Weightism or weight based discrimination is prejudice based on a person’s body size. It has its greatest negative impacts on those who are overweight, although there are many stereotypes based on thinness as well. The stigma related to weight bias can lead to false stereotyping (i.e. someone who is overweight is lazy, lacks will power or is of low intelligence), discrimination and being devalued by society (such as not being consider for jobs, difficulties getting adequate health care) and personal shame (including low self-esteem).
What is weight stigma?
- Shame placed upon individuals based on weight or body size.
- Judgment and biases predetermined by weight, body size, lifestyle
- Judgment of a person’s character, work ethics, and personality based on weight
- Suffer prejudice and discrimination because of their weight
- Inequalities in the employment, health-care, and educational settings due to negative stereotypes that overweight and obese persons are lazy and incompetent
- Can be communicated both directly and indirectly
- Negative attitudes affecting interactions
- Subtle and overt expressions
How are individuals stigmatized?
Ways individuals can be stigmatized:
- Comments regarding body size
- Looks – demeanor
- Health-care providers
- Stereotypes leading to rejection, prejudice, and discrimination
- Mistreatment from 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 itback and sometimes more...)
Source: Yale Rudd Center www.yaleruddcenter.com
Society promotes the belief that size is a personal choice, and therefore cannot be considered prejudice. By accepting common weight-based stereotypes, we promote intolerance and prejudice, leading to unfair treatment of individuals who are overweight.
Weight bias has a range of negative emotional and physical health consequences which include: increased vulnerability to depression and anxiety, nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence, drug dependence, lower self-esteem, poor body image, unhealthy eating behaviors and avoidance of physical activity. In addition, research shows there is a higher rate of suicide by those who are obese than people of an average size.
Jessica Setnick, the national director of training and education for Ranch 2300 Collegiate Eating Disorders Treatment Program stated weight discrimination can affect who gets treatment for mental disorders, specifically eating disorders. While our society still associates eating disorders with those struggling with Anorexia Nervosa, research is beginning to point to obesity as a potential indication of an eating disorder (Binge Eating Disorder). Plus, there are individuals with eating disorders who are an ordinary size (Bulimia Nervosa). This leads to inaction by doctors and insurance companies who use weight as a sign that all is well. Many individuals do not get treatment for their eating disorder because of this discrimination.”
There is help for those who feel their eating is out of control or who experience guilt, shame, symptoms of depression or isolate to avoid negative reactions from others. Binge Eating Disorder is a mental health disease with all the negative consequences associated with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. It can be treated by a mental health professional through a bio-psycho-social assessment and addressing the issues that have caused the development of the disorder. There are several therapists in our offices that have experience in this area, if you believe you or a loved one could benefit from coming in.