The Weight of Discrimination: The Impact of Fat Shaming
In a society obsessed with the thin-ideal, those in a larger body may encounter discrimination. Learn more about the negative impact weight discrimination and fat shaming can cause.
by: Kristin Burmeister
Judging individuals based on their weight is a pervasive issue in current American culture and creates many problems for individuals who are viewed as weighing too much or too little. Negative attitudes towards people based on their size is commonly seen through fat shaming individuals. Fat shaming is defined as the action or practice of humiliating someone judged to be fat by making mocking or critical comments about their size. Currently, it is sometimes culturally acceptable to fat shame or discriminate against someone for their weight. Since cultural messages imply being in a larger body is inherently negative and weight troubles are an individual issue that can be fixed by simply changing one’s habits or behaviors.
Fat shaming has many negative impacts on an individual. First, it can cause body image issues or worsen an existing problem with body image. It also increases a person’s chances of having maladaptive eating behaviors (fasting, using laxatives, skipping meals, self induced vomiting, etc.) that may develop into eating disorders . Additionally, mental health issues, such as depression, are more common for those who experience fat shaming .
Fat shaming on an individual level often leads to weight discrimination at an institutional level. Weight discrimination is defined as the unequal, unfair treatment of people based on their weight. One form of weight discrimination is workplace discrimination. Studies have found interviewers often assume larger applicants are difficult to work with, lacking in self-discipline, less productive, or less determined . Furthermore, overweight individuals are less likely to be hired than equally qualified thinner individuals, are on average paid $1.25 less an hour, and are less likely to receive raises or get promotions .
Another form of weight discrimination is medical care discrimination. Healthcare professionals often stigmatize larger patients and attribute all their medical issues to their weight, without ruling out other possible causes leading to doctors using less diagnostic tests on these patients . Furthermore, many individuals avoid seeking medical care due to stigma, leading to medical conditions that are more advanced and harder to treat . Weight discrimination is a pervasive issue that affects multiple systems in a person’s life.
Issues related to weight discrimination are becoming more prevalent in the United States. One study found that from 1995-2005 the prevalence increased by 66% . Despite pervasive issues with weight discrimination in the workplace and in medical care there are no federal laws that exist to prohibit discrimination based on weight. Michigan is the only state that has laws protecting against weight discrimination and only 6 cities (San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Madison, Urbana, Birmingham, and DC) have laws against weight discrimination . Overall, there is a lack of policies protecting people against weight discrimination.
Fat shaming and weight discrimination are pervasive issues in today society that can cause a variety of issues for many people. In order to protect individuals against institutional discrimination there need to be more policies against weight discrimination. Furthermore, there needs to be an increase in body acceptance and body positivity in order to end fat shaming. Thus, while the issues of fat shaming and weight discrimination are pervasive in current society they can be fought against and can be changed.
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 Puhl, R. (2009). Weight Discrimination: A Socially Acceptable Injustice - Obesity Action Coalition. Retrieved from https://www.obesityaction.org/community/article-library/weight-discrimination-a-socially-acceptable-injustice/
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This post was written by BALANCE blog intern Kristin Burmeister.
Kristin is a graduate student studying social work at Case Western Reserve Universtiy. Her own recovery journey inspired her to want to help others who struggle with eating disorders. In the future, she hopes to work as a clinical social worker with a focus on eating disorder treatment.