Happy Weight Stigma Awareness Week!

Time to take a closer look at how we can eradicate one of our last socially condoned forms of prejudice

You don't need me to tell you what weight stigma is and why it's so destructive. But in honor of the first-ever National Weight Bias Awareness Week, let's review. If you're an overweight woman, research shows you'll probably get paid less at work and have a harder time getting decent medical care. You also have to put up with a constant onslaught of negative messages from advertising, news media, healthcare professionals and most likely, friends, family and perfect strangers, all reinforcing the stereotypes that you're unattractive, lazy, irresponsible and unhealthy. If you're an overweight kid, you've got all that to look forward to -- plus playground teasing and gym class humiliation to endure in the meantime.

Yes, size discrimination is well-documented and commonplace. We've all been discriminated against or have discriminated against someone else -- and for a lot of us, it's probably both. (Don't believe me? Remember that size discrimination, while most often directed at larger people, works both ways. So if you've ever said someone needs to eat a sandwich, well...) 

But just because we know what weight stigma is, doesn't mean we don't need a heck of a lot more awareness about why it's wrong. Somehow, even though we can show all these ways that weight stigma harms people's health and well-being (79 percent of overweight adults say they cope with weight bias by eating more), we still think it's okay to body snark and laugh at fat jokes. We think that anyone who gets in a lather about it is being too sensitive. And we don't connect the dots between this culture of socially-accepted hatred to the very real and practical consequences I listed above.  

Instead, the more we normalize hatred through everyday conversation, the more we pave the way for the big-deal discriminations like hiring practices and internalize these negative stereotypes until we believe they are truths that we can see in ourselves or others.

This leads to some extreme consequences -- like the 1-800-GET-THIN scandal, where a shady Los Angeles lap-band surgery center is now responsible for the deaths of five patients. But it also leads to more mundane (yet still devastating) consequences -- where even if you're not very fat (or not fat at all!), you spend your life cycling on and off diets, trying to lose those elusive ten pounds; where almost every bite you eat is a negotiation or a reason for a guilt trip; where hating what you see in the mirror is easier than trying to like your body. 

"Ending all the body shaming and body stigma isn’t just about making fat people’s lives better (although that alone is absolutely a worthy goal), it’s about making everyone’s lives better," explains Ragen Chastein of Dances With Fat. "Imagine a world where we could all approach our relationships with our bodies purely from a place of care and appreciation [...] We all deserve to live in that world."

Amen. For some great ideas on how we get to that world, visit the Binge Eating Disorder Association, which is organizing National Weight Stigma Week, or download their PDF here.


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