I'm Destinee and this is where I share my life, my work, and my heart. As a multi-passionate creative, you'll find a little bit of everything I love here: my photography, my writing, and my advocacy for mental health and social justice. I may not be for everyone, but I hope that you'll feel welcomed, encouraged, and inspired from this online space.
I used to be really hesitant to write about controversial topics, but then I realized that positive change never occurs without having uncomfortable conversations. Plus, this week is Weight Stigma Awareness Week and ever since I wrote about my eating disorder recovery, I’ve become an advocate for fighting against weight stigma! Additionally, on my journey to being unapologetically myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that my (sometimes unpopular) opinions are a part of who I am – so why hide that? Especially when I’m advocating for a group of marginalized people…
Please Note: I do want to preface this with a content warning for those that may be triggered by talk regarding body size, eating disorders, weight stigma and discrimination, fat-phobic medical terminology, etc. Additionally, I’d like to mention that in this post, and in general, when I use the term “fat”, it is being used as a neutral descriptor that’s been reclaimed by the fat acceptance community, for which I am a part of.
Simply put, weight stigma, also know as weight bias or weight discrimination, is a type of discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s body size. Weight stigma also manifests in fat phobia, the dislike or fear of being or becoming fat.
A board certified physician named Lauren Muhlheim PsyD CEDS, wrote a really interesting description of weight stigma for the online publication, The Very Well Mind. Dr. Muhlheim says, “Weight stigma or bias generally refers to negative attitudes toward a person because he or she is overweight or obese. The assumption that larger individuals are lazy or lacking in willpower is pervasive in our society, and weight bias is observed in children as young as 3—that’s right, 3 years old. Larger individuals face discrimination in a plethora of domains. Stigma towards individuals of size harms people of all sizes. Weight stigma is a common form of discrimination in our society. Notice how it is rarely challenged? The word “fat” has morphed from a simple description into a foul word. And research shows that weight discrimination is increasing. The war on obesity, which attempts to scare and shame everyone into dieting, is partly to blame. The diet industry, which falsely suggests that one can choose one’s weight on the scale, also contributes. In fact, diets rarely work in the long-term. Weight is largely determined by genetic and additional factors that are outside of an individual’s control. Other factors contributing to weight stigma include our culture’s focus on the thin ideal and media portrayals of overweight individuals as objects of ridicule. In print media, larger weight individuals are often depicted eating [foods traditionally categorized as] ‘junk food’ and with [their] heads cut off, which reinforces the stereotype and dehumanizes them.”
Weight stigma happens in many spaces, but some of the most common are:
It is never acceptable to discriminate against a person based on their body size, but shaming, blaming, and “concern trolling” happen everywhere, regardless of its lack of effectiveness in shrinking bodies. In fact, weight discrimination occurs more frequently than gender and age discrimination – and we have laws to protect people against that, but it’s not inclusive of body size or weight.
Even more concerning, weight stigma is a very important risk factor in the development of eating disorders. Weight stigma has unfortunately, normalized the shaming and policing of large-bodied folks in public spaces, healthcare, the wellness industry, sports and fitness, social media, movies and television, etc.
Weight stigma is ingrained in our society – so much so, that the “childhood diabetes epidemic” has caused parents all over the country (and world) to fear fat more than the real probability of developing an eating disorder. Just to note: eating disorders happen to be the most fatal mental illness, but by all means, resume your risk assessment. (insert eye roll here).
Speaking of risk assessment, let’s break down the facts: For every 100,000 children, 12 of them have Type 2 Diabetes. For every 100,000 children, 2,900 of them have eating disorders. Just to put that into perspective – children are 242 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than Type 2 diabetes. So, which is really the epidemic here?
Weight stigma poses a significant threat to psychological and physical health. It has been documented as a significant risk factor for depression, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction.
Now that we’ve talked about what weight stigma is, where it happens, and how it manifests – you could be wondering – why should I even care about this? Aren’t there so many other problems in the world? I can respect that sentiment, however, weight stigma is both a social injustice and a public health issue. All people, regardless of body size or shape, deserve:
An important thing to note, is that weight stigma affects people of all body sizes and increases risk for developing disordered eating and lifestyle behaviors. The unfortunate part, is that disordered eating and body-shaming has become so normalized in American culture that fat phobic beliefs have been ingrained in us since childhood. It takes a lot of work and dedication to unlearn those destructive thought patterns.
If you’ve read this far, I assume you have an interest in the topic and want to know what you can do to help fight weight stigma. As a fat person, I think it’s really important that all people, regardless of body size, advocate against weight stigma, because it truly affects everyone in some way. We need thin allies in this fight with us! Here are a few simple ways you can help to fight weight stigma:
In recent years, it seems companies and brands, alike, are working toward inclusivity – but, are they really? With many companies joining the “body positive” movement, this seems like something to celebrate. However, there are a couple of issues with what “body positivity” has evolved into. I’d even go as far to say that the conventional type of “body positivity” has been completely hijacked by diet culture and weight stigma; and is being used as a facade to raise profit margins for clothing companies.
The first issue in my opinion, is that companies and brands that promote body positivity in their marketing, specifically in the fashion industry, are only inclusive on a small scale. (No pun intended). Companies like, Aerie and American Eagle, that have extended their sizing in recent years, still don’t carry plus size clothing in most stores and only go up to a size XXL. I’d hardly call that size diversity. The idea that large bodied customers are strategically excluded from having the same shopping experience that their thin customers receive, and that they’re exiled to shopping from their computer screen or not at all, is the exact opposite of inclusivity. I love what Jessica Torres says in her article about Aerie and Body Positivity – she says, “Dear Aerie: Body positivity is not a marketing strategy to help your bottom line. Do better.” And I totally agree, Jessica.
The second issue I see, is that the social media crap-storm revolving around “body positivity”, most often excludes bodies that aren’t categorized as the social media obsession known as “slim-thick“. Slim thick is described as, “On the surface, [appearing] to support curves. Womanly, toned thighs and a bootylicious behind are markers of the slim thick shape. But, to be considered properly slim thick, hips have to be slim, and stomachs need to be flat, and very much sculpted.” All of which is highly unattainable, and causing fat bodies to be widely unrepresented – even by a lot of companies that carry solely plus size clothing.
Additionally, it’s important to note that a large portion of body positive “supporters” subconsciously believe there is a limit to the size deemed acceptable for “health reasons” in body positivity. The internet and social media comment sections on body positive posts depicting fat people, are often flooded with “concern trolling“. By definition, concern trolling is the action or practice of disingenuously expressing concern about an issue in order to undermine or derail genuine discussion.
I want to say this real loud for the people in the back. Body size and BMI is not an indicator of health status. Study after study shows that it’s the behaviors that make a healthy body, not the size. Just like Emily Murray, RD, LDN (@foodfreedomdietitian) says, “What do we learn from cows, buffalos, and elephants? It’s impossible to reduce weight by eating green grass and salads and walking.” God created animals to be diverse in body size and shape, and I believe He created humans to be diverse in that sense as well.
I would also like to mention that “health” is not a moral imperative – meaning that, no person is obligated to pursue “health”. Basically, if it’s not your body, it’s not your business. Regardless of body size or health status, every person deserves respect. Period.
These are just some of the issues that I believe make “body positivity” problematic for the fat acceptance community. We need to do better. People deserve better.
If you’ve made it through the end of this post, you are a real trooper. I’d love to know what you think after reading all of this and I’d appreciate if you’d continue the conversation with friends, and in the comments below!
Some of the information in this post was adapted from the research studies, education, and sources cited above.