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.
Kristin Bulzomi is a writer and an advocate for eating disorders, recovery, and mental health. Her blog, Kristin Seattle, details her own journey in recovery from an eating disorder and mental illness. She uses her experiences to discuss important recovery topics and as a platform for increasing awareness.
Kristin has a Bachelors degree in Psychology from The College of Idaho. In the future, she hopes to go back to school for a Masters degree in a field of psychology.
Combating and Surviving Internal and External Stigma
Weight stigma… That idea carries a lot of emotion for me. Though I have not experienced it externally throughout my entire life, the inward battle has never ceased. For a long time it was ingrained in my mind and it was part of my belief about myself; that I was only as good as a size or a weight because that was all I had ever known.
I started noticing my weight when I was in elementary school. I was active and athletic, but I was starting to quit sports as I discovered which activities I was not especially interested in. It was with every sport I decided not to play that I began to gain weight. I noticed the weight gain and so did others so it was at this time that the weight stigma cycle started.
Eventually I had gained enough weight to be on the heavy side though still not the definitive ‘singled out kid’ and I could still fit in with at least one group of people, which made a big difference. Having a group of friends made the isolation, teasing, and weight woes easier and made less of an impact. On the flip side, however, friends were also an outlet of fat talk, which was not a great idea either. I think, in the end, having that group insulated me from more bullying and made it so that I was not isolated, which unfortunately happened as I grew older.
In high school I was finally the stereotypical “fat kid” (as well as being stigmatized as the “crazy kid”). Along with my weight issues, I was also battling emotional ones, specifically bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The combination of the two vulnerabilities made for some very difficult years. At that time I did not have a group of friends to help me through being isolated, alone, and teased and the school did not do much to stop what was happening. It was as if they gave everyone permission to continue to stigmatize me as time went on.
The worst incident during this time included several boys from my school prank calling my house at night and talking to my parents about my “huge breasts” and how disgusting they were. This made me self-conscious of my body and was the beginning of the negative personal dialog that I would battle for many years.
What my peers did not realize was that I internalized all of this bullying, especially the phone incident. I started to define myself by my body and my mental illnesses. Their words were not just words to me, instead these words were “truths”. I was disgusting, unlovable, and not good enough and I never would be. At least that is what I believed…
By the time I entered college, I had pretty much given up on myself. My weight had not stopped climbing and the shaming, ignoring, and teasing never stopped and I began to isolate myself out of shame. And why should I not? After high school, it seemed as though everyone would hate me, shame me, and think of me as disgusting. I was injured by being stigmatized for both my weight and my mental health.
There was a point in my second year or so of college at which I decided for nearly the millionth time to start losing weight. This time I took small steps, became more mindful about eating, and did not deprive myself but since I was doing this out of a profound sense of body shame, of course the healthy habits did not last.
My weight was slowly and steadily dropping and people around me noticed the change. With every pound I lost, I received that much more positive attention, compliments, and overall, people wanted to be around me. My life changed from being an isolated, very overweight young adult trapped in a “fat kid” mentality to an ever-shrinking apparently ‘desirable and lovable’ young adult friend.
Never had I experienced this amount of attention, compliments, or number of friends. I was finally doing things that I had always wanted to do or were normal for people my age such as frat parties, having my first kiss, and dating. I had never been happier.
The external weight stigma may have lifted, but the internal weight stigma was raging.
It was with all these new experiences and attention that the idea was implanted in my mind that ‘in order to have relationships, love, or anything in life, I had to be skinny’. In my mind it was not acceptable to be “fat” anymore, ever. No one would ever love me if I was not skinny and people would start leaving if I did not lose the rest of the weight.
My OCD, which had been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, took hold of losing weight. The idea of counting calories, weighing myself, etc. was easy for it to attach to. Soon things got out of hand and I was facing down an eating disorder. Instead of losing weight in a healthy manner, I was restricting, excessively exercising, and later purging. Anything, I thought, to lose weight.
By my final year in college, I was terribly sick. It was the spring of 2010 that I finally sought help for the first time outpatient. And by the summer, I went to residential treatment for the first time. It was not until the summer of 2012, when I went to residential treatment a second time, that I finally experienced a measure of success with recovery from my eating disorder.
In this last year since I have been home, internal weight stigma is still on my mind and entangled in my body image. Though logically I know that I am lovable at any size and however I look, emotionally I am still stuck with the old belief that I am only good enough or lovable enough when I am thin.
My battle today is not giving in to the idea that my weight is a determining factor of my lovability or goodness. Although I have experienced both external and internal weight stigma, it has nothing to do with me as a person but more to do with the type of person that other people are. I am good enough as I am. I am lovable. It is okay to be me.
Externally, my battle is making sure that people know that weight stigma is real and how it affects people. It is not simply ignoring a customer in the store or bullying a peer in school, it is so much more emotional than that. The harm that comes from treating others with contempt for their weight is real. Conversely, it is also not acceptable to treat others better and with positivity because their weight fits into society’s concept of the “ideal”.
Nobody deserves to be treated poorly or better because of the number on a scale or the size of their clothes. The number on a scale or a clothing size means absolutely nothing about health, a person, or anything else.
We all need to take it upon ourselves to be mindful of how we treat others regardless of shape, size, height, or anything else. We need to be more conscious of our words and actions and stop with the weight-bashing, bullying, and overall hate towards others because of a perceived lack of goodness, worth, etc. None of it is true. No one is better than anyone else.
Schools also need to be more aware of how their students are treating their peers. My high school experience is not just an isolated thing. This is the experience of many. It is about time that schools take more action in stopping the bullying and weight stigma that is going on in the halls and classrooms. It is unacceptable that children who are perceived by their peers as being “fat” are treated so poorly and it is ignored.
We also need to treat ourselves how we treat those we love. Simply because we may be heavier or be self-conscious and do not believe we are good enough because of it, we should not treat ourselves differently or speak to ourselves with contempt. We should stop all the fat talk and disparaging comments. We deserve to love ourselves and feel beautiful. And you know what? We are beautiful, inside and outside. And we are lovable, good enough, and deserve to be treated with the same kindness and courtesy as everyone else.
Demand it of yourself to rise above the words of others and be kind and compassionate to YOU.
I have learned in recovery that self-care and self-compassion are essential to being happy. It is looking in the mirror and loving yourself any and all ways. It is allowing yourself to buy a beautiful dress (or clothes) that fits your body regardless of the size. It is talking back to the voices in your head telling you that you are not good enough that have been there for years. It is enjoying that cupcake because damn it, you want one and you are not going to be ashamed.