I recently went to a conference in Ottawa that focused on the prevention and treatment of childhood and adolescent obesity. The conference had a specific focus on the interplay between physical and mental health. A couple of the presentations (one in particular by Dr. Angela Alberga) reminded me of how weight stigma still exists in our society and it has actually been found to be the number one reason for bullying amongst children (unbelievable right?)
In addition, I recently came across this article which provides some additional points on how weight stigma and ‘fat talk’ are still extremely prevalent (especially among women). It actually reminded me of past conversations I have had with sisters or friends and reminded me why this dialogue needs to change.
Click here to read.
So what is weight stigma anyway?
Weight stigma involves stereotyping based on body weight. This is something that tends to be deeply rooted in society. For example, a common stereotype is that someone heavier doesn't enjoy working out. It reflects our internalized attitudes and beliefs towards body size and more specifically our views of those who are larger or thinner (our views are also known as weight bias).
Weight bias and stigma are so deeply rooted in our society and culture that sometimes we may not even be aware that we hold any bias or stigma (this is known as our unconscious bias). When we are unaware of our own bias we internalize attitudes and believes about body size. For an individual, this can have negative consequences including feelings of shame, guilt, poor self-esteem etc.
Weight stigma still exists and unfortunately it is everywhere. The next time you're watching TV, be intentionally aware of the commercials you are half watching. Who and what types of bodies are portrayed being active? What types of bodies are being used to portray beauty in makeup or hair advertisements? Of course, there have many been improvements (e.g. dove campaigns) and this is fantastic! BUT, it is important to be aware that this still exists to help shift norms and reduce weight bias and stigma (especially for children).
Some self reflection
As a health care professional I work with all sorts of different people and I truly believe that health looks different on every body and that all bodies are beautiful. However, after being reminded of weight stigma I thought I should self-reflect and check in on my own unconscious bias. I decided to take the the Harvard Weight Implicit Association Test (IAT). The test uses a series of image and word combinations to measure the strength of association between concepts (e.g. fat and thin people) and evaluations (e.g. good and bad).
“Your data suggests no automatic preference between fat and thin people.” Of course, I was happy with my results. I work with individuals and families of all sizes and I am glad that my unconscious attitudes and beliefs reflect what I think I portray. However, if this isn’t your result, that is okay too. We live in a society that is deeply rooted in weight stigma, and knowing our own bias is a step in the right direction. Beyond knowing our own biases there are many other things that need to happen, for example more education on the chronic medical condition known as obesity for both adults and children. Obesity is caused by many different factors (with many reasons being out of an individuals control). I would love to go on about this further but that can be saved for an entirely different blog post!
What can you do to start?
Be aware of your own bias! At the very least we can begin to be more self aware of our own biases and in turn change how we talk about our bodies or interact with those around us. When we know our own biases we might catch ourselves before we say something that holds onto weight stigma. We can also choose what we expose ourselves and our children to. When we are more self-aware we can make choices that help promote positive self-talk, positive feelings and positive energy. For example, reminding yourself, your partner, or your child that you/they are beautiful every morning, that you/they are healthy, that you/they are loved.
I highly recommend taking this Harvard Weight Implicit Association Test. This can help you get a sense of your current weight biases. Click here to access the test.
Ps. If you are looking for any positive resources for children, here is a fantastic book – ShaPEsViLLe - click here
“The different shapes in the book encourage children to celebrate their differences and learn that it’s not the size of your shape but the size of your heart that deserves the first prize.”
When making any changes, including shifting the way you think, keep this in mind.
"Your speed doesn't matter, forward is forward" - The Latest Kate
Until next time,
Eat Right Feel Right - Angela xo
Canadian Obesity Network (2016). Weight Bias. Retrieved from: http://www.obesitynetwork.ca/weight-bias
Dr. Angela Alberga (2016). Weight Stigma in Healthcare & Education: Impact on Children & Families. Slides available: http://interprofessional.ubc.ca/Obesity2016/presentations/Alberga_Oct24_1.15.pdf