Weight hate is a form of bigotry that sees larger bodies as “wrong” and thinner bodies as “right.” And of course, the hidden implication is that thinner people are somehow better, and fatter people are less deserving.
Unfortunately, weight hate is pervasive. And it’s the kind of discrimination that goes unchallenged far more often than not.
Because weight can change over time, it makes for an interesting situation. Whereas people usually cannot change the color of their skin, we could potentially change our weight. So weight haters make the assumption that weight is a choice, and that if someone is on the heavier side, it must be because of something they are doing, or something that they are too lazy to do. Because why would someone choose an such an unlikeable identity?
But in reality, it’s a lot more complex than that.
Advertisers love to capitalize on weight hate. Think of the fitness industry and how many products and services are aimed at hitting someone’s pain point of weight dissatisfaction. The advertisement goes something like, “You, too, can be happy if you just change your weight, and we can help you do that.” If you eat their brand of food, follow their workout routine, take their pills or do their procedures, you can buy and/or work your way into the privileged end of the weight spectrum.
But people are not machines. It’s not as simple as fewer calories in plus greater calories expended equals weight loss. There are factors involved that are less measurable, such as genetic, psychological, emotional, cultural and spiritual factors, as well as quality of nutrition, that all impact the way someone inhabits their body.
In terms of hormones, people can have variations in their metabolism due to their endocrine function, which is impacted by so many factors. Stress can change cortisol levels so that even if someone is eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly, their stress levels keep a certain weight on their bodies. And as the field of Dynamic Eating Psychology teaches us, trauma can affect how someone inhabits their body so that their body armors with weight for protection.
The point is, there is so much natural weight diversity among humans.
Yet what weight hate does is make some of those differences — heavier bodies — wrong and the target of discrimination, and some of those differences — thinner bodies — right, granting them many unearned privileges. People who are thinner are often perceived as more likable, thus advancing their careers and social status over people who are heavier. People on the heavier end of the spectrum are more likely to get bullied or marginalized.
When people use weight hate to bully someone, to decide that someone is worth less in dignity than someone else based solely on their size, it’s flat out wrong. Weight hate leads to bullying and bullying leads to depression, anxiety, low self-worth and self-esteem, eating disorders, substance use, and self harm. In extreme cases, people start to feel so badly about themselves that they may choose to end their own lives. And still, how many more people may not go to these extremes, but spend hours punishing their bodies with diets, forced exercise, and secret internal lives of shame? Are we blaming our bodies for deeper issues around feeling not good enough, or are we feeling not good enough because of our weight hate culture?
While we cannot control what someone else does with their actions, we can choose to take a stand about how we relate to weight hate ourselves. We can each choose to face our own internalized weight hate messages and buck the system by choosing not to punish bigger bodies, whether it’s our own or someone else’s, with diets, forced exercise, or the assumption of less worth. We can choose not to privilege someone just because they happen to inhabit a thinner body. We can choose to invest in the concept of health at every size and the ideology that everyone has inherent worth, no matter what their skin color, nationality, sexual orientation or body shape.
Transforming weight hate starts in our own minds.
And it’s a much needed practice that can help us all evolve and become a happier human family …
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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