What is Weight Stigma?

Did you hear about the talk show host that thought it was a great idea to bring back fat shaming? Then another host replied with a message about how fat shaming isn’t helpful, but missed the actual harm this sort of fatphobia brings on people. This is one public example of the weight stigma that many people feel on a daily basis and the reason the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is hosting a Weight Stigma Awareness Week from September 23-27. Weight stigma goes beyond fat shaming and truly affects everyone.

Weight stigma is the unconscious bias that is exerted towards people in larger bodies. It’s the assumption about a person’s health based on their body size.

In addition to the outward comments people can make about others in a larger body, there are many ways that fatphobia affects a person’s daily life. Studies have found that fat people have a significant wage gap than others with similar experience. There are countless stories about people going to see their doctor regarding pains or illness unrelated to their weight, but weight always brought up. One famous story about this blatant disregard of health is a woman who suffered for over 6 years and had numerous doctor’s visits before being diagnosed with lung cancer. Other stories include people just avoiding the doctor because of the shame they face each time they go. When people aren’t comfortable seeing a doctor, they aren’t able to get a diagnosis to help themselves.

Weight stigma leads to people avoiding social settings, exercise, and overeating. It also leads to increased risk of poor mental health and poor weight control practices. The discrimination that fat people face is nearly as severe as gender or race discrimination, yet even people in larger bodies don’t want to associate with each other. This constant barrage of dismissal and microaggressions have much more severe health effects than merely the fat on someone’s body.

All people in every body shape deserves love, care, and respect. Health is not determined by weight and shaming someone into wanting to change their shape is not helpful. It is important for everyone to have an understanding of the harm fatphobia can impart on someone’s health. This cycle will only be broken when society decides to disentangle itself from the idea that body size is related to health and demand that changes are made.

Examine your own biases and educated yourself on the damage that weight stigma can cause people. Body diversity is a beautiful thing and we should embrace humanities’ differences.