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Weight Stigma Can Make You Fat

Generally we think of weight stigma as a result of being overweight, but what if it is also a trigger to putting on pounds? We already know that stigma stresses the body and produces more of the chemicals that harm optimal well being. Now we are discovering how this process takes a psychological toll as well.

In “Stigma and the perpetuation of obesity, Alexandra A. Brewis (Social Science and Medicine, vol. 118, pages 152-128) tells us that “social stigmatization of obesity seems to be strengthening and globalizing” and describes “four mechanisms by which a pervasive environment of fat sigma could reinforce high body weights or promote weight gain, ultimately driving population-level obesity.” Stop and think about what this means. I mean really reconsider, because disregulated eaters generally view fat as an individual problem, a la “I did this to myself.” This study is saying the opposite, and it’s an enlightening new viewpoint because it means that society may be doing this to you!

The article goes on to say that feeling chronically judged may drive weight-gain through the “indirect effects of social network changes based on stigmatizing actions and decisions by others, psychosocial stress from feeling stigmatized, and the structural effects of discrimination.” Consider the effects of weight stigma on self-esteem and how it affects the forming of friendships, what jobs you apply for, the goals you set for yourself. Do you lower your standards because you perceive that people won’t like or accept you due to your weight or believe you can’t enter a particular career or job because of it? Do you avoid certain activities (even those you love) because of how you might be viewed by others as a large person? Doesn’t this cause even lower self-esteem which might drive you to find solace in food?

Not surprisingly, this study concludes that “women and children appear especially vulnerable to these mechanisms.” It makes sense that children would be most affected, as they are still developing and don’t have a fully formed brain to tell them that they need not be ashamed of their weight. And, sadly, it also makes sense that females would be more impacted than males, as we are the ones for whom appearance has always mattered most and who society insists must look a certain way. To counter the damage that weight stigma can inflict, you must avoid internalizing its message. That means seeing it for what it is—a sad, collective product of culture. And shutting it out. It is not truth in any way, shape or form. Refuse to buy into it because, ironically, doing so may drive you to mindless eating and gaining more weight.