Weight Stigma, also known as weightism, weight bias, and weight-based discrimination, is judgment or stereotyping based on one’s weight, shape and/or size. Weight stigma fuels behaviors and actions by individuals and organizations that include bullying, hate-speech, and exclusions that limit the ability of a person to gain employment, healthcare, and education.
Some common beliefs fueled by weight stigma include: larger-bodied people are lazy, lack self-discipline, have poor willpower, lack intelligence, are diseased, and have the ability to become and remain thin. Thin individuals are also stigmatized by commonly held beliefs that they diet and/or exercise excessively, are healthy, self-absorbed, more attractive, and take better care of their bodies, thus have the ability to exert great will-power.
Weight Stigma is not a strictly external problem. Thoughts about whether or not a person’s own body shape, size, or they themselves are acceptable are pervasive throughout society. People often question whether they are worthwhile, lovable, or deserving of compassion because of these internalized cues which are taken from the inflexible standard of beauty, thin ideal, shaming health policies, and lack of size diversity many in our culture give great importance.
Examples is Weight Stigma:
- Shame placed upon individuals based on weight or body size
- Judgment and biases predetermined by weight, body size, or lifestyle
- Judgment of a person’s character, work ethics, and personality based on weight
- Prejudice and discrimination suffered because of weight
- Can be communicated both directly and indirectly
- Negative attitudes affecting interactions
- Subtle and overt expressions
Who are the Victims of Weight Stigma?
- The lonely child on the playground, who’s always picked last for games
- The highly competent worker who is paid less than his peers and gets bypassed for promotions because he’s larger
- The anxious patient who fears getting regular check-ups because she knows she will be shamed for her weight
- The friend who nervously laughs along as the group laughs at fat jokes, hoping no one will realize she’s who they are laughing at
How are Individuals Stigmatized?
- Through hate speech, both written and verbal
- Negative comments regarding body size
- Negative non-verbal communication, such as looks, stares, and demeanor
- Stereotypes that overweight persons are lazy, stupid, and incompetent, leading to rejection, prejudice, and discrimination
- Inequalities in employment, health-care, and educational settings due to these stereotypes
- Mistreatment by peers (specifically, bullying in children)
Origins of Weight Stigma:
- Media portrayal and societal pressure regarding obesity
- Cultural value of thinness
- Culture blaming victims (overweight/obese people) instead of investigating environmental factors
- General belief that people only fail to lose weight because they lack the will power and discipline (when research tells us that 97% of people who lose weight on a diet, gain it back and sometimes more)
Key Source: Yale Rudd Center