Thin does not always mean healthy. Think about a thin individual who chain smokes, eats fast food daily, and doesn’t exercise. Would that person be healthier than someone with a BMI in the overweight range that doesn’t smoke, follows a healthy diet, and exercises five times a week?
2. Although weight loss as a consequence of adopting healthier behaviors may be positive, weight loss by any means is not healthy. In fact, many methods of weight control are anything but healthy.
3. Shaming people about their weight actually increases the risk of obesity and eating disorders.
To learn more about weight stigma, check out some of the Weight Stigma Awareness Week tools and resources on the BEDA website.