How Weight Stigma Shows Up For Me

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Ryan Sheldon (resized)

Ryan Sheldon, NEDA Ambassador

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.

We are taught to believe that to be beautiful, successful, wealthy, loveable, and happy, we must be skinny. But this just isn’t the case. We’ve also been taught that a measurement of success AND failure is the number we see on the scale. This is a byproduct of weight stigma, and it’s brought to us by society and the media. And it needs to stop.

Right after my encounter with the scale, I started thinking again, as I have many times, about why the number on the scale impacted me in such a negative way, and why do we as a society link so much to staying under a certain number on that scale.

I’ve looked before at my eating disorder, how my weight affected it, and vice versa. For the majority of my life, I struggled with an eating disorder, but the possibility of that diagnosis had never crossed my mind, nor the minds of my doctors. Likewise, my therapist knew the struggles I had with my eating habits, my body, and my weight, but a possible eating disorder was never really addressed. I often ask myself the question, “Why didn’t it come up in a therapy session?”

Let’s face it, I’m a big dude—6’4, broad shoulders, higher-weight—and because of that I full-heartedly believe that I was one of the many people struggling with an eating disorder who was overlooked. How is it possible that because I weigh more than the stereotypical person with anorexia, that I must not have anorexia? Well, the answer to that is simple: weight stigma.

Weight stigma is why my medical team at the time overlooked eating disorders as a possibility while treating me. Because I am in a larger body, doctors never thought it was possible that I had an eating disorder. In fact, I was often told, “Get on the treadmill and eat less” by medical professionals. When I mentioned I think I have an eating disorder my doctor chuckled. Essentially, my healthcare was biased and my eating disorder was overlooked because of my weight.

Weight stigma is when fat people are deemed incompetent, lazy, or dumb.

Weight stigma is me not being able to go into a store to buy a pair of jeans, because they don’t carry my size. Unfortunately, a ton of brands and designers are fatphobic, and this is shown by the simple fact that they do not create sizes for larger bodies.

Weight stigma is me not feeling like I deserve a loving relationship with a partner, because society has shown that only smaller people are worthy of being in a loving relationship. For such a long time, I accepted garbage people in my life because that’s all I thought I deserved.

Weight stigma is me going to the gym and being stared at by all the gym-goers with their “ideal” bodies. Because of this I stopped going to the gym and decided to workout at home.

Weight stigma is people looking at me while I eat and saying, “Wow, you eat a lot but you’re a big boy you can handle it,” OR “You’re a big guy! You need to eat more than that.” I hear that so often and I’m sick of it., It’s no one’s business what I put into my body. We rarely see an average-sized person being told to eat more or eat less.

Weight stigma is me being classified as one of the many stereotypes in the gay community. Couldn’t they just classify me as a nice, kind, gay man?

Now, I would be lying if I said I don’t have internalized weight stigma—my reaction to the number of my scale a few days ago is proof of that. I’ve had times of craving this idea of being skinny, because it seemed like the smaller people in the world were happy, in relationships, and successful.

Thankfully, just from being a part of this community, I now understand that I do deserve happiness, I do deserve love, the scale does not define who I am, or whether I am a failure or a success.

The hard truth is that weight stigma exists, and so many are affected. However, we need people that aren’t in large bodies to jump on board and accept that every one—no matter their body size—deserves love, is not defined by a number on a scale, and is not considered a failure or success based on how much space they take up.

Weight Stigma Awareness Week kicks off next Monday, September 23rd! Get more information here.

A motivational speaker and brawn model, Ryan has been educating audiences about body image and binge eating disorder since his own diagnosis in 2015. Passionate about raising awareness of binge eating and body image issues as an Ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association, he has shared his story with the Today Show, Huffington Post, and Teen Vogue, among other outlets. An LGBTQ+ man living in a larger body, Ryan also speaks to teens about masculinity, identity, and body confidence. He is currently working on a book about his and other men’s experiences learning to eat mindfully and love themselves just as they are. You can find Ryan on Instagram at BingeEaterConfessions or at his blog