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September 25, 2012

BEDA National Weight Stigma Awareness Week

This week is National Weight Stigma Awareness Week. BEDA, The Binge Eating Disorder Association, brings attention to fat bias in our culture, and the ways that we as individuals can fight this problem.  BEDA’s “Call to Action” asks you to look for ways to recognize this bias at work, express yourself against it, reclaim your body image, recommit to caring for yourself, and celebrate you just as you are. Easy, right? You might be surprised how difficult this can be when there are a multitude of cultural messages designed to prevent self-acceptance pervading our collective consciousness on a daily basis.

Still, you may wonder why it is important to think about fat bias, the thin ideal, and the Western diet mentality, when these may seem like relatively superficial concerns. Upon closer inspection, however, the issues become anything but. Research connecting the internalization of the thin ideal to disordered eating in women has consistently shown a strong relationship between these variables. Regardless of the nature of the eating disorder or disordered eating behavior, there seems to be a connection at play that suggests when a woman strongly values an ideal of thinness her relationship to food is in danger of becoming disordered. As a culture, we need to have a strong commitment to deconstructing this issue by bringing it into the light for close examination, because eating disorders are the most lethal psychiatric disorders on record. Many individuals who have struggled with an eating disorder will tell you that their distorted body image and the overwhelming desire to be thin are the last things that continue to haunt them in the fight against their disorder, whether it be anorexia, bulimia, or BED.

If you want to consider how loud the cultural command to be thin is for women, simply spend some time this week bringing individual instances into your awareness. Notice how many advertisements you see related to dieting, or how many commercials contain messages about “controlling” your appetite, dropping a dress size, or cutting cravings. Pay attention to the number of exceptionally, even dangerously thin women that you are exposed to in the media on a daily basis. Look at reality TV shows with a critical lens to notice how often losing weight and/or being “made over” are topics of entire programs. Check out the advertisements in your average women’s magazine and see what you notice.

Then remember that these things are all designed to sell you something, and the media cannot sell you something you refuse to buy. The thin ideal is – at its core – a message intended to fuel consumerism. If women cannot be made to feel fat, unattractive, or otherwise inadequate, then the beauty and weight-loss industry will fail. Let’s help it fail by undoing our internalization of these messages, questioning what we are told to buy into, and promoting real self-acceptance and acceptance of all body types. Let’s watch what we say, what we choose to believe, and what we model for young people. Happy National Weight Stigma Awareness Week!

Written by Shelby Johnson, MEd