Weight Stigma Awareness Week
September 23-27, 2019 marks Weight Stigma Awareness Week (#WSAW2019). The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) started Weight Stigma Awareness Week to help the entire eating disorder community understand why weight stigma should matter to everyone, not just those in higher-weight bodies.
What is Weight Stigma?
Weight stigma is the judgment and assumption that a person’s weight reflects their personality, character, or lifestyle. For example, the common stereotype that people in larger bodies are lazy is an example of weight stigma. Weight stigma also plays out in other ways, such as a lack of proper accommodation for larger bodies on airplanes or in public seating spaces.
Not only is weight stigma a cruel form of bullying, but it is also inaccurate. Medical studies and scientific evidence have shown that all body sizes can be healthy. Read our blog about body diversity to learn more about why health isn’t size-specific.
What Are the Negative Effects of Weight Stigma?
Weight stigma can be damaging to an individual’s self-esteem, mental health, and physical health. Those who are bullied or isolated because of their shape or size are likely to experience poor self-image and even depression and anxiety. This may lead to social isolation, fraught relationships, and a lack of overall wellbeing.
Weight stigma can also enforce a cycle of poor self-care. For example, let’s say an individual who has a larger body gets a gym membership because they enjoy yoga classes. Then, the individual goes to the gym and hears about weight loss programs from the salesperson. They show up to the yoga class and all of the mats are small. The yoga teacher cues poses that are inaccessible in their body. They may even hear others at the gym telling them to “keep it up to lose the weight” or side-eyeing them as they walk around. All of this will, understandably, lead them to feel ostracized—like they don’t belong. This can prevent them from returning to the gym, thus losing an opportunity for the healthy activity they enjoyed.
Weight bias also can lead to eating disorders. Those who experience weight shaming can embark on dieting endeavors that typically are unsuccessful and become repetitive yo-yo-dieting episodes that end in bingeing. This can develop into binge eating disorder, a serious eating disorder that requires proper treatment.
What Can We Do to Combat Weight Stigma?
Weight stigma is everywhere. Luckily, there are steps we can take to fight it.
- Recognize your own biases. Once you understand where your biases and judgments lie, you can consciously work against them.
- Understand the truth. NEDA cites that as many as 50% of individuals who are overweight are deemed perfectly medically healthy. 30% of those individuals identified as obese. Additionally, those overweight are actually shown to live longer. Lastly, people of different sizes can be the exact same level of health.
- Educate others. If you hear someone around you saying something problematic, speak up and educate them about the reality. It’s all of our jobs to put an end to weight stigma.
- Advocate. Be vocal about combating weight stigma. Share stories, educate friends and family, and work to provide equal resources and opportunities to people of all sizes.