27 July 2011

Weight(ing) For Change — Why Weight Stigma Impacts Us All

First, a little test.
What is the first thing you notice when you first met someone? Most likely you first notice the person's weight. And that is the first thing he or she mostly likely sees when meeting you.

Now I would like you to dig a little deeper. Do you have assumptions about people based upon their weight? Most of us do assume certain things about people solely based on their weight. All the stereotypes are right there in our heads. We assume people who are thin are healthy and fit, and we think that people who are overweight are unhealthy and not fit.

We have been trained since childhood by societal and cultural influences to think this way. But society is wrong, and we have accepted erroneous information based on nothing more than an arbitrary number. We can't tell if someone is fit or not solely based upon his or her weight.

We really don't know anything about a person based upon his or her weight. And often we can't see beyond that depending upon our own assumptions about people and weight. That is sad. We miss out on getting to know people because we have allowed our prejudices to dictate our actions.

Weight stigma goes both ways. I am not fond of a current movement that states, "Real women are not a size [X]." Why does someone get to decide who is a real woman based upon her size and weight? Aren't we all real women (and men)? We were all created different sizes and each one of us fall within a spectrum. That is the beauty of being human — each one of us is unique in shape and size, and we are perfect in God's eyes. We only start questioning our bodies and weight when society interferes and tries to force us to accept its values.

So what does weight stigma mean to me? It can be very dangerous because society continued crushing pressure on all of us to fit its very narrow definition of what is an acceptable weight. Some of us listen to society's voice and develop eating disorders during our quest to meet that narrow ideal. I am not necessarily saying that weight stigma and society's views about weight cause eating disorders. But it certainly doesn't help with either recovering from eating disorders or accepting our bodies.

It personally means that I have been a slave to this machine for years. I developed anorexia nervosa several years ago, and the number on this machine dictated my life for a long time. I am not saying weight stigma and society's extreme ideals about weight caused me to develop anorexia and almost cost me my life. But as I wrote earlier, it certainly didn't help.

I continue to move forward in recovery and am becoming healthier each day. Keeping my scale is one of the last vestiges of my eating disorder, and I still struggle with the numbers I see on it. I continue to work on eliminating weight stigma in my personal life, and I believe awareness is key to both recovery and eliminating weight stigma.

Because no one wins when it comes to weight stigma. The number is never right because none of us can meet the ridiculous standards set by society. Instead, we struggle and become frustrated until we reach a point where we can let go and simply be ourselves.

One last question. What if I had substituted the word race for weight stigma? Because that is what weight stigma is — one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice.

I'm still waiting for change. I hope it comes soon because weight stigma seems to be spreading during this country's obsessive fight against obesity. Perhaps some day we can focus on health and other things that are real and important about people.

This post was written as part of Voice in Recovery's Weight Stigma Blog Carnival. Visit Voice In Recovery's website for links to more posts written by a variety of bloggers on weight stigma and its impact on society and people.


Mike Peterson said...

Right on, Angela! My thighs are 26 inches each, measured at the very top. Of course I'm going to weigh way more than I should. I am stocky. I am also 45 inches around my waist which I admit is too much. But I'd have to lose 72 pounds to be normal.

Ashley said...

Very good post!

It is SO TRUE about the first impression; the first thing we notice is our body shape/weight. This is part of reason why I started my Anorexia. I was unable to "communicate" by speaking due my deafness so I used my body to show people who I was.

I have never really given much thought about Women with Real Bodies movement until you pointed it out about the fact they still thought about "number".

Weight is a BIG BIG deal especially when one is Anorexic. I know it all too well how numbers dominated my life, my moods, and my outlook for life in general.

I am slowly learning in my recovery that numbers DOES NOT represent my self-worth. I am working on improving my self-worth through who I am; my characteristics, my 'quirks", and my personality.

This is sickness of our society that needs to be eliminated, that's for sure and be replaced with teaching of embracing our own bodies the way we should (think of Ancient Rome or Renaissance eras).

Square Peg Guy said...

"What if I had substituted the word race for weight stigma? Because that is what weight stigma is — one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice."

Good point, great post.

I do notice a person's weight, but I take in more than that. I sense their posture and the way they move. Then when I get closer, within speaking distance, I focus on the face, especially the eyes. The eyes tell me how interested and engaged a person is.

I dated a lovely full-figured woman many years ago. I especially loved watching her talk -- she was so animated and her eyes would light up. She also made the best Christmas cookies I've ever tasted. ;) I realize now that our first date must've been stressful for her, until I blurted out "You're pretty!" That was a real ice-breaker.

I believe there are other forms of "acceptable" prejudice, for example class or economic status. Just walk through any city with a visible homeless population and notice how they're treated.

Anyway, good luck!

Missy said...

I am really torn because I don't think a person's weight is what I notice at all ...yet it may just bve subconcious..like noticing their race of gender.
That being said I assure you I assume things based on people's weight. Not cool but true.

I am realizing now more than ever how much the number on the scale is important to me...not the number so to speak but it's implications. I wwill not go near one for fear of what it will say.

Anonymous said...

I will say that I DO notice a person overall beauty but it doesnt go hand in hand with their weight. Sometimes i'll notice beautiful eyes, shape, etc. whatever! I will also say that I DO notice weight BUT ONLY because of my ED. It's not a JUDGMENTAL thing at all, its just something I notice. Kinda feel neutral about it most of the time.

Tiger said...

Love this.
Love you.
Hope things are going ok.
Hate weight stigma.
Thanks for your continued support. It means so much : ]

Anonymous said...

The first thing I notice about someone is their smile. You have a great smile and a wonderful spirit. I admire your courage and you are a very confident person.

Angela E. Lackey said...

Thank you, Anonymous 2! That's very sweet of you to say!!!