The Vicious Weight Bias That Has to End

When I was a kid and I helped with the laundry, I thought my mother’s clothes seemed like doll clothes. My mother has always been a tiny little slip of a lady. Now that she’s in her seventies, I have tried to come up with strategies for boosting the nutritional content of the food she’s willing to eat.

We all know someone who’s always been thin as a rail or tiny and petite. Food is rarely a big deal for such people.  My mother has her favorite foods but generally she’s got a take it or leave it attitude about eating. It’s what’s natural for her. She makes no special choices to be the way she is.

Our culture readily accepts people like my mother but more importantly, value judgments are not made about them. There is no paradigm that a thin person is self-destructive, trying to make themselves waste away. People have to reach a nearly anorexic look before anyone will express concern their eating habits may not be health-supporting. Otherwise, thin people are held up as paragons of good judgment and discipline. How many times have you been told you could lose weight if you would “Think like a thin person”?

But if you’re like my father and me and you’re not a naturally thin person with a low interest in food? Being larger and craving food is not in your nature. Oh no. Weight bias says You’re in pain and you won’t lose weight until you get your act together and fix what’s wrong with you. That’s according to a poll of 1300 psychologists who believe that “emotional eating” is the real culprit behind overweight. Yes and never mind that when you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail.

I saw this article yesterday and I pretty much just started yelling at my computer screen. I was ready to start throwing things when I read this choice quote from a dietitian and therapist:

“Your weight is your way of screaming out loud to everyone: ‘Can’t you see the pain I’m in? Can’t you see how much I’m hurting?’”

When professionals make statements like this, is it any wonder fat people face derision and prejudice? Our culture is so willing to assume anyone who’s fat is a weak, broken, screwed-up emotional mess. It’s funny. A thought that came into my mind is whether that therapist might have seen “Identity Thief” or “Bridesmaids” and sat there in a darkened theater bemoaning how Melissa McCarthy is screaming in pain and hurting.

We find ourselves caught in a vicious cycle when we struggle to take our weight under control and we fail again and again. But the heart of the vicious cycle is this—we fail because we buy into the cultural paradigms ourselves. We believe we are who society tells us we are, broken, hurting, and in pain, when in fact, the source of the pain is the frustrating struggle to take our weight under control. Which we fail to do because we’re trying to “fix” parts of us that have never been broken in the first place. And the cycle spins on and on.

Are we fat because we’re depressed or depressed because we’re fat? I’ve spoken to a lot of high-achieving, successful people who say that their weight is the only aspect of their lives that’s caused them frustration and brought them a sense of failure. And why? Because fighting your own nature, your own brain wiring, and your own biology is very tough, especially when people like us are living in the most obesogenic culture in history, all the while dealing with an intense amount of shame projected at us for our perceived failures and weaknesses.

It’s interesting that commenting was disabled for that news article. I can barely imagine the insults that would have been hurled, attacking the mental stability of anyone considered “fat,” with plenty of viciously demeaning theories how they got that way. My mission in life has become to spread the message that this kind of thinking and vicious characterization is not to be tolerated anymore. Are you onboard with me?


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  1. The only pain I have ever felt about my weight was when ‘friends’ would tell me I had a pretty face, but that I really needed to lose weight. I spent a lot of my years feeling like my weight caused me not to be good enough for certain rewards and or privileges in life. Then, as time passed, I observed that all those people who felt they met the standard for beauty were very unhappy in their lives, and I realized I had managed to surround myself with loving, accepting people who saw more than just my clothing size.

    1. We don’t bring this shame upon ourselves. It’s projected on us and then many of us start to believe it!

  1. […] stress? Does their weight mean they’re crying out in pain and ” hurting” as this psychologist would have us assume? Are they filled with self-loathing? How about Melissa McCarthy? An Emmy […]

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