The subject of weight stigma has come up many, many times in recent years in blog posts and in other news media outlets. As parents, many of us are trying to shift that perception, preferring terms such as fit, strong, and healthy over words like skinny.
In my own home when I speak about my weight, I tend to use the terms comfortable versus uncomfortable rather than fat or thin, because truly that is how I have come to think of it. We point out role models for our kids, those people who work towards strong and healthy rather than thin. I want my kids to strive for fit, strong, healthy, and comfortable too. By the same token, I hope that they will show kindness and support of others. Time will tell whether it works or not. After all, it is hard to know if what I say at home will overpower what they see in the media, but it is certainly worth a shot.
This week is National Weight Stigma Awareness Week (WSAW), which was launched to build awareness of the hurtful effects weight stigma can have on people of all ages in all environments, and what can be done to stop it. Weight prejudice is a very serious issue, and it starts at a young age. In fact, overweight children are 63% more likely to be bullied, according to the Journal of Pediatrics June 2010 report.
As a society we do a heck of a lot of fat shaming. We put people on television shows and fat shame them into losing weight in public. We fat shame new moms if they do not lose weight fast enough. We fat shame celebrities on the cover of magazines. We fat shame kids by weighing them in schools. Even medical professionals fat shame and discriminate against overweight patients.
We need to reduce weight stigma not only because it is harmful, but also because it is neither supportive nor is it helpful. This summer a large scale research study out of Florida State University released findings showing that participants who experienced weight discrimination earlier were 2.5 times more likely to become obese, and obese participants who experienced weight discrimination were more likely to remain obese than those who had not experienced such discrimination.
On the other hand, most professionals will agree that stigma from weight can lead to eating disorders in people who are inclined to have perfectionist or depressive tendencies. The statistics are alarming. In fact, a recent study estimates that approximately a half million teens struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating. And some of those teens have become quite adept at hiding their disordered eating habits. Eating disorders do not just affect teenagers either. In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Having had a few friends with eating disorders, I have seen how difficult they can be not only on the person afflicted but with that person’s family, friends, and co-workers as well.
So either way you look at it, weight shaming is not only not working, it is making matters worse. How about instead of discrimination and shame, we instead offer encouragement, support, and acceptance?
During National Weight Stigma Awareness Week, activities hosted on the Binge Eating Disorder Association’s website, BEDAonline.com, include: blog posts from across the globe providing insight on weight stigma issues, support tools and references for treatment providers and families, a Twitter chat with Dr. Ralph Carson, webinars, expert video presentations, and a Keynote Address featuring Brian Cuban, author of Shattered Image. For full details on National Weight Stigma Awareness Week, go to http://bedaonline.com/weight-stigma-awareness-week-about/#.UhznE9KTySo.
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