It is Weight Stigma Awareness Week, hosted by the National Eating Disorders Association. My recent experiences have made me particularly sensitive right now to issues of weight stigma. Normally, I think weight stigma is such a constant hum in my life that it often settles to the level of background noise.
- Weight stigma is never being able to sit comfortably in your boss’s office because she doesn’t have any armless chairs. (And no, I’ve never had the guts to tell her even though I know she’d be chagrined and fix it immediately.)
- Weight stigma is being afraid to order dessert at restaurants for fear of getting judgy looks or comments.
- Weight stigma is having to allow extra time to get to meetings because the elevators are much further than the stairs. And, even more, weight stigma is never taking the stairs because no one likes the sight of a fat person sweaty and out-of-breath at a meeting.
- Weight stigma is never, ever getting to try clothes on in stores because there are no brick-and-mortar stores which sell clothes in your size.
The constant burden of having to be aware that you are “too” big and that things you sit on might break, that people you talk to are probably already judging you before you open your mouth, that you are assumed to be lazy and not care about your health–it’s a lot.
I’ve been learning lately to advocate for myself and to handle situations that make me anxious or upset with directness–with forthright statements of what I need to be safe, mentally and physically. I’m proud of myself for that. I’m trying to also become more alert to issues others might have that limit them in other ways–so that I don’t become the person imposing stigma on someone else.
Too, I think weight stigma can be more subtle than people on Instagram say. It is actually more expensive to produce larger or sturdier items like chairs, clothes, and airplane seats. It can put a strain on a business to meet those needs consistently. I dislike that my clothes often cost more than those of a thin person, but I actually need significantly more fabric to cover my ass, and fabric costs time and resources to fabricate. So I don’t judge a company if they charge more for larger sizes.
I do judge large corporations and public venues if they don’t provide any options for fat people. I’m an outlier on the fatness scale. Most people can fit in normal chairs. But if you are going to build a 300 seat auditorium, why not make 5 of those chairs extra wide? Not only does that not cost very much extra or significantly reduce capacity, but it shows an awareness and sensitivity that has value to everyone. (And if you are sensitive enough to build your auditorium that way, why not go the extra step and put up a sign asking thin people to sit elsewhere?)
Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where, even when being big created some inevitable frustrations due to actual physical difference, we could work together to find comfortable compromises for everyone?
NEDA has a lot of relevant resources and discussions on their site: nationaleatingdisorders.org.