by Dr. Jenny Copeland
“Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives:
secrecy, silence, and judgment.”
~ Brené Brown, PhD, LCSW ~
Body terrorism. Weight stigma. Shame. These are things the Association for Size Diversity and Health inherently stand against. We as a community are working to raise awareness of the consequences which accompany these attitudes held by society. Even more profoundly dangerous is when a human experiences this shame at the hands of their trusted physicians. We are becoming increasingly aware of how these biases can be directed toward medical providers.
Research has demonstrated time and again that patients labeled “overweight” or “obese” are perceived as unattractive and non-compliant; that “obese” individuals are seen as “lazy” and self-indulgent, and ultimately to blame for their weight and health status as a result of these attributes. Patients are blamed for the failure of weight loss efforts in spite of hard science which has repeatedly shown that only 5% of people are able to lose weight and keep it off in the long-term. These biases are present from the early moments of physicians’ education. They are present across disciplines including: fitness professionals, dieticians, and mental health providers. The thoughts, behaviors, and often visceral emotional reactions do not go unnoticed by the patients.
Weight-based discrimination is dangerous, with tangible effects on one’s health. The end result includes high blood pressure, decreased immune system functioning, poor mental health, avoidance of doctors, and, ultimately, weight gain. Long-term exposure to weight-based discrimination leads one to accept these beliefs as true. Such individuals often experience depression, recurrent binge eating, eating more overall, moving less, and higher blood sugars.
Exponentially greater harm is faced by humans who are also targeted based upon their race, sex, gender expression, sexual orientation, physical ability or disability, and age. This pain is exacerbated by society’s refusal to acknowledge or address racism in our daily lives. Truthfully, the Association for Size Diversity and Health is included among those who have perpetuated racism and multiple oppressions structurally and individually within our movement.
Women’s Health Magazine has undertaken an impressive endeavor to give voice to the shame women experience through their healthcare, as well as the shame providers experience from their patients. The #StopTheShame campaign provides an important opportunity to shed light upon the layers of shame women experience in the doctor’s office or from their patients. Our journeys are our own, and we can no longer allow the intensely painful messages that one is unworthy of love, belonging, or a happy life.
It is important to note this is a publication which promotes the pursuit of weight loss, contradictory to the HAES® principles we support. However, we know that many people who read this magazine have been harmed by weight stigma and we believe in leveraging the power and privilege held by the publication to magnify the voices of oppressed people.
And so, let us not be silent. Let us no longer acquiesce to others’ discomfort by keeping our concerns to ourselves. Let us work to #StopTheShame – together.
Throughout this campaign ASDAH will highlight the experiences, thoughts, and calls to actions of many community members through posts on this blog. We will share important resources on weight stigma and its impact. If you would like to participate in this campaign with ASDAH please contact Dr. Jenny Copeland (firstname.lastname@example.org) for details.
August 14, 2015 – Update – Women’s Health Magazine posted its article entitled “I Was Shamed by My Doctor for Being Overweight