Why Size Doesn’t Matter, Part 2

February Challenge – What YOU Can Do

Do y’all remember the old NBC ad campaign for “The More You Know”? Whenever I talk to people about diet culture & weight stigma, I feel like there is a little shooting star over my head with the jingle. Because this is a pervasive problem in our society – not just the fashion industry or with eating disorder recovery & awareness, but it is EVERYWHERE! As soon as people start thinking about it, they can see it all over the place – social media, media, stores, ads, comments people make, even in their own heads!

In part one, I walked through all of the fashion industry issues with clothing sizes and some of the reasons this is an ongoing issue. In part 3, I will talk more about body image specific issues. 

So…What Can We Do?

Weight Stigma 

Janet Tomiyama, a weight-stigma researcher, defines weight stigma as “the social devaluation and denigration of people perceived to carry excess weight, which leads to prejudice, negative stereotyping, and discrimination toward those people” (Tomiyama 2014). I think the simplest way to put it is that we think people who are in higher weight bodies are not as attractive as those in thin bodies, regardless of what else we know about that person. 

The first thing I would do is this: take the Harvard Implicit Attitudes Test – they have tests on weight stigma as well as gender and race, and it is a great tool to figure out where you are now (not to mention supports ongoing research). 

Listen, we all have bias. Lets not pretend it is something we exist without, because it keeps us from challenging ourselves to grow and change. If you’re trying to avoid this topic, you would not be reading this. Can we even exist without bias? I don’t think so, in general. 

Weight bias and stigma, though, are harmful to us all. It keeps 70% of the population from positive body image and self esteem. It keeps us from trying new things. It keeps us from asking others to treat us with respect. It keeps us from so many things that would make the world, or at least our world, a better place. 

Here are some more articles about Weight Stigma that explain the phenomena more fully – but we all know it is there. 

Weight Language

One of the biggest ways we show our bias is in our language. We call people living with obesity “obese” with all kinds of negative connotations attached to that word. How would you feel if someone had cancer and we called them “cancerous” – the synonyms for which include “destructive” and “harmful”?

If you know or love someone with a cancer diagnosis, how would that make you feel? If you were the person with cancer? 

Do you remember ever hearing someone talk about their bodies in positive ways, especially when it comes to weight? We seem to think we have to say all the negative things or someone else will think we think too highly of ourselves. I do not think that I have ever (outside of ED awareness) seen a woman speak comfortably and be sincerely positive about their body.

Body Talk v. Fat Talk

Our bodies move us around, we live in them every day and we have no choice about that. We have to acknowledge them even when we don’t want to, which means we have to talk about them. Sensations, health, preferences…our bodies have lots to say. So we do have to talk about them. It is not a problem, in and of itself, to talk about our physical selves. But it is a problem when we talk about it in stigmatizing ways or without compassion. And when we talk about our physical selves, that is what we usually do –  Fat Talk.  Fat talk is negative, stigmatizing, and harmful. 

Do you remember ever hearing someone talk about their bodies in positive ways, especially when it comes to weight? We seem to think we have to say all the negative things or someone else will think we think too highly of ourselves. I do not think that I have ever (outside of ED awareness) seen a woman speak comfortably and be sincerely positive about their body. 

Fashion Industry 

One of the most impactful things you can speak with is your wallet. That is, for better or worse, what industries pay attention to. In today’s world, though, you can also speak with social media. The more we ask for people to show us how they are working towards size inclusivity and diversity, the more the fashion industry will pay attention. 

Right now, the industry does not want to change, because it would be a big shift for them philosophically and from a business perspective. They are making money, and there is a “if it’s not broken, don’t fit it” kind of view. The thing is, it is broken. Sometimes that is hard to see from inside a system.

There are actually “Body Image Law(s)” in some countries – they say things like that people have to be a certain BMI to work at things like Fashion Week, or require advertisers to put a disclaimer on images that have been altered to make someone appear thinner.  This is only in effect, officially, in Israel and France, but there is legislation working its way through other governments, including the UK. In some places (Australia) there is a voluntary code of conduct related to this, and there are some places that ban advertisements (like the London and Norwegian metro systems). Even in France, where there are civil penalties, the law only applies to advertisements, not social media. 

I heard about these efforts years ago (2012-2017 was when it was introduced and went into effect) but really, have not seen a significant impact in how the industry functions. The upshot of that Fashion Week media attention in 2017 was…nothing. Though some people talked about the dangers and the impossible standards, nothing really changed. 

If we really want to Make Brands More Inclusive, then we, as consumers, need to act! This article in Forbes mentions why customer feedback is key to developing inclusivity – use your voice!

We need to use the ‘cancel’ function on our social media ads, stop following those who perpetuate these standards (and tell them why) and generally speak up about the negative impact all of this has on real people. 

Double Standards

I hate them. I know we cannot get away from them entirely, but they drive me up a wall, and it sounds like nails on a chalkboard every time. 

Here are some humorous examples of double standards – though, as Bored Panda points out, it is also a bit disturbing – this is one of my favorites:

And here is a more serious list from the Helpful Professor. The vast majority of the double standards that we deal with daily have to do with the different standards between the sexes.  

We have double standards for a lot of things, and weight is one of them. Why is it “disgusting” to see someone overweight eating and “sexy” to see a supermodel in a bikini eating a hamburger? If you believe this is true, or your visceral reaction is to say “of course!” then you have a double standard. 

Can we rid ourselves of all double standards? Yes, but it takes awareness and requires challenging your own self-talk. Many people have different rules for themselves than they would have for a friend or a stranger. That is not, actually, OK.  Having one set of rules for men and another for women is not, actually, OK. Having one set of rules for people with obesity and for people who have anorexia is not, actually, OK. Can you think of how many double standards there are in just those three categories? I can think of dozens…

If you become aware of a double standard of any kind, it is your duty to notice it, challenge it, and try to change your thinking to something that is true for everyone. 

Double StandardUniversal Standard
Expecting yourself to be strong at all times but would not hesitate to tell a friend to express their emotions openly and support themIt is far stronger to express your feelings to people you trust and ask for support than it is to avoid your emotions.
Men can’t be expected to refrain from ogling attractive womenMen and women are expected to have equal couth – either we all refrain from ogling or we all get to ogle openly.
Seeing someone with anorexia eat in public is inspiring and brave while watching someone with obesity eat the same food is disgustingWe should all be able to eat what we want without others scrutinizing us, regardless of our weight.  We should all recognize that neither anorexia or obesity are a moral failing.

These are just three small examples, but if we challenged them, our society would have to behave differently than it does now. 

Join me next time to talk about Why Weight Doesn’t Matter (Part 3) – Body Image is NOT a Straight Line.