Weight bias or weight stigma = negative attitudes, discrimination, and stereotyping of people living in larger bodies. This bias is everywhere: in American/Western media & culture, the health & fitness industry, and the fields of medicine & dietetics. Yes, discrimination based on body size is real; it is harmful; and it is absolutely never “deserved.”
Some examples of weight bias:
Media often shows pictures/clips of people in larger bodies being sedentary, looking unkempt, belly hanging out of ill-fitting clothing, standing on a scale, eating fast food… etc.
Alternatively, almost all stock photos portray people who model the “thin ideal” doing physical activity, cooking/eating nutritious-looking foods… or even showing competency in everyday roles as working professionals wearing business casual, working at computers and giving presentations.
Job discrimination – making assumptions about someone’s work ethic or ability to complete a project based on their body size.
Health & fitness – making assumptions about what someone eats or their health or fitness level based on their body size.
At the doctor’s office – a medical professional making assumptions about a patient’s diagnosis or symptoms based on their weight.
Weight bias in medicine
I have heard so many stories from friends and clients and other practitioners about doctors giving harmful weight loss advice. What’s worse, when presented with a patient of an “overweight” or “obese” BMI, some doctors are so blinded by their weight bias that they fail to:
conduct the same tests,
prescribe the same medication, or
give the same referrals to specialized providers
that they would have given to a patient of a “normal” BMI who presented with the same symptoms.
So, what can we do about weight bias?
The first step is awareness. Start recognizing it, and calling it out anytime you see discrimination based on body size (or anytime you catch yourself with weight-biased thoughts).
make assumptions about someone’s fitness activities, health conditions, food choices, professional competency, or anything else based on their body size.
make the mistake of thinking that discriminating against someone or making comments about someone’s body will “motivate them to lose weight.”
- check out the National Eating Disorders Association Weight Stigma Awareness Week. You can send an email to your representative to support the Eating Disorders Prevention in Schools Act of 2020 (H.R. 6703).
- speak up and start a discussion about weight stigma and weight discrimination to your friends & family, coworkers, medical care providers, etc.
Are you looking for a body positive, Health at Every Size (HAES) dietitian or personal trainer to help you combat internalized weight stigma and develop a healthy relationship with food and your body? Book an initial consult with me!