Weight stigma is rampant in American culture. Weight stigma refers to the bias and stereotyping based on a person’s weight . Within American society, thin bodies are upheld to be the most attractive body type. Every individual is bombarded with numerous messages in the media about weight and body shape.
Impact of Weight Stigma on Body Image
This cultural obsession with thinness also leads people in bigger bodies to be viewed as unattractive and unhealthy. Basically, people in bigger bodies are shamed for their size and shape. Weight stigma is shown to negatively impact someone’s physical and mental health . Research has shown that this pressure increases the risk of depression, negative body image, low self-esteem, and eating disorders .
Despite the negative impact that weight stigma has on millions of people, thin bodies continue to be considered the only healthy and attractive body type. This has lead to anti-obesity campaigns and health initiatives.
For example, a recent national report was released about the current rates of obesity in the United States . This post discussed the health risks associated with being in a bigger body and argued for better health programs in America in order to reduce rates of obesity. However, these types of messages are shown to create more harm than good.
Obesity Prevention Campaign Results
Obesity prevention campaigns have increased weight stigma by approximately 66% . Conversations about dieting from family and physicians increase the risk for someone to develop Binge Eating Disorder . This is important because these programs are designed to improve health but actually negatively impact it.
Obesity prevention programs not only reinforce weight stigma but also encourage disordered beliefs about food. For example, a 2020 medical report suggested taxing foods that are considered unhealthy. This is problematic because viewing labeling food as “healthy,” “unhealthy,” “good,” or “bad” is a common source of anxiety for people with an eating disorder.
It is detrimental to label food as either good or bad because it can lead to guilt or shame for eating certain foods, restricting, or binging. The truth is that there is no good or bad food . This may be shocking considering that dieting is based on the idea that certain foods are fattening and, therefore, bad.
Dieting sets someone up to have a relationship with food that is based on body image rather than eating according to their body’s unique needs. Every body is different and therefore has different needs. Everyone deserves to have a relationship with their body and food that is based on meeting their unique nutritional needs so they can thrive.
Weight stigma and obesity prevention programs cause more harm than good . Health programs should focus on increasing universal access to nutrient-dense and satisfying foods. It’s time for America to focus on this rather than shaming people into a smaller pair of jeans. Every body is a good body, regardless of its size.
Resources: National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d) Weight stigma. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/weight-stigma  Trust for America’s Health. (2020). The state of obesity 2020: Better policies for a healthier America. https://www.tfah.org/report-details/state-of-obesity-2020/  Costin, C. & Shubert-Grabb, G. (2012). 8 keys to recovery from an eating disorder. W.W Norton & Company, Inc.
About the Author:
Samantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published November 27, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 27, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC