In 1964 America passed the Civil Act Right.
This landmark legal ruling essentially declared it’s illegal to judge and discriminate against a person based on their appearance. This was in 1964.
Back in 1964 people with darker skin tones were seen as inferior. Dumb. Incapable. Not worthy.
Nowadays we recognize discrimination based on a person’s appearance is wrong.
So why do we treat commonly people living in bigger bodies the same way today?
There’s tons of obesity bias in our 2020 culture and so …
Today we explore the weight stigma conversation with Julie Fanning. Our topics include:
- The Beginning of Julie’s Weight Stigma Story
- How Julie Realized The Truth About Weight Stigma
- Example of Weight Stigma and Medical Discrimination
- One Note About Bariatric Surgery
- Acceptance & Grace – How Julie Began To Heal From Weight Stigma
About Julie Fanning
Julie Fanning LCSW is owner of Holding Hope Services, a counseling/mental health practice devoted to helping individuals live their best life.
Julie has over 25 years of experience as a social worker in the areas of child welfare, medical social work, mental health and private practice.
One of her passions is to fight stigma particularly in the areas of mental illness, weight and fat phobia.
You can learn more about Julie and her practice at http://www.holdinghopeservices.org/
The Beginning of Julie’s Weight Stigma Story
- First time I was probably aware of weight was in first grade when another little girl told me that she couldn’t be my friend because I was too fat.
- Even when objectively I wasn’t fat this became part of my identity and I believe led to increased weight gain.
- High School – went to a group called Shape Down and became obsessive about eating.
- Stringent eating for a couple of years until I went to college where I probably gained close to 100 lbs. :O Really negatively affecting my self worth!
Losing Friends Because Of Weight Stigma
(You can listen to this part in the podcast at 1:15)
Most of us we always aware of weight.
Yet I was a kid who pretty much was oblivious to everything.
I’ll give you an example of how oblivious I was to weight – around the same time my brother was born I had no idea my mom was even pregnant. So that was a surprise.
So I was a pretty oblivious kid and when I was in first grade (and I’ve seen pictures of me in first grade, I looked like a pretty normal size normal kid)…
There’s this girl I met and we were friends and she says to me one day, “You know, I like you but we can’t be friends because you’re a fat.”
And I think that was one of the first times you realize, for a little kid that fat is like a horrible thing.
Fat is one of the worst things you could be and that it can be used against you.
And I also think that’s where I started getting the idea in my head, my identity, that I had to be thin.
Like, “Oh my gosh, I must be that person.”
And I don’t know if we realize how much that stays with us. You know, when we’re kids a time or five or six, how many times have we heard our parents or mothers and everybody talk about losing weight?
Probably a thousands and thousands and thousands of times and how we hear people talk about that person could stop eating or that person could stand to lose a few pounds by the time we’re five or six.
How Julie Realized The Truth About Weight Stigma
(Julie provided these thoughts to me in written format, and I wanted to share her views with you because they are powerful and real)
“I often say one day a switch flipped in my mind.
I realized that over the past day that a significant amount of my conversations with people were around eating to lose weight and losing weight.
I was struck with how much of my life was filled with worrying about food and weight. How do we live a full life if every second is thinking about how to be smaller?
I wanted to live a full life and accept myself as I am.
This doesn’t mean I won’t be healthy or still be aware of food choices but that the end goal is not losing weight but feeling my best.
I am not less than because of my weight.
Often fat phobia is put under the guise of “being healthy”.
How many times do people say “ I just want to be healthy” when losing weight is the real goal.
Fat phobia is such a part of our society many people don’t realize they really they judge negatively individuals with added weight.
There is such a thing as weight bias and thin privilege but thin does not necessarily equal health.
There are ways to promote healthy living that don’t focus on weight loss.
More than one time I have heard from individuals who were appalled because someone they loved was dying from cancer and somebody commented “well at least they looked really good since they lost so much weight.”
As if getting cancer has a plus side of losing weight!
Example of Weight Stigma and Medical Discrimination
I remember doctors always telling me to lose weight. In high school a doctor told me that I’d never have a boyfriend or friends if I didn’t lose weight.
Client after client along with friends and family all tell me they won’t go to the doctor because they will be told they have to lose weight and the shame gets to them.
How can people be healthy and learn healthy tools if they are going to be shamed?
Many people I know won’t go to the doctor for minor issues because they feel their medical professionals discriminate against them.
If I go to the doctor for a broken arm the first piece of advice shouldn’t be to lose weight.
Why would I go to a gym and workout if I’m going to be made fun of and judged? Weight bias gets in the way of people having a healthy weight.
Current research shows up and down weight gain/weight loss is harder on your body than the weight itself and research shows diets don’t work long term so why is this still recommended by medical folk?
It is like the medical field is working with individuals as they want them to be not as they are.
One Note About Bariatric Surgery
I believe this decision is between the individual and their doctor.
However, I consider the individuals I have met and worked with that have had bariatric surgery. Besides for the most part gaining a significant amount of the weight back I see so much depression.
There is an expectation that losing weight will be the panacea of happiness and that as soon as I lose weight I’ll be happy. This seems a persuasive belief if someone believes they have to lose 5 pounds or 150 lbs.
But when we lose weight we are still us. All the fears, anxieties, difficulties we have tend to stay with us, weight loss doesn’t make us inherently different.
Acceptance & Grace – How Julie Began To Heal From Weight Stigma
I am who I am. I have had a hard journey to realize that my weight does not define me.
I am not my weight.
When people judge me on their weight, this is their issue and they would benefit from looking at their own internalized fat phobia.
I accept myself although there are people such as Bill Maher who says keep shaming fat people.
Fat and bad health is not synonymous and really not one of us should be judged on weight. Bodies are just that. Bodies.
We are each beautiful with no fat or a roll of fat.
I have learned that diet culture is really big business.
Companies benefit from individuals believing they need to shrink, and companies make billions on this premise.
One day I decided I am not going to try to shrink anymore. I will live my best life.
This can include eating well (or not) and being active but the goal isn’t weight loss but to live fully.
I do not owe anyone to lose weight.
One piece of advice I have is to give yourself grace.
I give myself grace for using food as a coping mechanism when I was little. Instead of hating myself for this I find pride that I found a way to survive intact.
I give myself grace for being who I am and encourage others to encourage others to do the same.
“What does grace mean to you?
Actually grace means it’s ok not being perfect and actually seeing the beauty in it.
It’s about just being who you are and figuring out what’s best for your body and your life.
But it does feel like an uphill battle sometimes because nearly everybody thinks obesity’s the worst problem.
But I think those are the fights worth fighting kind of that even if I’m the only one in the room saying it’s okay that I’m sad.
I also don’t want to give up my opportunity for a full life because other people don’t like my weight.
Jared’s Weight Stigma Conclusion:
I hope this article has brought a more human side to the weight stigma health conversation.
I appreciate hearing about how common obesity stigma is in health treatment places like how doctors base outcomes on weight even if you don’t visit the doctor to talk about weight!
I also greatly admire Julie’s courage. Her ability to admit to psychological distress from stigma, including anxiety.
Let’s all reduce our bias … and try our best to accept ourselves with grace and to continue fighting through tough times.
For additional articles on this topic, please read: