They’re just lazy, unmotivated and they lack discipline. They must really not care about themselves. If they don’t care, why should I care about them?
These are some of the thoughts going through our minds when we come across someone in a large body.
And yet, we don’t know this person at all. As Marilyn Wann says “ When you see a fat person, the only thing you know is your level of weight stigma”. Also isn’t it also none of your business why a person has the body they have?
Weight Stigma is Rampant
Weight Stigma is prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s size or weight. It’s a widespread problem leading to discrimination, violence, bullying, high stress levels, and unhealthy, disordered eating. Just like any other form of prejudice, it causes harm to those it impacts.
Weight stigma plagues our world. Over 40% of US adults report weight stigma and body shaming, across all body types and weights.
Weight Stigma also impacts children. Adolescents are bullied for many reasons. Tack on body shaming due to weight and it’s a rough ride. 71% of adolescents reported some form of weight shaming abuse over the last year alone.
It leads to eating disorders and other self-harm behaviors. Because there’s such a stigma and bias towards folx in large bodies, they are bullied, mistreated, and harmed. It leads to increased stress levels and suicide. The impact is huge and it’s disheartening.
Even their doctors assume the worst….assuming patients are unhealthy due to their weight without even assessing health behaviors. This type of shaming leads them to believe they are failing. They avoid return visits to the doctor. They feel ashamed and don’t want to be seen.
Avoiding doctor visits leads to even worse health outcomes including death. This is not an ethical way of helping individuals.
There has to be a better way. We need to unpack and rethink how we view bodies. Weight isn’t an indicator of health. Nor is it a holistic way of viewing health.
Let’s start by debunking some myths about weight.
Myth One: Weight is an Accurate Measure of Health
alone, it’s only one number to be considered when evaluating a patient.
Instead of obsessing about one number, weight, we should be encouraging nourishing and connecting behaviors instead.
Encouraging patients, friends, and loved ones to be in community, eat and produce foods together, get good sleep, and have a balance of self-care and collective care is more valuable.
Let’s create welcoming spaces for all bodies.
Let’s retool our culture and society to value holistic health. Not one metric….that doesn’t accurately measure health.
Myth Two: Fat People Aren’t Fit
I train in martial arts. In 2019, I presented with one of my training partners at a martial arts teachers’ conference on weight stigma in martial arts. We interviewed numerous people in large bodies sharing their experience of weight stigma in martial arts. Many of the people interviewed have advanced belts, some even more than one black belt. All people discussed having experiences where training partners, teachers, and tournament judges assumed they lacked skills due to their size. They also expressed being told that martial arts could lead to weight loss as opposed to skill and confidence development. Lastly, many expressed that they assumed they could take more physical contact due to their large body.
How sad and upsetting that we continue to focus on weight loss instead of the intrinsic and community benefits of physical activity and movement.
Researchers have found that losing pounds doesn’t always lead to healthy gains.
Hunger points to a meta-analysis that found that even after dieters lost weight, their blood pressure, glucose, and other blood markers weren’t significantly better when they were reevaluated two years later.
A New View: Redefining how we hold Health
I am including this piece from ASDAH- Association of Size Diversity and Health as it articulates so powerfully how we need to hold weight, health and inclusivity
“The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) affirms a holistic definition of health, which cannot be characterized as the absence of physical or mental illness, limitation, or disease. Rather, health exists on a continuum that varies with time and circumstance for each individual. Health should be conceived as a resource or capacity available to all regardless of health condition or ability level, and not as an outcome or objective of living. Pursuing health is neither a moral imperative nor an individual obligation, and health status should never be used to judge, oppress, or determine the value of an individual.”
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