National Eating Disorders Association

Weight Stigma and My Eating Disorder: A Personal Story

Teresa Henry

When I was a child, teen and young adult a series of traumatic events, hurtful words, and a dysfunctional environment led me to develop this coping mechanism called an eating disorder.  My eating disorder spanned over twenty years of my life bouncing back and forth between anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.  At one time or another my weight was at one end of a spectrum to another.  The scale or the size of my pants became a measure of my worth.  My weight was a number that became my value system.  Magazines and media shout loudly at the world saying that what we look like, what we wear or the size our body gives a person either acceptance or disapproval.
The word ‘stigma’ actually means to have a negative or unfair belief of someone (or ourselves).  Weight stigma is created when somebody’s body size becomes their identity.  People are constantly evaluating other people’s body size, making assumptions as to why they got to where they are.   This is where unfair beliefs come in as people place judgment upon a person based solely on their body shape. 
People are denied jobs or promotions or opportunities based on their weight.   It is believed that the person with the lower weight must have more self-control and must be a better worker.  When I engaged in anorexic behaviors and lost a significant amount of weight, I often won praise for my appearance and for what looked like a disciplined lifestyle. The fact is that when I was anorexic, I was dying inside both mentally and physically.   The world around us places value on our bodies which causes all sorts of disordered eating habits whether it be anorexia, bulimia or binge eating. 
I remember the day when I began to realize that my body did not define me.  My counselor had me draw a series of pictures of how I saw myself. They all showed a very disordered view.  I believed every one saw me this way too.  But in fact it didn’t matter how others saw my body, because my identity was becoming embedded in how I treated others, how I loved those around me, and how I served in my community.  Weight, a number on a scale or a pant size, the number on a tag is not who we are.  I believe that we have to choose to be healthy thinkers and believers. It is like revising our thought process.  Recovery is making small decisions each day to believe against the world’s way of thinking and to fight against weight stigma, no matter what a person's size. 
Teresa Henry. I am a 47 year old single mother of three.  I engaged in eating disorder behaviors for 20 years of my life.  I went to treatment in 2008 and continued with outpatient through 2009.  It was through the help of counsel and my faith that I was able to find hope and healing.  I now am pursuing my Master’s in counseling and volunteer as a Navigator for the National Eating Disorder Association.   I am also in the process of writing a book about my journey to recovery.  My hope is that all people would see and understand their true identity and value based not on weight but on who they are and were created to be.