Weight Stigma Awareness Week – Complimenting Thinness

I’ll get back to talking about “Overeating” in the next post, but I just wanted to add a quick post about Weight Stigma Awareness Week (which was this week, Sept. 23-27). The following is from the BEDA (Binge Eating Disorder Association) website:

Some common beliefs fueled by weight stigma include: larger-bodied people are lazy, lack self-discipline, have poor willpower, lack intelligence, are diseased, and have the ability to become and remain thin. Thin individuals are also stigmatized by commonly held beliefs that they diet and/or exercise excessively, are healthy, self-absorbed, more attractive, and take better care of their bodies, thus have the ability to exert great will-power.

I think it’s highly beneficial to spread the message that we should not judge others based on their body size/shape. I wanted to add one quick note to the discussion about weight stigma, regarding how we speak to our children…just something that’s been on my mind lately.

I think there is a lot of awareness now about not criticizing children who are overweight, and that’s a great thing. In my 7 years of being a mother, I have yet to hear a parent say a harsh word to an overweight child about his/her size/shape (that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening in private). But, what I have heard from time to time is women complimenting young girls for being thin. I notice because my 5 year old girl is skinny, and she’s had women tell her that she is “so beautiful and thin;” she’s had someone tell her that she’s “lucky” for being thin, and sadly even my mother-in-law told my daughter once that she wishes she could be “thin like her again.” Needless to say, I was very upset about that and had a long talk with my mother-in-law afterward.

I can remember hearing some of the same comments as a young girl. I can vividly remember being about 9 years old, sitting in a beautician’s chair getting my hair cut, and her telling me that she used to look just like me until she was in her 30’s and then she got “fat.” I remember people telling me something along the lines of …”enjoy being thin because it won’t last.” Because I had a lot of weight stigma in my family, the comments probably influenced and affected me more than I hope they will affect my daughter. I’m confident that I can minimize comments from my friends and family, but I can’t always control random comments from people we don’t know well.

So, my plea in this post is: when we talk about weight stigma, let’s become aware that complimenting thinness is a form of stigma as well, and can be very harmful to young children.

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