3 Tips to Rise Above Weight Stigma


We live in a society that demonizes weight gain and celebrates weight loss at any cost. weight stigma awareness week

No need to look any further than the overt and subliminal messages within social media, television, ads, and magazines, which perpetuate and capitalize on this obsession with weight.

This mania has created a culture that socially accepts and even encourages weight stigma, which is discriminating against someone based on his or her weight, size or shape.

As a result, weight stigma is one of the primary contributors to disordered eating and disordered exercise in this country.

Not joining the common language of ‘weight talk’ when everyone around you is focused on weight loss, body image, and dieting, can feel like an uphill battle.
But this obsession with weight is wreaking havoc on people of all sizes, and especially on those who are openly discriminated against based on their size.

And guess what? Women are both the primary targets of weight stigma, as well as the primary perpetrators. (Tweet that!) According to research done at the Yale Rudd Center.

This prejudice is affecting our children in that weight based bullying is an increasingly prevalent form of harassment in schools.

Leading by Example to End Weight Stigma

I say enough.

We as adults need to become better role models for our youth in this area. To quote Mahatma Gandhi…it’s necessary to “be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

This week is Weight Stigma Awareness Week (September 21st – September 25th) and in honor of this important cause and for those everywhere who have been impacted by weight stigma, I wanted to share 3 areas of exploration that can help turn the tides of weight discrimination – one person at a time and no better person to start with then oneself.

Become aware of and challenge your own biases.

Ask yourself: What qualities do you assume and attribute to people of different sizes? Thin and fat people alike? And why? Where does it come from? The media, personal experience, family, friends…?

We can’t change what we aren’t aware of – and the key here is to ask with a curious, non-judgmental mind what our thoughts and assumption default to in order to shine a light on your own conscious and/or unconscious perceptions and/or treatment of others based on size.

How do you talk to yourself about YOUR weight?

How is your overall body image? How often does your mind drift to negative versus positive self-talk about your weight? Is it accepting, or judging? Is it compassionate or critical? And lastly, how is that working for you?

Often criticism is used as a strategy to motivate change – but self-criticism disempowers people because it produces feelings of shame and unworthiness, which tends to keep people rooted in harmful behavior.

Acceptance for the body we have today invites compassion, which is key for optimal self-care and for lessening the critical lens with which we view ourselves – and in turn – others. Self-compassion enables positive change through self-regard rather than self-abuse.

What can you change in your environment to lessen exposure to ‘weight talk’?

Do you join in the diet and body-talk conversations? Do you laugh at a ‘fat joke’? Do you ‘buy in’ to the photo-shopped media images and weight loss articles on a regular basis? Do you swallow comments made by other people (strangers and/or loved ones alike) instead of effectively creating a boundary of how you want to be treated?

Changing what we choose to be a part of and standing up for oneself instead of internalizing negative messages directly and positively impacts self-esteem.

Unplugging from the collective mindset around size obsession takes a commitment to being different – to being outside the ‘box’ of deeming another’s worth not on how they look, but on the ‘who’ of who they are on the inside.

We’re human – we notice, we judge, we assume. But can we also be curious and explore how we may be ‘buying in’ and then actively work on being different one thought, one situation at a time.

Starting with self first will inevitably create a ripple of change in the sea of weight stigma.

2 responses to “3 Tips to Rise Above Weight Stigma”

  1. Beth Warner says:

    Erin, this comes at just the right time for me. Penne reminded of self-compassion as I struggle with just this topic. Several weeks ago, there was an article in The Washington Post Sunday magazine section about “full-sized women.” It featured a very beautiful woman model. She wore lovely clothes and make-up. I had judged her to be several sizes larger than I am now. I was shocked to read at the end of the article that she was a size 12. I burst into tears. I haven’t been a size 12 in almost 10 years and that was only for a year. So I had my judgement and then my despair. Today I am who I am and I have compassion for each day I wake to live as I am. Beth W.

  2. Erin Risius says:

    Beth – your self awareness and honesty are inspiring – truly. Thank you for sharing this…and kudos to you for allowing in self-compassion. Cheers to that!

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About the Author

Erin Risius, MA, LPC

Erin Risius, MA, LPC, is a former program director of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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