To address weight bias, education is the first step
The first time I remember experiencing weight bias happened in elementary school. Student nurses came to our school and lined us all up. They proceeded to weigh us in front of one another. I was pulled to the side after I stepped on the scale and taken into a room by myself. I was the only one pulled away. The student nurses told me if I did not start taking my weight seriously that I would be putting myself at risk for high blood pressure and diabetes. I felt nervous; my hands became sweaty, I felt like I was in trouble. I’ve had a fear of the scale since then, all this time later. In that moment, I realized people were going to make assumptions about me based solely on my body, and my weight.
Without any questions, those student nurses made several assumptions about me, my parents, and our lifestyle. What they could not have known were the great lengths my parents were going to address my weight.
In middle school, a boy in my class used to throw paper balls at me in class and called me a whale, all without punishment or intervention. After school, he called me and continued the insults. When I retaliated, bunching up a piece of paper and throwing it across the classroom, I was sent to the principal’s office.
What he did not know, is that his behavior, and the interactions he had with me, would be some of the most pervasive memories I carried with me from middle school.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. Children, and their parents, across the United States are struggling with the effects of weight bias. Children are not only experiencing bullying at school, but it can also occur on their phones via social media, calls, or text messages. My message to parents is be kind to yourselves. You are doing the best that you can with the limited resources that are available to you. To children experiencing weight bias, I want you to know that you are beautiful and wonderful and talented just the way that you are, no matter what anyone says.
It’s taken me many years to attempt to reverse the adverse effects of weight bias. Now, I wake up every day to fight for a world where no child is made to feel bad about themselves for their weight.
To address weight bias, education is the first step. Understanding the multifactorial, complex nature of the disease is crucial to addressing the underlying assumption behind weight-biased beliefs: that people with obesity brought it upon themselves. To those who want to speak to family members, your child, or to friends regarding their weight, to avoid a biased conversation check your assumptions at the door and give the person full autonomy to establish their own goals let them know the best ways to support you.
Every single person living in this country deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Weight bias has profound impacts not only on people’s psychological health but also on their physical health.
It’s time to stop weight bias now.