DEI Blog – The Pervasiveness of SizeismSeptember 14, 2023
By Amy Lazet, Digital Scholarship Librarian, Library
Known as sizeism, fatphobia, fat shaming, or weight stigma, this pervasive form of bias involves discriminating against people because of their body size. According to psychologist Rebecca Puhl, PhD, “Sizeism is one of the most deeply entrenched stigmas in today’s society, partly because of sociocultural ideals tying thinness to core American values such as hard work and individualism.”1 Because this form of bias is often directed towards women and others with marginalized identities, including people of color and those in the LGBTQ+ community, sizeism is an intersectional issue.
Weight stigma, however, is often perpetuated by those closest to us; a 2021 study by Puhl found that up to 88% of women seeking to lose weight had experienced fat shaming from family members.2 This shaming may be framed as concern for one’s health, often manifesting as unsolicited weight loss advice.3 Indeed, over 40% of American adults have experienced some sort of sizeism, even though weight stigma can negatively affect mental health, eating habits, and overall health.1 Over the long-term, it can even increase the risk of mortality.1
There is a long history of efforts to combat sizeism, however. In 1976, Michigan passed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which includes “weight” as a protected category when it comes to public and educational facilities and services, as well as employment and housing.4 The body positivity movement is another effort to address weight stigma. This intersectional endeavor finds all bodies beautiful, “…regardless of size, shape, skin tone, gender or physical abilities,” says Dr. Albers, PsyD at Cleveland Clinic.5 A similar movement for body neutrality focuses on accepting and respecting your body and its abilities rather than your appearance. “This approach acknowledges that your body is only one part of who you are – not the totality. It also shouldn’t dominate how you feel about yourself,” says Dr. Albers.5 Similarly to body positivity, body neutrality is intended for people of all sizes, not just those experiencing weight stigma.
In addition to increasing your awareness of body acceptance, some steps you can take to avoid sizeism include:
- Not discussing your weight or your diet – particularly around your children or in the workplace5
- Focusing on what the body does rather than what it looks like5
- Being mindful of who you follow on social media and the beauty ideals they promote5
- Avoid giving unsolicited weight loss advice or explicitly commenting on someone else’s weight – even in a positive way
- Being aware of differing abilities related to body size – in this workplace, this may look like providing chairs so people don’t have to stand, avoiding putting items on the floor or bottom shelf to allow people to not have to kneel, and making sure furniture is size-inclusive
- Test your personal bias – take the Project Implicit test (proceed through the “Preliminary Information” then select “Weight IAT”).
- The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) has led the fat acceptance movement for decades and currently offers events and programming.
- Zara Abrams (2022), “The Burden of Weight Stigma,” American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2022/03/news-weight-stigma
- Rebecca Puhl et al. (2021), “International Comparisons of Weight Stigma: Addressing a Void in the Field,” cited in Samantha Lawrence, et al. (2022), “‘The most hurtful thing I’ve ever experienced’: A qualitative examination of the nature of experiences of weight stigma by family members,” https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssmqr.2022.100073
- Samantha Lawrence, et al. (2022), “‘The most hurtful thing I’ve ever experienced’: A qualitative examination of the nature of experiences of weight stigma by family members,” https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssmqr.2022.100073
- Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act
- “Whats the Difference Between Body Positivity and Body Neutrality?” (2022, April 22) Cleveland Clinic, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/body-positivity-vs-body-neutrality/