National Eating Disorders Association

This week, as we near the close of Weight Stigma Awareness Week, I have felt deeply reflective about my own eating disorder journey. When my TEDx Talk, “In a World That is Wrong About Us” was released earlier this summer, I had no idea how my story about gender, fatness, and recovery would be received. I was overwhelmed with fear about how others might undermine my experience, especially my strong claims about weight stigma. Throughout the countless re-writes of my talk, I found myself repeatedly trying to resist the pressure to sugar coat my story . . .

A little over 17 years ago, in my junior year of college, I went on my first diet to try to lose a little bit of weight that I’d gained during a study-abroad program.

In 2017, jobs site Fairygodboss showed a picture of a larger-bodied woman to 500 hiring professionals and asked if they would consider employing her. Only 15.6% of respondents said they would.

Many healthcare providers struggle with how or why weight stigma is a public health concern.  The truth is, if you care about health, you should care about weight stigma.  The two issues are not mutually exclusive. For years, I have taken care of patients of various ages who struggle with eating disorders. More frequently than not, the onset of their eating disorder is linked to experiencing some form of weight stigma.

The topic of body image is a constant discussion topic in the eating disorders community, especially more and more as we begin to see the harmful effects of diet culture and the prevalence of anti-fat bias. The deeper we dive into the subject, the more we learn how weight stigma affects our bodies. Well, not really all bodies. We know a lot about how it affects one specific type of body—the white cis-gendered female one.

Gather ‘round, kids.  

Once upon a time, when I arrived for psychology grad school on the west coast, I started a dance class for fat women. “We Dance” was emphatically not a weight loss environment, but rather a place where a lively bunch of folks partied with me every week. We were such a curiosity at the time that we were brought on talk shows and interviewed for the papers. 

As a person who’s never been fat, I’m not an authority on weight stigma. And as a person in recovery from an eating disorder (ED), it can sometimes be difficult to think of myself as thin. But when I look at the realities of my experience, there’s a lot of privilege there. I never need to worry if I’ll be kicked off an airplane due to my size, if a doctor will refuse to treat me, or if my ED will be taken seriously in treatment.  

Like many women of my generation, I grew up hating my body. I learned to do that from the culture, the media, and especially my family. The first thing any of the women in my family said to each other was either You look great—have you lost weight? Or God, I’m such a whale, I really need to lose five pounds. To be a woman, I learned, was to constantly strive toward an impossible threshold of thinness, and to willingly join in on the public criticism of my body. 

Message from Chevese Turner, Chief Policy & Strategy Officer, regarding Dr. Oliver-Pyatt's contributions to WSAW:

Weight stigma is a real thing, and something that I am directly impacted by. To put it into perspective, I went out this past weekend and I was feeling hot—I was feeling myself 150%. The next day, I did something that I never do, something that I advise people not to do, but I did it anyway. I jumped on the scale. Immediately, I went from feeling hot to almost hating myself in a matter of seconds. 


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