Weight stigma is what a person experiences when weight bias is internalized as being ‘deserved’. This occurs frequently today, resulting in larger people feeling shame, anxiety, depression, and self-hatred. These diminish a person’s body esteem and motivation for self-care.
Weight bias is negative judgment based on weight, shape, and/or size. It fuels both explicit and implicit harmful actions by individuals and organizations, including social rejection, bullying, hate-speech, “fat jokes”, and exclusionary behaviors that create inequities in social access, employment, healthcare, and education.
Weight stigma and weight bias are cultural problems that affect almost every aspect of life for many people. This includes the ability to learn and the ability to participate fully in the economy and other important components of a thriving society.
Because of the interrelatedness of bias and stigma, demoralization and eventual complacency surrounding healthy choices is a logical consequence when larger people, especially children, remain targets of bias even when they eat well and are physically active.
Common ideas fueled by weight bias include the belief that people larger than the “ideal” shape or size:
- are lazy
- lack self-discipline
- have poor willpower
- lack intelligence
- have the ability to become and remain thin—body shape, weight, and height, as well as other physical features, are unique to the individual and perceived differently depending on culture. While it is environmentally influenced, weight in particular is largely genetically determined. Because of this, not all bodies can or should aim to achieve a standardized ideal of thinness, of shape, of size, or of body composition.
Equating “thinness” with health can lead to harmful assumptions that also contribute to weight bias and its consequences, ultimately reducing everyone’s ability to be healthy regardless of size or shape. Indeed, thin individuals are also harmed by commonly-held beliefs that being thin is synonymous with good health. Thinness is often confused with character or rigid discipline and because of this, thinner-bodied people can be neglected when they are unhealthy or in need of help.
Weight stigma and weight bias are cultural problems that affect almost every aspect of life, including mental and physical health, social interaction, employment opportunities and the learning environment for people of all ages. Children are especially at risk for experiencing weight stigma due to their stage of development, as childhood and adolescence are periods where the impact of weight bias through peer comments and behaviors shapes self-image, body image, and development of social skills needed in adulthood.
Weight bias, and by extension weight stigma, are behaviors and beliefs that can be changed. They are human rights issues as well as issues of community wellbeing and as such it falls to our advocates, national leaders and government to develop programming that supports environmental and personal practices free of weight bias. Together, we set the tone.
 Wildman, Rachel P. PhD; Paul Muntner, PhD; Kristi Reynolds, PhD; Aileen P. McGinn, PhD; Swapnil … (2008) – Source: Archives of Internal Medicine, 168(15)
 Puhl, R.M, & Heuer, C.A. (2009). The stigma of obesity: A review and update. Obesity, 17, 941-964
 Bucchianeri MM, Eisenberg ME, Neumark-Sztainer D. (2014). Weightism, racism, classism, and sexism: Shared forms of harassment in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53, 1, 47-53