Weight Discrimination: At a First Glance

Blog Contributed by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Director at Eating Disorder Hope and Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, President at Eating Disorder Hope

We have heard of the negative impact that bullying can have on self-esteem. We understand the connection between low self-esteem and the development of eating disorders. But, what exactly is “fat shaming” and weight discrimination, and how is this transforming what bullying has become as we know it?

One’s weight and appearance seem quickly to come under a critical eye, whether in a social group of friends, on an athletic team, or even in a work office setting. This leads to the development of weight-related discrimination and bullying.

As stigmas about weight spread like wildfire through the outlets of social media and entertainment venues, more and more people are facing the brutality of weight-related bullying. Perhaps, you have been the victim of weight-related discrimination, or maybe, you know someone firsthand who has experienced this devastating judgment. Sadly, this trend is much more commonplace than we may know or recognize.

News story of weight discrimination in the workplace. As posted by Kelly Bliss

According to a recent opinion survey completed by SheByShe, over half of the 700 women who participated revealed that they had been a victim of weight-related bullying at least once in their lives [1]. This included bullying for being overweight or obese, as well as discrimination for being underweight.

In this survey titled, “Women’s Weight and Body Image Concerns”, survey respondents also exposed how weight related prejudice affected them in the workforce, with over 25 percent of women surveyed accounting for discrimination in a professional setting. The most common forms of bullying related to weight were name calling/labeling, vicious comments, and even physical abuse. Many women attested to feeling as though the lost out on job promotions and other opportunities due to discrimination about their weight.

In response to these survey results, Dr. Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, shared “No one should suffer from this kind of treatment and, as the stories from these women show, weight-based victimization and bullying have a lasting and damaging impact. We need to continue to shine a light on this prevalent problem and increase efforts to eliminate weight bias.”

The sad truth about weight-related discrimination is that is has become an inherent factor ingrained in our culture and society to the point that it often goes by unnoticed. Stigmas that endlessly circulate about overweight or underweight bodies are fueled further by the latest war on obesity and misunderstanding about eating disorders.

Too often, overweight individuals are scrutinized as being “unhealthy” or “lazy”. In the same way, individuals that may be underweight are cast aside as “sickly”, “fragile”, or even judged to have an eating disorder. The reality is the worth and value of a human being cannot be summed up in appearance or weight. The uniqueness of what makes us truly beautiful as individuals goes far beyond what meets the eye.

What efforts can we make to help eliminate the poisonous practice of weight-discrimination? Change all begins within us. Rising above stereotypes and stigmas begins with how we perceive and treat ourselves.

Are you harsh and critical with yourself and your body? Is it through these lenses that you are also scrutinizing the world and people that surround you? In a culture that is hyper-focused on flaws and imperfections, it is easy to lose sight of what truly makes us beautiful as human beings.

Judgment and animosity only breeds further destruction, sending a dangerous message that “you are not good enough the way you are.” As you learn to find peace with and accept yourself, you may also see beyond what our culture has taught us to look at for value and worth.


[1]: PRWeb, “52% of Women Victims of Weight-Related Bullying, Says New Survey from SheByShe,” http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/04/prweb11805282.htm

*image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at Freedigitalphotos.net

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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder.