Weight and Weightism
- Analisa ArroyoAnalisa ArroyoDepartment of Communication Studies, University of Georgia
- and Kristin AndersenKristin AndersenDepartment of Communication Studies, University of Georgia
Weight-based stigma is pervasive and is propagated via sociocultural and interpersonal messages that influence individuals’ identity. The ideals communicated in these messages place disproportionate value on appearance and have made weight an important component of attractiveness. Some cultures, particularly Western culture, hold a bias toward thin bodies and promote a bias against those who do not fit cultural ideals of slender or lean body shapes. This bias, judgment, stigma, prejudice, and discrimination toward individuals based on their size, shape, or weight is known as weightism. Most of the research regarding weightism has been conducted on obesity and overweight individuals because of the related public health concerns. However, because weight is a continuum on which individuals are frequently evaluated, stigmatization is experienced by individuals who are either over or under cultural norms for appropriate weight and toward those who engage in deviant weight-control behaviors (e.g., purging). Thus, because individuals with eating disorders are often underweight and have deviant eating behaviors, they also experience weight-based stigma and discrimination. There are a multitude of negative effects associated with being a part of these stigmatized weight groups, including lower self-esteem, less social confidence, greater body dissatisfaction, poorer mental health, and increased substance use and self-harm behaviors. These negative outcomes create a social divide between the stigmatized weight groups and others, wherein stigmatized individuals turn to negative health behaviors (e.g., bingeing and purging) in an effort to cope with their negative social experiences. Subsequently, they perpetuate their affiliation with their stigmatized weight group and the related health conditions.