Weight Stigma in Australia

Weight stigma (also known as weight bias) refers to negative opinions, assumptions, attitudes or response toward a person because he or she is either overweight or has obesity. Weight discrimination is the fourth most common form of social discrimination amongst adults – and follows closely after age, gender and race discrimination. It is the only form of discrimination still widely thought to be socially acceptable.

Weight bias, discrimination, and fat-shaming are seen everywhere. It is evident in schools; in workplaces; during the employment process; in the community and even at home amongst family and friends.  Perhaps most disappointing, is that this form of judgement is quite common in health care settings and amongst health care professionals.  It often stems from blaming the individual for their obesity and failing to recognise that obesity is never a choice; that there are factors beyond individual responsibility, such as genetics, environment and biology that affect a person’s weight.  Weight stigma is so common that people may not even realise that they are displaying such a bias.

Many of us who are overweight or have obesity tend to brush off weight stigma, or worse – internalise it, often blaming ourselves for our condition. While some of us avoid going out, exercising or going to the gym, in order to reduce the shame, few of us turn towards self-deprecating fat humour.  Fat is not funny. No more than being thin or short or tall, or any other body characteristic.

Here are some examples shared by our members and friends or heard in the community

Outside a gym:

“I walked out of the gym and some ladies having coffee snickered “ok, so she needs more than one class” just a touch too loud.   I own a mirror- I know I’m fat, alas why I’m at the gym DUH! 🤦‍♀️”

An anguished mum in responding to the article  “OBESITY CRACKDOWN: NO ESCAPING WEIGHTY TRUTH ON KIDS’ OBESITY” in The Daily Telegraph:

“The point I make is not every overweight or obese child got that way because their parents were lazy, ignorant or didn’t care. Often the problem is deeper and more complex and needs a range of specialists which is what we are looking at now. I wish the government would realise that instead of trying bandaid or blanket solutions or finger-pointing at parents as if we all feed our kids Coke and nuggets every single day”

In a busy Orthopaedic clinic in Sydney: 

“One of the doctors (foot & ankle) made a nasty remark about ‘fatties’. We were getting some new chairs for the waiting room.  He commented, “they are for the fatties”.  He went on to say “if they could control what they ate, they needn’t have to come to me and spend $20,000 on surgery”

In primary school:

Year 4 student: “mum we saw a televised kid quiz show at school today. The whole class was trying to guess who would win. Finally, one boy who nobody …I mean nobody …had guessed, actually won the quiz. Nobody could believe it!!”   
Mum:  Why didn’t anybody vote for that particular boy?
Year 4 student (thinking): “Well… let’s see… I guess he was super fat. That’s why! (Shrugging) Everybody thinks somebody who is so fat can’t be so clever.”

In employment:

“I work in the health system. Sadly I have seen people attend for an interview and immediately they are judged on the basis of their weight. While nothing is said to their face, they are frequently culled out for some other minor reason. The thinking is that they are ‘not a good look’ for the service – regardless of how smart or qualified they are. I am constantly stunned by such narrow-minded and cruel attitudes can be”

..and this just sums the state of affairs:

“I just think that sometimes the obesity stigma is so loud and so normal that it can overshadow the reality of the situation, which is that it’s actually really hard. I’ve only ever had the obesity conversation from a weight loss perspective, but if I’ve learnt anything it’s that the physical impact is nothing compared to the toll it takes psychologically, but nobody talks about it.”

Have you experienced fat-shaming, bias, discrimination, or stigma due to your weight?  Write in and share your experience.

 

We care about eliminating weight stigma for many reasons:

BUT do we really need reasons why we dislike weight stigma, besides the fact that it is disrespectful, inconsiderate, harsh and simply mean?

However, let’s look at some really important reasons why society should do away with weight stigma, weight bias and weight discrimination.

  • Weight stigma is unfair.  Obesity is not an individual’s lifestyle choice. There are many complex social, biological and environmental drivers to obesity.
  • Weight stigma discourages people accessing health or medical help that they may need
  • Weight stigma can discourage healthy behaviours such as avoiding physical activity.
  • Weight stigma can lead to unhealthy eating and weight management practices.
  • Weight stigma can cause internalised stigma and impacts self-esteem.
  • Weight stigma can cause psychological damage, lead to depression, anxiety and adversely impact mental health.

The links below provide more information about weight stigma.

  1. Facts of the Matter – developed by The Obesity Collective
  2. The  Law: The Australian Human Rights Commission states that obesity can be covered by the definition of disability in the Disability Discrimination Act
  3. Five unspoken truths about weight stigma. Article in The Conversation.
  4. Perception of Australians regarding people with obesity. Article in SBS.
  5. Understanding Obesity Stigma – a brochure developed by OAC and Rudd Centre

 

If you have faced bias, discrimination or stigma – you are not alone!  Join our community.

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