What is weight stigma – and why should we be worried about it?
Have you ever taken a moment to question your personal beliefs around weight and body size?
How do these thoughts make you feel about yourself?
How do they make you think about other people?
September 23rd-27th marks the first Weight Stigma Awareness week where the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) are starting the conversation about weight stigma and the impact it can have on our health.
Weight stigma is discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s weight. The effects of weight stigma have been published in the literature for a long time. However, this research is typically overlooked due to the powerful influence diet culture has over us. For those unfamiliar with the term diet culture, it represents a society that places value on being a certain size, weight, and shape over actual health, and promotes the false notion that health always equals thinness. We have been raised to believe that ”thin=good” and “fat=bad” and that the size of our body determines our self-worth. (If you are curious about your own weight bias you can take the Harvard Implicit Associations Test https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html)
Diet culture has taught us that being in a larger body is the fault of the individual. That weight gain is shameful and is the result of being “lazy”, “unmotivated” and “lack willpower”. While weight loss is applauded and encouraged even when resembling eating disorder behaviours such as restriction or excessive exercise. This culture has made us believe that by shaming someone for being in a larger body it will motivate them to lose weight and be “healthy”. However, when we look into the research properly, it does anything but….
Such stigma poses numerous consequences on our psychological, social and physical health. Weight stigma can:
- increase body dissatisfaction which is a leading risk factor in the development of eating disorders.
- increase the risk for
- low self-esteem,
- poor body image
- and binge eating.
Alarmingly, research has also shown an association between internalised weight stigma and increased biochemical stress in an individual, which has been correlated with
- increased cortisol levels
- unhealthy blood pressure
- poor blood glucose control
- increased cholesterol levels
Through the fear of weight gain and idealisation of thinness, we have all been a victim of weight stigma. However for the most part, it is those people living in larger bodies that wear the brunt of it. When you look around hard enough you can see how this happens almost anywhere- at home, in schools, the work place, media, social media and even in medical appointments.
For this reason the conversation needs to change and needs to be made a priority. Not only for social justice and anti-discrimination, but for public health.
How can you make a difference to this conversation and help put a stop to weight stigma?
NEDA (2018), ‘Weight Stigma’ https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/weight-stigma
Tomiyama, A.J et al. (2018), ‘How and why weight stigma drives the obesity ‘epidemic’ and harms health’, BMC Medicine, https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-018-1116-5
Puhl, R.M and Heuer, C.A. (2010), ‘Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health’, American Journal of Public Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866597/
Tomiyama, A.J et al. (2014), ‘Associations of Weight Stigma With Cortisol and Oxidative Stress Independent of Adiposity’, American Psychological Association, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25068456