BEDA promotes cultural acceptance of, and respect for, the natural diversity of sizes, as well as promoting a goal of improved health, which may or may not include weight change. The views expressed by our featured bloggers are their own.
Katie Thompson, MS, LPC, NCC, has been a primary therapist at Castlewood Treatment Center for two years. Katie graduated from Marquette University with a BA in Communications, Education. She later earned a Masters of Science in Counseling Psychology from the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee. Previously, she was a therapist at Rogers Memorial Hospital in the residential program for eating disorders and anxiety disorders. Katie facilitates various groups at Castlewood, including all of the Eating Disorder groups, is an active participant in the research team and specializes in eating disorders and anxiety disorders; specifically binge eating disorder.
Katie coordinates the Binge Eating Disorder Program at Castlewood Treatment Center and facilitates the BED groups in both the residential and PHP levels of care. She is skilled in using DBT, CBT, IFS, ERP and group therapy. Katie is trained in Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and has earned her certification in Internal Family Systems Level 2. Katie lectures regionally and nationally on Eating Disorders, Binge Eating Disorder and treatment interventions.
Dear Coach/Trainer/Physical Therapist/Sports Professional:
It is time we have a long overdue conversation. This is serious and I need you to listen to me, hear what I am really saying and know that what I am going to tell you is important. Hopefully this will change the way you look at every single one of your athletes, trainees, patients, etc. If it doesn’t then you haven’t heard me and you need to be worried about the power you are misusing. If my message does not change the way you see me, treat me, and interact with me, then you need to stop what you are doing and seek supervision and support immediately. My well-being depends upon it. The well-being of others depends upon it.
It’s hard for me to have this conversation with you because you’re the “expert” and I look up to you. In fact, you have a lot of influence over me. Sometimes you have the power to make or break whether or not I get to be an athlete at any given time. So I say these words with fear and trepidation, which makes them even more important. Please listen.
We need to discuss Weight Bias. Two words, otherwise known as “weightism,” or “weight-based discrimination.” Weight Bias affects you and me, especially you as the “Sports Professional” in this relationship. Weight Bias affect every single interaction you have with me and with all of the other athletes you encounter. The effect on us is different you see, I am the recipient experiencing stigma and you are the one potentially holding the bias. Weight Bias is judgment, stereotyping or categorization based upon a person’s weight, shape and/or size. As an athlete, weight bias is a constant imposing factor. My weight, shape, and size are constantly evaluated, judged, critiqued and in many instances are often manipulated to cultivate a more “favorable” athletic outcome. While I understand that from your perspective, your job “requires” that you think about my body constantly and what it does, doesn’t do, needs to do, should do, shouldn’t do, etc., none of this is actually helping me. In fact, it is hurting me.
I need you to begin to take into account factors you are not used to thinking about. I need you to start seeing me as more than a body, as more than a position on a team, as more than an instrument in your game, as more than a means to an end. Maybe you don’t entirely see me in these terms, but if you do at all, keep reading. How could you not, this is what you were trained to do?! When you see me as an object, as a body you erase all of the other aspects of me that are housed within my body. I have a personality, I have emotions, I have relationships, I have past experiences that have formed who is housed in this body that lies before you on your table. I have a relationship with food, I have a relationship with my body. I have a relationship with my physical performance within this body.
Statistically speaking, it is safe to say that it is likely that I have been objectified before you and I ever met. I may have been objectified physically through the hands of an abuser; sexual, emotional or physical. It may be that my family has imposed values of “human doing” versus “human being” onto me sending messages that I am worthy for what I do and produce rather than who I am as a person. If my family has not done this, society has already. When you interact with my body for what it does for me and for your larger goals, my identity and my personhood have the potential to get lost. If I have been objectified previously in my life, you will just be added to the list of people who have already objectified me. This will happen whether or not you intend it to, due to the fact that once objectified, I slip right into the role of producing, providing, doing versus existing. Please keep this in mind, and watch out for signs that I am all too eager to be an object. If you see it, offer me help, refer me to professionals to get the support I really need. Thank you.
Now, onto the shape and size of my body. You will have urges to “help” me mold it, revise it, change it, enhance it, remove aspects of it, improve it. Don’t. Please do not “help” me in this way. It is not necessary. My body is exactly as it is, and needs to be. I am not defined by my size or my shape any more than I am defined by my hair, eye or skin color. The color of my skin does not make me a better or worse athlete and I don’t want my body or size to be a factor in whether or not I can be an athlete. You have been taught that there is a narrow format of what an athlete’s body should look like, move like, act like. Forget what you’ve been taught. Please. When you use these narrow definitions it limits a large percentage of the population from feeling like they can be athletic and can rightfully partake in the sports and activities that “athletes” are privileged to engage in.
When you as a Sports Professional adhere to this narrow definition of the “athlete’s” body, you also contribute to misguided societal pressures and myths. It’s not just me who looks up to you, the public looks to you as a guide. Use this power wisely and ethically. This is pervasive, from the weight requirements that you enforce on your teams and squads to the size of clothing available to the public for “working out.” In fact, very few athletic companies make clothing that fit the average human body! The average-sized woman cannot even purchase her workout clothing in many “athletic” stores. This is weight stigma in action, and as a culture it is supported, even encouraged to not make clothing for all of the athletes that compete in events and train for them!
There has been a sense of “exclusivity” for athletes who can purchase athletic clothing at many of these athletic boutiques. So while the point of this letter is not to take LuluLemon, Athletica and similar companies to task (there’s a separate letter for that), I want you to know that you influence all sporting goods companies when you impose the narrow stereotype of the “athlete’s body.” So, please stop.
Instead, I want and need you to treat me just like you would treat any other athlete you work with, meaning that you encourage me, you help me set goals based upon what I wish my goals to be, not a set of standards that fit this aforementioned narrow expectation. Help me learn to love being in my body and moving for the sake of moving and having fun while enjoying the sports I love. Help me learn to take care of my body and keep it healthy, limber, and ready for the pursuit of my sport. Remove the weight requirements; don’t place your judgments upon me or my body. I am capable, I am strong and I want to be in the body I have today, not the body you think I need to cultivate for tomorrow.