Are you guilty of obesity shaming?
Check your own internal weight biases with this quiz so you can avoid spreading a body-shaming attitude.
By LESLEY YOUNG
Having a belief or attitude about an individual based on their body size or weight is called “weight bias” and it can be detrimental to people who live with obesity, according to Ximena Ramos Salas, a managing director of University of Alberta-based Obesity Canada, a national registered charity dedicated to reducing weight bias.
“Obesity, which is defined by the World Health Organization as excess or abnormal fat accumulation that impairs health, is a chronic disease with complex causes that vary for each individual. We need to stop harbouring a belief that people with obesity can make simple diet or exercise changes to change their disease,” she explained.
Often people don’t even realize they have misinformed beliefs about obesity, she added. Check your assumptions with these questions.
1. Have you ever watched a person with obesity eating and thought that they are lazy or lack willpower?
If so, you are incorrectly assuming a person’s health characteristics, behaviours and abilities are based on their body size and weight. “There is absolutely no correlation between a person’s body type, size or weight and any of their personal characteristics, such as intelligence, capabilities or skills,” said Ramos Salas.
2. Every time you see someone with obesity, do you think, “What a shame, they need to lose weight?”
Not everyone who identifies as fat or has a larger body wants or needs to lose weight, explained Ramos Salas. BMI is an indicator of body size, not obesity, she said, adding “excess weight must impair health before it is considered a health issue, and even then, weight loss alone may not be the best or only approach to management.”
3. Do you believe people with obesity could change their health if they just took personal accountability?
This myth is a major contributor to weight bias, said Ramos Salas. “There are hundreds of factors that contribute to obesity, and no one has control over all of them.” She added this is why Obesity Canada is working toward getting obesity recognized as a chronic disease.
4. When you hear fat jokes, even told by someone who identifies as larger (think: Amy Schumer) do you laugh, or point out that it’s unkind or inappropriate?
Many of us don’t realize the extent to which obesity is the brunt of jokes or biased treatment in our entertainment, noted Ramos Salas. “Many of us wouldn’t laugh at the same jokes if they were told about race or gender. Consider calling attention to any comments, jokes or behaviours that shame people living with obesity.”
5. Do you not have close friends or colleagues who identify as large or have obesity?
If not, you may be avoiding people with obesity. “That would be a real shame,” noted Ramos Salas, “because people who identify as large or fat, or who have obesity, are as diverse and as richly human as the rest of us of varying body sizes—with many fine qualities we can benefit and learn from.”
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are guilty of perpetuating weight bias, but with simple self-awareness, you can give people with larger bodies and who are living with obesity the dignity and respect they deserve, said Ramos Salas.