As I write this post, I am set to turn 66 in five days. And I didn’t want to go to the doctor last week because I knew had gained weight. I don’t weigh myself but you know when you know.
I didn’t expect my doctor to shame me. But the internal shame I sometimes feel about my own weight runs so deep, it’s hard to root out.
Note that I am a woman who has spent the last three decades trying to help other women with this issue. I know very well how to counter the issue intellectually and emotionally.
So why is it so hard to completely let it go? No mystery there — weight stigma sits at the core of our society’s way of looking at the world.
In my earliest memories, I remember being singled out for my size. It not only made me feel different, but the experience, undoubtedly combined with some genetic vulnerability towards self-doubt, made me feel inadequate and inferior.
I could say it played a role in getting me to the good place I am in my life today, where I interact on an almost daily basis with people who are fighting weight stigma or who are seeking to get out from under its burden. Truly a fulfilling way to spend my life.
But in reality, it formed or exacerbated an underlying layer of insecurity that permeated and continues to permeate much of what I do. It also led to my developing an eating disorder, the health effects of which I still suffer some 35 years later.
When I look back at what I’ve accomplished professionally in life, I like to think that had it not been for the negative impact of weight stigma, I would have been able to achieve goals that my heart still longs for.
I see this scenario repeated daily in the women I work with.
Weight stigma interferes with the ability to lead a meaningful life, one that fulfills the self and contributes to society. We lose so much talent and productivity as a result of weight stigma.
People think nothing of commenting, kindly or unkindly, about someone’s weight. They don’t realize that it destroys, or what it destroys.
We need to eliminate weight stigma, for the health of all of us. Fortunately, there’s a movement already well in motion. This week marks the Binge Eating Disorder Association’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week that features a wealth of activities and memes to help move the needle.
But perhaps the best place to start is with the self — internalized weight stigma. Wounds cut much deeper when they are compounded by our complicity. And fighting the good fight within yourself can give you the strength to take on the rest. Even though it may stay pretty darn tough.
Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD is president and co-owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s retreat in Vermont that pioneered the non-diet approach over 40 years ago.