the HAES® files: Fighting the Good Fight Against Weight Stigma: Start with Yourself

by Health At Every Size® Blog

by Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD

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.

3 Comments to “the HAES® files: Fighting the Good Fight Against Weight Stigma: Start with Yourself”

  1. I have Lipoedema always had it,70 plus years and you may like the following taken from my 9 page hand out. if interested i can send my literature to you. Interesting reading.

    Food for Thought!!!!!!
    This could be you, a female friend or relation, a girl in your office
    Female friends in the Club, Gym or church
    The female who is moaning about her weight gain
    1. Suddenly you notice that you are getting fat legs and parts of your arms.
    2. They ache, sore to the touch, just floppy fat. Diet is good and you exercise regularly.
    3. Clothes from the hips down getting tight, even have to change type of briefs.
    4. Nothing is comfortable. Even bed clothes are too heavy on the legs at times
    5. Have to give up the high heels and wear much softer and looser skirts.
    6. Problems with the waist bands, waist much smaller than hips and thighs.
    7. You decide that you need professional help and advice.
    8. GP is not able to help you but refers you to a Medical Consultant/Specalist.
    9. Hope at last for some help and explanation of weight gain.
    10. After waiting many moths you finally get to see the Specalist. What a let-down.
    11. You try and tell him about your gain and how you are active and have a good diet.
    12. He says he does not believe you and that you have an eating problem!!!
    13. He will not listen to anything you have to say in your defence.
    14. The Specalist has decided that you need to see the Dietician, will get you and appointment with the therapist for over eaters and will also get you to see the bariatric Specalist. ? Surgery!!!!!!!
    15. When you try and defend yourself he states ” I am the Consultant, I know what I am talking about. Good afternoon”

    You sit in the waiting room and cry. All you wanted was some help not abuse.
    Anger makes you seek some help and possible explanation on the Internet where you discover that you are not alone. The healing and acceptance process begins. You lift your head up hig and know you told the truth about your condition.
    Fight and right returns to your mind and body

    GENTLEMEN
    1. How would you like it if you were a man whose Scrotum had enlarged, was painful and giving you cause to buy new underpants and trousers, Nothing was comfortable and the skin was inflamed and breaking down. Heavy and loss of sexual enjoyment and desire.
    2. Again after many months you finally see a Specalist and to your shock and horror it is a female.
    3. You tell her your tale of woe, she says nothing for a time, just looks at you and your Scrotum.
    4. It appears that she has been thinking about your problem.
    5. According to her you are indulging in too much sex and that is the cause of your problem.
    6. She will not listen when you tell her sex is the last thing on your mind and that you are unable to perform due to the enlargement and it is very painful
    7. You might as well saved your breath.
    8. She informs you that she will refer you to a Sex therapist, other clinics that enable you to overcome your sexual cravings and possible some medication to curb your sexual appetite.

    How would you feel about this and what would your reaction be?

    We, females who have Lipoedema are used to such reaction.
    Verbally abused and treated as liars about our eating habits!!!!

  2. Thank you Marsha for this excellent blog on a topic that is too often glossed over or not mentioned at all, perhaps because it is not quantifiable or perhaps because we’re all too ashamed to talk about it.

  3. Thanks, rg. In my case and many of the women I work with, it’s clearly shame. So bringing it out into the light like this, to paraphrase Brene Brown, helps get rid of the gremlins. So important to do to get past all this.

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