Biases. We all have them. The Oxford English Dictionary defines bias as "prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair." But not all biases are created equal. As books like Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence discuss, overt racism is no longer socially acceptable. While racism certainly still exists and negatively impacts the lives of the oppressed, most people would vehemently deny being racist. Displaying a racial bias is considered highly undesirable. Contrastingly, weight bias remains pervasive, acceptable and almost engrained into our society from magazine ads to television. Being thin is in.
Weight Bias is a Human Rights Issue
Weight bias is essentially discrimination against someone based on their weight. This can and does apply to someone considered "too thin" but more commonly is extended to those considered "too heavy." Like other forms of bias, this can be explicit (conscious) or implicit (unconscious). Because it is so socially acceptable, it is not uncommon for individuals to have conscious bias and act (unfairly) on that bias. Weight bias contributes to "harm and violation of human rights" as those who are overweight or obese are treated unfairly, leading to disparate outcomes in various life circles. This bias creates negative outcomes, in a number of arenas for people who do not fall in line with social expectations around weight, including reduced chances of employment, lower wages, housing discrimination, unequal treatment by healthcare providers and social rejection/isolation.
Weight Bias and Weight Loss
As a recovering Jillian Michaels fan, I was disappointed but not surprised to see her comments (found here) about singer Lizzo's body. She, like many sizists (and racists by the way) denied her bias and instead focused on the fact that she believed everyone is equal but that obesity could lead to chronic disease. Jillian Michaels' opinion is not the exception but the rule for personal trainers and even doctors. To be sure, being overweight or obese can have many bio-psychosocial consequences. Being overweight for example exposes the individual to increased risks of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. It has also been linked to depression and anxiety. But many of these issues are exacerbated by weight stigma.
Although some people who are explicitly weight biased (we all are implicitly weight biased, but that's for another article) claim that they are attempting to motivate individuals, weight bias has actually been linked to weight gain. It has been linked to the development of unhealthy eating behaviors like extreme dieting and exercise avoidance as people do not feel comfortable going to the gym for fear that others will judge them.
Lizzo is so necessary. We need body positivity. Studies ave shown that internalized weight bias or "an individual's belief that they deserve deserve the stigma and discriminatory treatment they experience as a result of having overweight or obesity"may lead to low self-esteem and avoidance of preventive health care among other things.
Losing Weight While Fighting the Power
I'm a weight loss coach. I'm in an industry where people have unrealistic expectations about their body size and by default, want to be a smaller size than what they already are. There is nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight. Healthy and sustainable weight loss starts with self-acceptance. Part of self-acceptance and becoming better humans, for all of us, is working on our internalized biases regarding body size and appearance.