01 Oct 2020

Commenting on someone’s weight can have lasting impacts


Weight Stigma Awareness Week

With eating disorders on the rise and many people being discriminated against for their weight, the second annual Weight Stigma Awareness Week is a time to spread awareness about these concerns and put an end to the stigma.

I only learned a few years ago about the severity of weight discrimination and how common this issue is. According to a 2009 survey, “93% of employees would choose an applicant of “normal weight” over an equally qualified applicant who was [of a higher weight]”. https://psmag.com/news/dont-right-obese-work-78497  Statistics like this are both astounding and not surprising, as weight stigma is running rampant in our world. Weight discrimination can occur at the workspace, at school, at home, online, at the doctor’s office.

As a body positive activist, someone present in the online mental health spaces and someone in recovery from an eating disorder, I have seen how weight stigma impacts both myself on a personal level, as well as others.

In my personal life, I feel lucky to have doctors mostly understand my struggles with body image and an eating disorder. However, I had an experience last year that did not sit well with me. I was losing weight naturally last year — not because I was on a diet — but because I was no longer emotionally eating, and my doctor commented on it. It was a simple comment. She said something like, “It’s good to see you’ve lost some weight”. While I’m sure it wasn’t meant to harm, and was a simple observation, implications like this can sometimes flip the switch on for eating disordered behaviors, as well as perpetuate the hate we have for people who live in larger bodies. My doctor is aware of my history and knows that I am in recovery from an eating disorder, but perhaps didn’t consider how this talk could be harmful. A comment like that could have easily triggered my past self in relapse or someone else in recovery who perhaps did not have the tools to stay strong,but now that I’m in a better place with my recovery I didn’t let that sort of commentary take over.

Comments on weight are often detrimental no matter how good our intentions may be. We never know what someone is struggling with and we could be contributing to self-harm, a negative body image or an eating disorder. It’s best to not comment on someone else’s weight, and rather compliment them on more meaningful things, such as their personality, their sense of humor, their strength, etc – it’s more rewarding and healthier to dig deeper than appearances. While my doctor’s comment didn’t impact my eating disordered behaviors, I did question what my doctor thought of me before I lost weight. “Was I ugly to her before?” “Was I not worthy before?” “Am I only successful in someone’s eyes if I’ve lost weight?” “Is losing weight the key to acceptance?” At first, it was a hurdle to get over these things and validate myself, and to realise she simply didn’t understand how her comment would affect me.

What I would have wanted to do in that situation was to speak up. Instead, I remained quiet and shook my head in agreement that yes, it was good that I lost weight. What I encourage others to do if they’re in a similar situation, with their doctor, or whoever would be to speak up by sharing why this could be harmful, asking for what you need and standing up for those of higher weights. It’s so important to be understood and have our needs met in moments we feel like we haven’t been heard. And it’s vital that we continue speaking up for the rights and respect for people in larger bodies because they deserve to be treated the same as anyone else.

In my time in the online body confidence and body positive spaces, I have been met with so much love and support. Unfortunately, I have also been met with hate and mockery. On images I have shared celebrating my body, I have been met with comments berating my appearance and questioning my health. It’s important to remember that other people’s health’s are none of our business. From my experience,’ it’s important to note that the people who question a fat (*fat is said with love as I am reclaiming it as a more neutral word) person’s health tend to not question a thin person’s health, regardless if they know what that person is doing to care for their body behind the scenes. The point is that we cannot claim we know somebody’s health based on their body. I feel that people who discriminate against fat people only see us as an eye sore, which is superficial and wrong. If everyone worried about themselves, we wouldn’t have this problem. Not to mention, many people berate and bully fat people about being “unhealthy”, when the act itself is unhealthy and detrimental.

Speaking up for and celebrating people of all sizes is the answer in combating size discrimination. I hope you’ll join me for this year’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week. Let’s speak up for ourselves and our loved ones and create a safer world for people of all sizes.

Lexie Manion is a writer, artist, student and mental health advocate from New Jersey. She writes about mental health and body acceptance topics, and shares her personal recoveries from mental illness. Lexie plans on becoming an art therapist, as she has a deep love for creating art that reflects different emotions and experiences. You can find more of her work at lexiemanion.com or connect with her on Instagram at the handle @lexiemanion.