22 Feb 2024

Weight for It – Let’s Stop Talking About Our Weight


Associate Professor at The University of Western Australia Law School and expert body image lawyer Dr. Marilyn Bromberg shares why we need to remove weight from the conversation.

I (like most of the world, irrespective of gender) love the masterpiece of a rant about being a woman by Gloria (played by American Ferrara) in the Barbie movie. I am considering printing it out twice, framing both copies and hanging one copy in my house and another in my university office.

One of the many important statements in Gloria’s rant is that, as a woman ‘[y]ou have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin.’

Yet, so many people do say that they aspire to thinness. They talk about their weight and other people’s weight in everyday conversation. Like weight is a kind of social currency to happiness and success.

As if it’s ok to talk about weight like you’re talking about the weather or which Beyonce song is your favourite. They often talk about weight without thinking about the damage that it can cause to some people.

So, I would like to ask you a favour.

Please consider not talking about your weight with other people (unless you are an allied health care professional or you’re seeing such a professional, in an allied health care setting). While you’re at it, please consider not posting about your weight or weight loss on social media, too.

While you may want your social media followers’ help to be accountable for your weight loss, or to share your positive or negative feelings about your weight, your damage could harm some of your followers.

For over a decade, I have been fortunate to research, write about and advocate in the Body Image Law area.

I have been fortunate to receive messages from people globally about how my research has impacted them. I have been fortunate to see positive changes in the body image space.

For example, there are more images of models who have diverse body sizes – some models appear to be of a healthy weight. Many fashion designers offer more clothes in a greater range of sizes.

We cannot rest on our laurels. In 2022, about 1 million Australians had eating disorders.

Sadly, in 2024, there is still a general societal view that being underweight and toned or slightly curvy and toned is the female body ideal, and lean and muscular is the male body ideal.

This view can harm the body image and general self esteem of many who aspire it. Countless people, no matter how hard they try, cannot achieve the beauty ideal. Ethically, one of many reasons why current body ideals are unfair is that we live in a society where weight stigma and diet culture are engrained and systemic.

So many Australians lose, and then later, gain weight, as they aspire to the beauty ideal. Many suffer psychologically from this.

Three governments overseas passed Body Image Laws to try to improve their constituents’ body image.

A key aspect of these laws is that if a model’s image was modified to make the model appear thinner, it must have a disclaimer that states that it was modified. A significant amount of compelling health research found that these disclaimers do not work.

They often make the person who sees the image pay more attention to it and compare themselves to the model more than they might otherwise. I have emailed many politicians worldwide to inform them of this research and suggested that they modify Body Image Laws so that they are evidence based.

Importantly, if we truly seek to improve society, law can be an important and useful tool, but it is simply one of a few critical tools. Other such tools are education and societal change.

Some people think that we must discuss weight to help address the fact that over two thirds of Australian adults are a larger size and one quarter of children and adolescents are a larger size.  There are many ways to address this issue that are unrelated to discussing weight outside of an allied health setting.

For example, the Federal Government can follow the United Kingdom’s lead and adopt a sweetened beverages tax. It can also pass The Healthy Kids Advertising Bill, which Dr Sophie Scamps MP and her team created and championed. If passed, Australian children would likely see significantly less processed food advertising.

At the absolute minimum, if you don’t want to censor your comments about your weight generally, can you please consider doing so in front of children? Children can easily adopt your attitude toward weight and weight gain.

Parents talking about weight to their children as little as three times a month is highly associated with their children applying negative biases about weight to themselves.  A parent’s comments about their child’s weight are related to body dissatisfaction for some of these children upon becoming adults.

Organisations such as the Butterfly Foundation provide insights into available research, as well as tips and resources to help parents navigate this tricky area.

I’m not suggesting that we stop encouraging people to eat healthily or to exercise. I just think that we need to be cognisant of the potential negative repercussions of discussing our weight and not raise it if we can help it.

Of course, there are many other potential triggers to body dissatisfaction than discussing weight. I’m limiting this article to just one. Even comments about weight that might appear to be positive, like “you’re lucky you’re thin” and “you could gain some weight” can be damaging.

I hope that if we spend less time discussing weight, then the importance of weight and achieving the beauty ideal might also decrease, leaving additional time for more important things in life (like figuring out what your accommodation will be when you attend Taylor Swift’s concert) and hopefully better psychological health.

Finally, I can’t help but think of one my favourite comments by Taryn Brumfitt, 2023 Australian of the year, Co-Founder of The Embrace Collective and an internationally respected body image advocate, which is “we’re not born hating our bodies. It’s something the world teaches us”.

I respectfully ask that we limit our comments about weight to try to contribute to stopping people from hating their bodies.

For support with eating disorders or body image concerns, contact the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673), chat online or email support@butterfly.org.au

Written by Dr Marilyn Bromberg, Associate Professor at The University of Western Australia Law School, Advisor at The Butterfly Foundation, practising lawyer and body image activist. The author dedicates this blog to SPG, with the greatest of thanks and wishes.

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Related tags: appearance Body Image body image law conversations about weight diet culture eating disorders prevention stop talking about weight weight