It’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week. Do you know what that is? Many don’t – so here are some examples:
Weight stigma is
…when you look at yourself in the mirror and hate what you see
…when people (including total strangers) comment on your body size (whether you’ve lost, gained or stayed the same weight)
…when you don’t sit in a chair in a restaurant, waiting room or theatre etc. because you’re afraid it’ll break
…when you don’t eat in public
…when you eat in public but you’re afraid of the looks or comments that may come your way
…when you worry about which clothes will ‘flatter’ you, or hide your perceived ‘flaws’
…when strangers don’t want to sit next to you because you’re fat
…when strangers express annoyance that you’re sitting next to them
…when strangers comment on the contents of your shopping basket
…when you’re afraid to go to the gym, dance or yoga class because the instructor may not know how to support your body or adjust the movements for it
…or you’re afraid to go because of the looks you may get from others
…when you avoid going to functions because you’re ashamed of your body
…or when you go to the function, but you’re terrified – because you’re ashamed of your body and worry about what other people will think
…when your doctor prescribes weight loss as a first step, whereas they would prescribe something else to a thinner patient for the same condition
…when your doctor makes assumptions about what, when and how much you eat and exercise without enquiring
…when you can’t access things like comfortable aeroplane seats and amusement park rides
…when people make assumptions about your emotional resilience because of your body size
…when people ascribe value judgements to you because of your size, e.g. laziness, stupidity, ignorance, unproductivity, incompetence, ugliness etc.
…when you don’t get a job you’re suitable for, because of your body size
…when you don’t see people who look like you in all forms of the media and advertising
…when you see fat characters in books, movies or TV shows stereotyped as evil, bad, lazy, ugly or incompetent
…when you’re not chosen to play a part in a play, or for a sports team, even though you’re competent and/ talented
…when you can’t buy clothes in high street shops
…when you’re turned down treatment because of your weight
…accepting and using the BMI descriptors of body size
…when you’re congratulated for starving yourself or overexercising
There are hundreds of examples.
The costs of weight stigma?
Shame, humiliation, isolation and a sense of worthlessness… increased stress and decreased health outcomes. Eating disorders. Disordered eating. Alienation from one’s own body. And more.
It’s not ok.
It must stop.
Will you help?
1. Make a decision that you will no longer perpetuate weight stigma towards yourself or others
Just because you commit to this doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes. Weight stigma is learned. You can unlearn it. And it will take time. Have an intention to notice your judgements towards yourself and other people’s bodies. Then stop immediately. Remind yourself that you’re no longer contributing towards this harm.
2. Cultivate compassion towards yourself and others – we’re all harmed by weight stigma
… although people on the higher end of the weight spectrum are by far and away the most affected. We need to start to do the opposite of what has caused the harm. The opposite of judgement is compassion. Be kind to yourself. When you notice you’ve judged your body or someone else’s body, or made assumptions about them, stop. Take a breath. Remind yourself that this is learned. It’s old. It feels familiar because you’ve done it so many times before. You’re practising something else now: compassion. You might say something to yourself like ‘I’m learning now that all bodies are good bodies. All bodies are worthy of kindness and respect.’
3. Talk about it. Call it out/in if you feel able to
It’s important that weight stigma is talked about. In order for things to change, people need to understand that it’s a prejudice which brings harm. We can all do our own internal work building resilience to deal with weight stigma when it arises, but it’s a systemic problem and society needs to change if it’s going to be eradicated. Do what you’re able to do. Always look after yourself first. Here’s an article worth reading about the difference between calling out and calling in, and the importance of the oppressed person being protected.
4. Curate your social media
Unfollow all accounts that perpetuate unrealistic body types, promote dieting, weight loss and the like. Report ads that do the same. You can repopulate your social media with helpful accounts instead. Here’s a good place to start with ideas.
5. Find/ create community
Isolation is one of the harms of weight stigma. Know that you are not alone. There are others who are suffering just like you. If in-person is your thing, you could start by searching for ‘body positivity’ or similar terms in Meet-ups in your area – or just Google it! If there isn’t a group perhaps you might start one. Online there are many Facebook groups. Again, use the search tool. You’re welcome to join my group.
6. Do the work to know in every cell of your body that your self-worth is given by virtue of you being here; it’s not earned.
This is not easy work. But it is necessary for your freedom.