One of the hardest parts of giving up diets is the fact we live in a society that truly judges people on the basis of their body size. It sucks, but it’s a reality we need to address. People walk around making assumptions about someone’s overall health and behaviours just by the way they look. Weight stigma is at the core of diet culture, and unfortunately will be part of anyone’s courageous journey towards recovery and unapologetic self-love.
Weight stigma is defined as the social devaluation and denigration of people perceived to carry excess weight and leads to prejudice, negative stereotyping and discrimination toward those people. Weight stigma manifests in all areas of life. People in larger bodies are less likely to get hired, get a promotion and are most likely to get fired. How unfair is that? People in larger bodies are abused, humiliated and ridiculed by media portraying them as “lazy”, “stupid”, “ugly”, and “full of excuses”. People in larger bodies are given unsolicited dietary advice, and even weight loss surgery recommendations, when going to the doctor. People in larger bodies have to endure unwelcome comments, and mocking gazes when at the gym. Honestly, we could keep going on forever. The bottom line is that every human being deserves to live free from discrimination. That is what we are fighting for.
Weight stigma is rooted in fatphobia, which is basically the fear of being fat. The current myth about fat is that if only fat people could stick to the diet and just try harder, they would be thin forever, is well accepted but oh so wrong. It blames the individual completely disregarding the myriads of reasons why diets don’t work.
Unfortunately, weight stigma is socially acceptable, and in some cases more prevalent than racism, sexism, and other forms of bias. And this is very problematic, because weight stigma harms people, psychologically and physically. Weight stigma is a significant risk factor for depression, eating disorders, body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, high blood pressure, stress, and much more. Studies show that women with a high BMI are less likely than thinner women to seek healthcare. Weight stigma increases body shame and what’s called healthcare stress. People in larger bodies tend to avoid preventative and emergent care because they don’t want to be told their weight is the cause of their headache!
You get the picture, weight stigma really sucks. So how can we fight it?
- Ditch the diet mentality. We can’t advocate for weight stigma while also advocating for weight loss. Diets are not the answer. Not only they don’t work long term, they perpetuate the idea that it’s our responsibility and duty to shrink ourselves. ‘Anti-obesity’ campaigns and the use of words such as “obesity epidemic” stigmatises and pathologises larger bodies. What if instead, we accept humans come in all shapes and sizes?
- Stop praising weight loss. It reinforces diet culture’s toxic belief that thinner bodies are better bodies. There are so many other amazing things people can get complimented for. Plus you never know what’s behind someone’s weight loss story. More often than not, weight loss is accompanied by disorder relationship with food and exercise, body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem.
- Challenge the wellness industry. This movement is just another diet in disguise. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing health! The thing is that health is way more than what we eat and how many hours we spend at the gym. The wellness industry portrays a super stereotypical image of health, which of course is never someone in a larger body. Don’t listen to them, you already are kale-worthy, yoga-worthy, and cake-worthy!
- Develop your critical thinking. Diet culture is just lies after lies. Educate yourself. Read books, listen to podcasts, bring it up in conversations with friends and family. Listen to people who have experienced discrimination. Be that person!
- Speak up. Call out people when they engage in body shaming or diet talk. Tell that restaurant manager those seats are too small for large people. Write a letter to your favourite fashion shop asking for larger sizes. Encourage your fat friends to be the glorious people they are! If you enjoy thin privilege, use it to end the humiliation and discrimination of larger bodies.
Fat people can also be smart, fun, healthy, attractive, fit, successful, spiritual, having loving partners, and much more! Fat people are incredibly resilient. They have navigated this toxic and unfair culture and they are still here, some struggling, some thriving, some still figuring out how to live a happy life. Let’s do this together!
- Tomiyama, J. A. (2014). Weight stigma is stressful. A review of evidence for the Cyclic Obesity/Weight-Based Stigma model. Appetite 82, 8–15. http://www.dishlab.org/pubs/Tomiyama%20COBWEBS.pdf
- Mann, T. (2018). Why do dieters regain weight? https://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2018/05/calorie-deprivation
- Blodorn, A., Brenda Major, B., Hunger J., & Miller, C. (2016). Unpacking the psychological weight of weight stigma: A rejection-expectation pathway. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 63, 69–76. http://www.jeffreyhunger.com/uploads/3/4/4/8/34481134/blodorn_major_hunger___miller__2016__-_jesp.pdf
- Mensinger, J. L., Tylka, T. L., & Calamari, M. E. (2018). Mechanisms Mechanisms underlying weight status and healthcare avoidance in women: A study of weight stigma, body-related shame and guilt, and healthcare stress. Body Image 25, 139-147. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6dde/a1017581820be3521603dc1954049fc16010.pdf?_ga=2.9858163.732275915.1576718359-1383612827.1576718359