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What is intrapersonal Weight Stigma?

Updated: May 16, 2022

How does it contribute to poor health?

Negative attitudes toward fat people are pervasive in our culture. Weight-bias in health-care and society at large has huge implications and contributes to health disparities between smaller and larger people.

What I want to explore today, is how it plays itself out within the individual.

When negative attitudes are not challenged and questioned, it becomes almost impossible for a larger person to have a good relationship with their own body.

If weight stigma is internalised, a loving, attentive, co-operative relationship with the body is almost impossible. Such a relationship is the backbone of taking good care of a body. So then we have a self-fulfilling prophesy: Weight stigma causes a breakdown of the healthy relationship with the body.

If I don't have a healthy relationship with my body, I don't take good care of it. If I don't take good care of my body, my health suffers.

Internalised weight stigma generates health disparities.

The word relationship refers to a connection or association between two or more parties. In order to have a “good” one, it is generally accepted that one needs:

1. Mutual respect and acceptance of the other 2. Trust 3. Effective communication between parties Life experience has taught most of us how unpleasant it is to be in relationship, when one of these elements is missing. When there is no mutual respect, one or more party’s input gets ignored, and the relaters become engaged in the battle of resisting and trying to change or dominate one another. Without trust, time and energy is devoted to trying to control the other’s behaviour and one can become quite preoccupied with this impossible task. When there is no good communication, misunderstandings and frustration flourish.

Good relationships on the other hand, are a pleasure to be in. They are functional and relaxed and can bring a great amount of joy and piece to participants.

When we take these benchmarks for a good relationship and apply them to measure the quality of the relationship that people (women particularly) have with their bodies, it becomes obvious that it is often a very unsatisfactory one. Like a poor human relationship causes great distress, poor relationship with the body does the same.

We can get some insight into the circumstances that have led to this state of affairs, when we look at the common culprits that make good relationship impossible:

  1. “isms” like racism and sexism can be behind lack of respect and acceptance

  2. Rumours and libel can bring doubt and undermine trust

  3. Different languages with no desire to understand, are a potent barrier to communication

Let’s explore these:

1. “Isms”

Racism and sexism and other isms are when a particular quality, like the colour of the skin or gender wins the bearer thereof either respect and acceptance or disrespect and rejection. This happens when these qualities are associated with positive characteristics like intelligence, honesty or integrity, and the lack of it implies that these characteristics are not present.

In our culture, weight-ism and shape-ism is real. A certain size and shape is associated with success, popularity, health and value. When our body does not meet the culturally determined criteria for acceptance, and we allow the prevailing culture to dictate to us, our body can lose our respect and be rejected by its very own owner…and the relationship suffers.

2. Rumours and libel

The fear mongering, libelous messages that are dolled out in great quantities about the abilities of the body have caused many body owners to doubt the intelligence and competence of theirs. Products that promise to “restore balance” to gut bacteria imply that this balance is easily lost. Others that will “aid digestion” imply that the gut is not very good at its primary task, and could do with some chemical assistance. Still other products claim that they can “block fat absorption” as if the body is chomping at the bit to absorb amounts that it doesn’t need, or that fat absorption is a bad thing in the first place. Our ability to absorb fat from food is vital for survival!

I cannot over-emphasise the damage that has been caused by this type of advertising and these labels on products.

Of course, it is true that some people have troubled bowels and that medical advances have helped a lot to understand and remedy their symptoms. I’m not suggesting that anybody should suffer with an irritable bowel or chronic heartburn and not take medication that can bring relief. The products that infuriate me are aimed at the broad public- not just those with functional bowel disease, and it causes a loss of trust in the body…and the relationship suffers.

3. How the body speaks

Anybody who has ever tried to engage in a conversation with somebody that speaks a different language will have an idea of the frustration this can cause. When a translator steps in, it can be quite surprising to find that the person that was gesturing clumsily and speaking with the competence of a two year old, is actually capable of expressing complex ideas, has deep thoughts and communicates them eloquently.

When the “isms” have done their polluting work, and rumour has it that there is nothing significant coming from a particular person (or body), we may not even bother to try and decipher what it is trying to say, and miss out…and the relationship suffers.

When the body does communicate to our conscience, it does so by feelings. When we take the time to listen to the language of the body, we can respond and can give it what it is asking for, and in turn receive what it is giving us. It blesses us with unending loyal service. It detoxifies faithfully, it breaks food down into its smallest constituents- absorbs it and assimilates it to form our skin, hair, blood, bones and muscle, and gets rid of the waste. It manufactures energy. It protects us from harmful bacteria. It allows us to move and dance and smell and taste. It enables us to make music, and to hear music. It allows us to feel.

The only reasonable feeling to have toward the body is one of immense gratitude.

Sound Bite

“The body is a multi-lingual being. It speaks through its colour and its temperature, the flush of recognition, the glow of love, the ash of pain, the heat of arousal, the coldness of non-conviction. It speaks through its constant tiny dance, sometimes swaying, sometimes a-jitter, sometimes trembling. It speaks through the leaping of the heart, the falling of the spirit, the pit at the center and rising hope.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes
“To extract and be able to internalize fuel and materials to run and sustain the body from something as complex as a steak, is a really difficult thing to do. A great deal of highly sophisticated chemistry has to take place to liberate what we need from what we eat, and then we have to transport those critical nutrients into the body. The gut must know what it is doing. The digestive process is not simple.” Michael D Gershon
“Eating and feeding reflect our attitudes and relationships with ourselves and others. Eating is about our regard for ourselves, our connection with our bodies and our commitment to life itself” Ellyn Satter

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