Weight Stigma Awareness Week

WSAW 2019_Twitter-1

We were on AMNW on Monday talking about Weight Stigma Awareness Week (WSAW), which was started by Chevese Turner in 2011 and is now hosted by The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). The goal of WSAW is to help people “understand how weight stigma and weight discrimination affects people of all sizes, how it contributes to or exacerbates eating disorders in people of all sizes, and how we call work together with a unified voice to eliminate stigma and discrimination based on body size.”

Weight stigma is the the moral discrediting of a person’s body, and manifests as weight bias, size discrimination, stereotyping based on a person’s size, and fatphobia (experienced and internalized).

Where there is stigma, there is always power at play.

Weight stigma is pervasive and occurs in healthcare, employment, transportation, education, social media, and more.

    • Weight is the second most common form of discrimination reported by women.
    • Adolescents report weight as the most common reason for being bullied.
    • 69% of higher weight people report weight stigma from physicians.
    • Healthcare is the second most common place people experience weight stigma (families are the #1 source of stigma).
    • Weight stigma has increased against both children and adults.

Weight stigma is culturally sanctioned and stems from beliefs that 1) stigma and shame will motivate people to change and 2) people are responsible for their own weight and only fail because of poor self-discipline or lack of willpower. These beliefs are not only inaccurate; they are harmful. The latest science indicates that weight stigma can trigger physiological and behavioral changes linked to poor metabolic health and increased weight gain (Tomiyama et al., 2018). 

Weight stigma fosters blame, intolerance, and inequities. It impairs quality of life and poses a significant threat to psychological and physical health, including social rejection, isolation, unhealthy weight control practices, eating disorders, elevated blood pressure, increased psychological stress, and avoidance of health care services.

Larger bodied people tend to delay healthcare because of disrespectful treatment, fear of being weighed, negative attitudes of providers, gowns, and equipment that do not accommodate their bodies, and unsolicited advice to lose weight, despite there being no evidence-based treatment for high body weight that leads to sustained weight loss. A meta-analysis of 29 studies on structured weight loss programs conducted in the U.S. found that participants regained 77% of their initial weight loss, on average, after 5 years (Anderson et al., 2001). The truth: 

“No study – exercise, diet, or surgery – has ever demonstrated long term maintenance of weight loss for any but a small minority.” Mann et al., 2007, Miller et al., 1997

Weight stigma harms people every day. We’ve all been socialized into a mechanistic way of thinking about the body that has people hustling for worthiness in their pursuit for thinness under the guise of health. We’ve been duped. There’s a $70 billion industry that makes money off of your shame. The industry depends on you blaming yourself when their plans and programs fail so you return for more.  

Staci Jordan Shelton says, “Before the truth can set you free, you have to recognize what lies are holding you hostage.” 

Fatphobia is rampant in our society because of the lies we’ve been told about bodies. These lies are reinforced by our families, the media, medical communities, schools, and more. Here are just a few things you can do to help eliminate stigma and discrimination based on body size:

Together, we can make the world a safer place for fat people. We can put an end to the harm done by weight stigma. People should not be required to pursue health or thinness to be deemed worthy of love, respect and belonging. If you walk around the world in a fat body, we want you to know that you matter. You have a right to take up space. You have a right to eat and enjoy food. You have a right to feel whatever you feel about and in your body and still be free.  You have a right to know that you aren’t lazy nor lacking in willpower. You have a right to know that you have tried and tried and it is not your fault it hasn’t worked. You have a right to a stigma and shame-free existence in your body.

And for this, we fight.