Castlewood Eating Disorder Treatment Center Blog

What Does Weight Stigma Awareness Week Mean to You?

Weight Stigma Awareness Week is fast approaching; from September 26 through September 30 of this year, eating disorder recovery organizations across the country will seek to draw attention to the important issue of weight stigma, drawing connections to eating disorders while also underscoring the hope of recovery. This year’s theme is Teaching Kids the Truth, and will focus on the importance of shaping our kids’ impressions of themselves—leading them to healthy perceptions about weight and body image.

What is Weight Stigma?

If you’re not familiar with the term, a quick definition might be in order. Weight stigma—which is sometimes called weightism or weight bias—is a form of prejudice and discrimination, plain and simple. Rather than discriminating against individuals on the basis of race or sexual orientation, though, weight stigma discriminates on the basis of body type. In particular, people who are either heavier or skinnier than our culturally accepted norms may be stereotyped or even bullied.

Where Does Weight Stigma Come From?

Weight stigma is ultimately a reflection of our internalized attitudes toward weight—the body ideals we hold, even when they’re not particularly healthy or fair. These attitudes are absorbed from magazine covers, TV shows, and other forms of media that set narrow parameters for how beautiful and attractive people are “supposed” to look. Of course, we also get weight stigma from our parents, which is why Teaching Kids the Truth is such a valuable theme; parents play a critical role in helping their kids develop healthy attitudes about their own bodies. Crucially, these body image ideals can vary according to gender, race, culture, and more. For example, in our American culture, girls might be expected to be thin, and thus girls who are deemed too heavy might be the subject of weight bias; for boys, the bias may be toward being bulky and muscular, and boys who are deemed too thin might be the subject of weightism. There are also some more general forms of weight bias, in which negative personality traits might be attributed to people who don’t fall into the idealized weight categories. For example, a person who is heavier might be thought to be lazy, lacking in self-discipline or simply unintelligent. These social portrayals can reinforce these stereotypes, and many of us might internalize them without even knowing it.

How is Weight Stigma Connected to Eating Disorders?

Those who are the subjects of weight stigma might feel powerless and pressured—and they may not find much sympathy in the medical community: Sometimes, doctors and nurses themselves can perpetuate these harmful weight-based stigmas. An individual may ultimately develop an eating disorder as a way of coping, and of disassociating with these feelings of powerlessness. At Castlewood, we know that many of our clients have developed eating disorders at least partially in response to these unfair social pressures, and toward the discrimination, they have experienced based on body type. That is what makes it important for us to participate in Weight Stigma Awareness Week. We want people to know that these biases are truly harmful, even life threatening. We also want people to know that even those struggling with an eating disorder can find hope, as treatment can lead to lifelong recovery.

How Can You Raise Awareness for Weight Stigma?

Making yourself aware of weight stigma is an important first step. Think about your own attitudes toward body type, and about any unfair associations you’ve internalized. Self-awareness can lead toward greater understanding. If you’re in eating disorder recovery, and if your own story involved body shaming or weight stigma, we encourage you to share it—if you feel comfortable doing so. Your story can be a powerful way to draw attention to a vital issue. If you’re struggling in silence, we want to encourage you with the knowledge that treatment works, and recovery is possible. You don’t have to feel powerless. Seeking the right medical intervention can free you from these negative associations, and help you cope with weight stigma in a healthy, empowered way. Learn more by contacting Castlewood today. Spread the word about #WSAW2016. Share this post on Facebook!