Weight Bias

This article originally appeared in Glamour

Weight bias and its effects are hurting women.

When 24-year-old Sheena Lane of Suisun City, California, walked into a store at her local mall last month, she just wanted to try on some dresses. But the store manager had other ideas. “He wouldn’t let me in the dressing room,” she recalls, “He told me I was too fat.” Lane was shocked. “It was humiliating,” she says. “I just walked out crying.”

Lane’s story is extreme, but the pain of disapproving glances or comments about our bodies is something that all people—women especially—can relate to. Weight stigma affects women far more than men, says Dr. Laura Triplett, Assistant Professor at California State University, Fullerton, and the consequences go far beyond shopping. “It affects the amount of money you make. It can keep you from getting hired for a job,” she says. “We have deeply embedded stereotypes. Fat people are considered to be ignorant and lazy.” Think it’s all in their head? A Middle State University Tennessee study found that overweight women earn up to 6.2% less than their thinner counterparts. “Women who are overweight are likely to be passed over in favor of someone else who is less qualified but thinner,” says Triplett. “Overweight women have trouble getting good health care. They have fewer friends than thin women, they date less—studies show that the stigma of excess weight affects every part of a woman’s life.”

Weight stigma and its effects are so painful that when researchers asked a group of formerly obese men and women if they’d rather have a leg amputated than return to obesity, 91% of them said yes. Yow. It’s particularly important for women to realize their participation in this—too often we are both the victims and the perpetrators of weight bias. “We need to examine what’s behind these judgments,” says Leslie Goldman, MPH, a body-image expert who writes the blog “The Weighting Game.” Goldman looks at it pragmatically, saying, “If your best friend suddenly gained weight, you wouldn’t suddenly think she was lazy or stupid, would you? The stereotypes are absurd. And no one needs your pity—there are a lot of overweight people who are perfectly happy with their bodies.” Goldman sees the dismantling of weight bias as connected to individual body image work, saying, “We all need to be kinder. We work on compassion and acceptance for our own bodies, and we need to extend that respect towards others. We’re all in this together.”

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