This week is Weight Stigma Awareness Week, sponsored by the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). I’m thrilled that BEDA is spotlighting weight stigma, because, sadly, it’s something that has devastating and far-reaching effects. It’s a topic that must be talked about, and BEDA is doing it with compassion, sensitivity and accurate information.
I’m honored to present my interview with the amazing and always wise Marsha Hudnall, RD, MS, CD, who talks about this important week. Marsha is the director and owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a place where women can go to learn and practice how to accept and take care of their bodies. She’s also on the board of directors at BEDA.
Below Marsha discusses the inspiration for Weight Stigma Awareness Week; the meaning of weight stigma and its damaging effects; how the “War on Obesity” just fuels the fire; what you can do this week and year-round to fight weight stigma and much more.
I’m incredibly grateful to Marsha for taking the time to share her words with Weightless readers.
Q: What inspired the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) to create a Weight Stigma Awareness Week?
A: Weight Stigma Awareness Week was inspired by the stories our members and conference attendees, telling us about being bullied, discriminated against, receiving poor physical and mental healthcare, and even their sense of dismissal around size issues both within and outside the eating disorders community. It became apparent that weight stigma was a topic area that had to be addressed now.
Body image issues are commonly acknowledged, but not the underlying stigma that fuels much of the intense fear of fat that is the hallmark of eating disorders across the weight spectrum.
Chevese Turner, BEDA CEO and founder, describes the decision to create the week saying:
“BEDA decided that it is time to bring attention to one of the foremost social injustices of our time in order to properly represent the issues of the binge eating disorder and greater eating disorders community. We recognize it is a difficult conversation, but it is past due. We owe it to those who struggle to look within and ask ourselves what it is about size that makes us so uncomfortable. It’s time to recognize that those with eating disorders come in every shape and size, and broaden our understanding of environmental contributors to include weight stigma.”
Q: What is weight stigma?
A: Weight stigma is judgment about a person’s character, personality, lifestyle, work ethic and other features based on their weight, and it has many faces. It’s seen in the insults, teasing, name-calling, and other hurtful language directed at someone because of their size.
It’s seen in the stereotypical notions that fat people are lazy and weak-willed, which leads to discrimination and prejudice in the workplace and elsewhere. It’s seen in the bullying of a larger kid on the playground as well as a larger adult who is shamed in a physician’s office.
It’s seen in the lack of accommodations for larger people, such as medical equipment or inadequately-sized public seating such as on airplanes. It essentially derives from the patently false notion that people should all be within a certain size range and that fat people cannot be healthy.
Q: What are the consequences of weight stigma?
A: Weight stigma can negatively affect both our emotional and physical health. People who are singled out because of their weight are at high risk for developing poor body image, low self-esteem, depression and even suicidal thoughts. We also know weight stigma can lead to social isolation and poorer interpersonal relationships.
Weight stigma is also often at the root of poor self-care. People who don’t feel good about themselves aren’t motivated to feed themselves well, engage in physical activity or do other things necessary for good health. Further, weight stigma focuses a person on their weight, instead of their health, which can lead them astray. They frequently end up yo-yo dieting, which actually makes a person fatter and creates a lot of the health problems that are commonly attributed to higher weights. Many people develop eating problems such as binge eating disorder in the search for lower weights, too.
Finally, we can think about it in terms of “lives lost,” when so much time, energy, attention is focused on fixing something that may not be broken, at least until we break it by dieting, low self-esteem and poor self-care. It is a true tragedy when people spend their lives focused on their weight instead of things that are truly meaningful to them and to society. This is, I believe, epidemic, especially among women.
Q: What can readers do this week and year-round to fight weight stigma?
A: BEDA has put together an inspiring call to action that lists a variety of ways that we can start and keep fighting weight stigma. The first step is to assess your own weight bias. In fact, that’s the theme of Weight Stigma Awareness Week this year: Healing Myself First — Challenging Weight Stigma from the Inside Out.
This is so important because we often don’t recognize our own weight biases, even when we are the victim of it. If it exists within ourselves, it will color everything we try to do in this area, whether it be to help our own selves or others fight weight stigma and its effects.
Some of the questions we can ask ourselves when assessing our own weight bias include whether we look down on ourselves or others because of size. Or whether we judge character, food intake, health status based on size. It is not possible to know any of this just by looking at a person.
The other steps include advocating, learning and educating. Check out BEDA’s National Weight Stigma Awareness Week webpage and click on the Call to Action to read them all.
This week we’ve also got a series running on Green Mountain at Fox Run’s blog A Weight Lifted with tips on what people can do to help themselves deal with the effects of weight stigma. Our program focuses helping women feel good now, regardless of body size or shape.
Q: Do you think our society’s “War on Obesity” is perpetuating weight stigma?
A: Absolutely. First off, it is based on the assumption that all “people of size” are unhealthy. Studies show that as many as 50 percent of people identified as “overweight” according to BMI are metabolically healthy, and a little more than 30 percent of those identified as “obese” are, too.
Furthermore, people who fall in the overweight category have also been shown to live the longest. The tragedy here is that because of weight stigma, many of these people will begin the search for a lower weight and damage their health in the process.
Secondly, if we are truly interested in helping people be healthier, our efforts need to focus on helping people of all sizes. A thinner person can have the same health habits and be as health-challenged as a larger person. Because of weight stigma, we incorrectly attribute many health problems to weight. And as I mentioned already, weight stigma can actually cause the very health problems we are trying to address.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about weight stigma, Weight Stigma Awareness Week or a related topic?
A: Many, many people are victimized by weight stigma and they suffer in silence, thinking they are alone in how they feel. But they can find support in organizations such as BEDA and the Association for Size Diversity and Health.
All they have to do is get involved and they can help themselves as well as others move from self-loathing to self-care, and reclaim self-esteem. One quick way to find support is to join in the conversation this week on Twitter, using the hashtag #weightstigma.
If a person believes weight loss is necessary for them for health or other reasons, it’s important they seek out a professional or program that recognizes body diversity and will help them adopt attitudes and behaviors that truly support their well-being, not take them further down the road of body hatred.
P.S., Mara at Medicinal Marzipan is doing an awesome giveaway today. Be sure to check out her post!