Weight Stigma: Some basics of what you should know.

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In the United States, it is not uncommon for folx that live in large bodies (i.e., people that may self-identify
themselves as fat) to experience discrimination solely based on their weight and/or body size. This type of
discrimination is known as weight stigma, “also commonly referred to as weight bias…or weight prejudice,
[and] refers to the labeling, stereotyping, separation, and discrimination of individuals, populations, and
organizations on the basis of weight” (Clark et al., 2021).

A concept that can be a primary source for weight stigma is fatphobia, which can be viewed as an
irrational fear and hatred of large-bodied individuals, gaining weight, and a promotion of weight
discrimination (Cottais, 2021). Weight stigma and fatphobic tendencies can be both overt and covert; they
can present as obviously as children being bullied for their weight by their peers or someone using the
word “fat” to hurt a large-bodied individual as a weapon as opposed to a means of empowerment. On the
other hand, they can be as insidious as not having access to furniture that is suitable for a large body
size, like on an airplane or in a restaurant booth, doctors using the word “obese” as a diagnosis for
someone in a large body, and not having access to extended clothing sizes available in store (and
frequently being charged extra for said sizes). What’s more, weight loss is often praised and applauded,
while gaining weight can be looked down upon and shamed, despite not knowing the reasons for
changes in body size.

Discrimination of one’s body size can have a profound effect on mental health. Zara Abrams for the
American Psychological Association reported that being a continuous target of weight stigma has the
possibility to increase one’s likelihood of developing an eating disorder, avoiding health care, and
generally “decreases [a large-bodied person’s] quality of life” (2022). 

When considering how deeply weight bias can impact large-bodied folx, Da’Shaun Harrison, an individual
who exists as black, disabled, fat, and queer, noted his familiarity experiencing oppression due to his
intersecting identities. He described a sense of hyper-awareness of what he eats when in public due to
his body size, in addition to disclosing other fat folx’s negative experiences in public. Harrison noted and
corroborated that as a fat person, is is not uncommon to feel self-conscious of how much space they take
up and a sense of obligation to coddle the discomforts of small-bodied individuals associated with his
body size, something he described to be “a pervasive problem.” (2018).

So, moving forward, I write a message for individuals who live in small bodies: it is crucial you begin
considering how you might be contributing to fatphobia, fat-hate, and weight bias. Nuances aside, as a
small-bodied person, it is important to be reminded that our world was built for your body size. It is likely
that you can walk into a store, a restaurant, or onto an airplane and not have to generally worry about
how things will fit, if you will be supported by the furniture available, or if you will fit in the seat that is
available for you. Unfortunately, folx living in large bodies frequently do not have these same privileges. 

Large-bodied folx are not responsible for easing the discomforts about their weight. How can you begin to show up for large-bodied individuals and reform any biases against weight?

Abrams, Z. (2022, March). The burden of weight stigma. Monitor on Psychology, 53(2).

Clark, O., Lee, M. M., Jingree, M. L., O’Dwyer, E., Yue, Y., Marrero, A., Tamez, M., Bhupathiraju, S. N., &
Mattei, J. (2021). Weight Stigma and Social Media: Evidence and Public Health Solutions. Frontiers in
nutrition, 8, 739056. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.739056

Cottais, C., Pavard, J., & Sanchez, M. (2021). Fatphobia, a pervasive and socially accepted
discrimination. Generation for Rights Over the World. Retrieved from www.growthinktank.org

Harrison, D. (2018, September 27). The Daily Realities of Being Fat, Black, and Queer in Public Spaces.
Them.us. https://www.them.us/story/fat-black-queer-public-spaces#

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