Despite a large number of individuals passionately protecting individuals from injustices in the society, one group of people worries that they will always be vulnerable targets. Obese people have had to accept social stigma as part of their lives.
Even with all the political correctness, very few individuals have stood up for obese people in the past. There are many reasons to why a person may be obese but all these possibilities are overlooked and obese people are persistently accused of not showing restraint when it comes to eating food.
Weight stigma refers to a set of negative and unfair beliefs held by society about for overweight and obese individuals. It manifests in many ways, including mockery, teasing, derogatory language and even physical stigma in the form of grabbing, touching, or other condescending behavior. Other forms of stigma include ‘barriers’ set by the society that separates what is acceptable from what is apparently not. An example of this is when medical equipment is too small for obese individuals, or when the belts in a plane are too small for bigger people. Though subtly, all these barriers serve as constant reminders of the ‘flaws’ that obese people have. Such manifestations of stigma may not have as extreme an effect on the lives of those who live with obesity, eventually, the stigma is accepted as part of life.
However, there are other forms of stigma that can impact people’s lives in a greater way. People with obesity continue to be discriminated against in the workplace. Applicants that are obese are not called for interviews based on their appearance even if they are qualified for the job.
Where is weight stigma most prominent
Experimental studies have found that weight stigma is most prominent in the workplace. During recruitment, if an applicant’s resume is accompanied by a photo, then obese individuals are less likely to be called for an interview. If they are hired, they are associated with negative stereotypes such as being lazy, incompetent, sloppy and lacking in discipline. They are also paid less for doing the same job and are less likely to be promoted than thin people even though they may be equally qualified.
When in school, students not only face ridicule from other students but also teachers. Evidence from research shows that obese female applicants have a less chance of getting into college than girls with average weight.
Shockingly, weight stigma is very prevalent in medical facilities. Biased attitudes towards obese patients have been documented and evidence suggests that obese individuals are inaccurately perceived as unintelligent, unproductive, weak-willed, filthy, lazy and over-indulgent. Because of the negative biases made by health professionals against those that are obese, many obese individuals evade going to medical facilities. They find that medical practitioners always find their weight to be the cause of all their ailments.
The consequences of stigma
Unsurprisingly, this stigma forces people into isolation and to live in depression. They have higher rates of anxiety and poorer social adjustment. The internalization and acceptance of negative attitudes towards them leads to decreased self-esteem.
Society has this perception that a person’s weight is under their control even though there are several other causes for obesity other than overeating.
Stigma can lead to obese people eating more out of depression and stress. Contrary to popular belief, fat-shaming does not work. In fact, it has been associated with an increase of weight in already obese individuals. The depression and isolation that arises from fat-shaming has led to suicide in many cases.
Stigma in medical facilities leads to obese individuals avoiding health care altogether and possibly risking their lives.
Fat-acceptance is something that isn’t talked about much but a study found that obese individuals who weren’t regularly called out on their weight were less likely to gain weight and those with supportive networks would actually begin their weight loss journeys. Fat-shaming, on the other hand, demoralizes them and forces them to ‘live as they are labeled’.
We are constantly told to embrace our bodies and be comfortable in our own skin but we’re so uncomfortable with the idea of a fat person being content with their bodies that we feel no hesitancy in constantly providing unsolicited advice. We are so oblivious as to how our comments towards obese individuals are affecting their lives. We may think we are doing it for the betterment of their health but we end up burdening them with more stress as they struggle with weight and emotional stress.
Fat-acceptance does not encourage obese people to lead unhealthy lives but it includes people in the realm of ‘normality’ where getting healthy does not seem like an impossible task.
Because labels like ‘obese’ and ‘overweight’ and linked to being lazy and stupid, fat people subconsciously end up believing them and are inclined to eat more without putting any effort into getting in shape.
To encourage an obese person to lose weight for the sake of their health, we need to stop shunning them and humiliating them on the basis of their size. A portion of obese adults would have been heavy as a child but the majority would have gained weight at a specific point in life. Many times the trigger is something emotional, a loss of a loved one or a time of emotional distress. Addressing the emotional issues should help them in healing physically as well. They will be willing to exercise and eat healthy when they know that they do not have to live by what society has labeled them.
Ostracizing an individual causes them to withdraw from society. When obese individuals are liberated from all the bias they are more likely to embrace a healthier lifestyle.