I am hypersensitive to the word bold. I cringe when people say it, even if they’re talking about my zaftig cat, Possum. It’s just not a nice word, and it’s so damaging. I was first called fat in fifth grade. A boy approached me and said he knew my phone number. He then recited Jenny Craig’s 800 number. I was crushed.
That was 26 years ago. I have struggled with my weight for two decades and have an eating disorder. It has not been an easy road. What I want to know is why is it okay to shame fat people?
One of the things I do for comfort is watch the episodes of “Friends” and “Gilmore Girls”. It’s a thing of comfort, and I never tire of it. However, I can’t help but notice how phobic my beloved shows are. It is blatant and rude.
I guess people who are ashamed of fat think they are somehow helping by motivating others to be healthy, but it doesn’t work. This makes people feel bad about themselves, causing psychological damage, and it creates a breeding ground for unhealthy coping mechanisms. And women are usually the target. Women are expected to be slim, beautiful and perfect, so when you don’t fit into that mold, you are ashamed, sometimes punished.
Also note that 28 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to the National Association of Anorexia nervosa and Related Disorders.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that the more people are exposed to weight-related stigma and discrimination, the more likely they are to become obese, even if they are thin to begin with. The NIH also reports that the harms of fat shame are well documented, showing that exposure to weight stigma triggers behavior changes linked to poor metabolic health and increased weight gain. Stress levels increase, self-control decreases, and the risk of binge eating increases.
I have also read that most of the time, it is health professionals who discriminate. It happened to me – a doctor told me my health problems were due to my lumpiness. No matter what I brought up, he told me to lose weight and it would be gone. He wasn’t my doctor for a long time.
But it’s not just healthcare professionals who do it. Other studies show that family members do the most harm. A study from the International Journal of Obesity indicates that between 76 and 88 percent of those surveyed experienced weight shame from a parent, sibling, or other family member. About 22 to 30 percent of people said their first experiences with weight stigma occurred before the age of 10. It’s crazy.
I feel like it’s getting better now that we’re seeing body positivity or body neutrality moves becoming popular, but we still have some work to do. Some people argue that “accepting” overweight or obese people promotes an unhealthy lifestyle, but I would say the stigma associated with weight is more harmful than being overweight. Not everyone who is overweight or even obese has health problems. Believing otherwise only fuels the stigma. There are other things to consider, but I’m not going to stand up for those who struggle with their weight. I shouldn’t have to.
Another person’s weight (and health) is nobody’s business.
If I could go back to fifth grade and stand up to this boy, I would. Instead, I just accepted his words as fact, and my life since then has been defined by my weight. No more.
The weight of other people’s opinions is the best weight I have ever lost.
For over 20 years, Heather Loeb has lived with major depression, anxiety, and a personality disorder, while battling the stigma of mental health. She is the creator of Unruly Neuros (www.unrulyneurons.com), a blog dedicated to normalizing depression and a member of State Representative Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Task Force.
Today more than ever, we need to take care of our mental health. Guest columnist Heather Loeb explains why and explores other important mental health topics in this special series.