Like it or not, there is still a social stigma associated with obesity. Stereotyping or discriminating against someone based on his or her weight – also known as weight stigma – is an unfortunate reality. Acknowledging its existence does not mean that such a stigma is ok. Quite the contrary. It can affect people of all ages and in a number of different ways. Whether it is being denied a job opportunity due to your size or earning a smaller salary than a thinner counterpart, its existence rears its ugly head in many places. When it comes to weight stigma, how can the mindset be shifted, and the problem dealt with? Read on to learn more about weight stigma, its effects, and how to deal with it.
Weight stigma can drive overeating: Seeing nothing but thinness on TV and in print can be emotionally triggering for some individuals. Unfortunately, these emotional triggers can be a recipe for disordered eating. This means that the social stigma of obesity may lead those who already struggle with their weight to either binge eat or eat more frequently. The entire concept of weight stigma perpetuates a vicious cycle.
The medical community needs to step up: Obese patients often report that their healthcare practitioners do not spend time discussing health information with them, and they often view a patient’s extra weight as the patient’s fault. The reality is that excess weight is usually due to a diet culture that tells these patients to subsist on protein drinks and restrict calorie intake to near starvation. This is combined with easy access to unhealthy, calorie-dense foods. This is not the answer, and doctors owe their patients more. Patients would be better served if their practitioners taught them more about nutrition and developing a healthy relationship with food.
It’s not me, it’s you: Though it may not feel that way, weight stigma is not the fault of those who struggle with weight loss. Anyone who uses another person’s weight to inform their decision making or opinion of another individual is not acting in a respectful and understanding manner. Preconceived notions about those who carry extra weight are completely undeserved. There is nothing wrong with being overweight, but there is something wrong with those who attach a stigma to it.
How to help: As an individual, make a commitment never to discriminate against a person based on his or her size. This is something that can be learned early in life and carried into adulthood. There can be any number of reasons why someone carries a few extra pounds, and none of them are your business. Creating and then believing false personality characteristics about someone because of their size is wrong. The idea that everyone should treat each other as they prefer to be treated is tried and true advice that has been taught to people since childhood. It is solid advice for a reason.
Creating a stigma around weight solves zero problems but creates many. Whether you are a hiring manager, a doctor, or a friend, make an effort to ensure you allow no bias towards another simply based on their size.