September 27th through October 1st marks Weight Stigma Awareness Week. In 2011, Chevese Turner, the founder and former CEO of the Binge Eating Disorder Association, began Weight Stigma Awareness Week, now hosted by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). This week is designed 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 discrimination or judgment against individuals because of their weight. This can be in the form of teasing, bullying, and weight-based assumptions or comments. Weight stigma can also manifest as microaggressions, which are seemingly small slights that communicate hostile or negative messages about a particular group. For example, weight-based microaggressions might include comments like, “you’re so pretty for a bigger girl” or “you don’t look sick.”
Weight stigma can be external or internal. For example, if a person with a larger body goes to a doctor for a medical complaint and is told to “lose weight” without a thorough exam, diagnostic testing, or discussion of symptoms, that is a form of weight stigma. Comments from family and friends, even ones that “mean well,” can also be a form of weight stigma. Overt bullying comments about size, whether in person or via social media, are also forms of external weight stigma. Being passed over for a promotion due to size, despite good job performance, is another form of external weight stigma.
Internalized weight stigma is when people internalize this bias. For example, one negative stereotype of people with higher-weight bodies is that we’re lazy. If we’re tired, we may use negative self-talk against ourselves instead of engaging in needed self-care or seeking a medical reason for the fatigue.
Negative Effects of Weight Stigma
Weight stigma is linked to a host of negative health outcomes. Studies have shown that weight stigma is associated with increased risk for obesity, binge eating, and decreased physical activity. Weight stigma has also been linked to poorer mental health outcomes, such as increased depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Given the negative consequences of weight stigma, we must work to end it.
Ending Weight Stigma
Weight stigma is an issue that is not going to disappear overnight, however, making small changes and doing your part every day can help raise awareness.
- Recognize your own biases. Once you understand where your biases and judgments lie, you can consciously work against them.
- Educate others. If you hear someone around you saying something problematic, speak up, and educate them.
- 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.
- A great step toward ending weight stigma is by participating in the Weight Stigma Awareness Week activities and prompts. Consider participating in the conversation on social media by using the hashtags #WSAW2022. Together, we can work to end weight stigma and discrimination.