What is weight stigma?

Last week was Weight Stigma Awareness week, initiated by the National Eating Disorder Association in 2011 as a means of bringing attention to the impact that weight stigma has on disordered eating, mental health, and healthcare for those with eating disorders or individuals living in larger bodies. It’s an important week for the eating disorder community, and I want my readers to know about it.

Weight stigma is discrimination based on an individual’s size. It most often affects people  living in larger bodies, though individuals in smaller bodies may also be impacted. Weight stigma, or weight bias, results in individuals being judged or stereotyped based on appearance. For instance, an individual seeking medical attention might have health issues blamed on their weight when the issues are weight-unrelated. Or, two individuals eating cupcakes side-by-side might be judged differently (one as having fun, one as being irresponsible) in relation to their body sizes. Weight stigma and weight bias inevitably foster shame and low self-worth in victimized individuals, which can easily translate into disordered eating patterns or mental health diagnoses.

Unfortunately, weight stigma continues to be largely culturally accepted. While there are movements underway that challenge weight stigma (Health at Every Size, Body Positivity), the attitude that weight must be managed or fixed is still very much accepted and endorsed by medical and mental health professionals. This is harmful to patients in both instances.

If you’re being victimized by weight stigma, I encourage you to seek support in communities that embrace Health At Every Size. The culture is shifting too slowly, but changes are afoot!