From College Girl to College Girl: What’s the Deal with Weight Stigma?

Shelby and Alex - collegegirl
Shelby Santin and Alex Raymond are Senior Dietetics majors at the University of Maryland. They are interns at a nutrition private practice in Maryland called Rebecca Bitzer and Associates and have a weekly blog series called “From College Girl to College Girl” that covers topics related to positive body image.
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.

Scenario 1: Amber goes to the gym to run on the treadmill, she is overweight and the boys in the weight room laugh and comment on her appearance. She overhears whispers from other girls in the cardio room about wasting her time on the treadmill.

Scenario 2: Lizzie goes the gym to run on the treadmill, she is underweight. The boys in the weight room discuss how she’s too skinny and must have an eating disorder.  She over hears whispers from other girls in the cardio room about wasting her time on the treadmill.

As women, whatever shape or size we are, we have all been the targets of weight stigma. On our college campus, we constantly hear comments about other women’s sizes. “She’s gained weight, hasn’t she?” “She needs to eat a cheeseburger.” “She really shouldn’t be wearing that, you can see her fat!” “Why do you go to the gym? You’re already too skinny.” Sadly, people today make snap judgments about women based on their looks.  From our experience, we have noticed that a woman is judged on her looks before her successes. And, in general, the thinner you are the more successful you appear.

Why is this a problem? Well for us, as college women entering the work force soon, we want to be judged on our strong will, intelligence and accomplishments. 

As Dietetics majors, as soon we say what we are studying, people’s eyes travel to our stomach and hips or they blatantly make a comment on our weight. Not once has someone commented about the hard science classes we have take (mammalian physiology ain’t easy!), and they definitely don’t comment on the growing field and our job prospects for the future.

So how can we change this?

  • Focus on your own self-confidence. Wear clothes that make your feel good and take time to practice self-care. If you feel confident, your confidence will shine through.
  • Make a list of all your positive personality traits and what makes you happy that don’t have to do with what you look like.  Read it often and add to it. If you’re feeling brave show other people to inspire them to value their shining personalities.
  • Be a role model for other women. When your friends are engaging in “fat talk” try to change the subject to something more positive.
  • Give compliments to your friends about their successes instead of just what they look like. It’s great to compliment a friend on her cute outfit, but also compliment her on the A she got on an exam or the job interview she nailed.
  • Would you would want to be judged solely on your body size? The answer is probably no, other women don’t want to either. So push those negative thoughts out of your mind, we are all in this together. 

Unfortunately, weight stigma is something we all have experienced. Our philosophy is that change starts with the individual. By practicing the tips above it will help to empower women and combat weight stigma. Slowly but surely people will realize that weight doesn’t define who you are as a person…. Your accomplishments and positive personality traits do!