The Obesity Stigma

8 Aug

In Harper Lee’s classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the beloved character Atticus Finch once said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” We all make assumptions about people in society and nearly never consider how it must be from their point of view. I recently had a fairly heated discussion with an individual about obesity.

He claimed all fat people were disgusting, lazy and had given up on life when there’s absolutely no valid reason to ever give up. I pointed out that the vast majority of overweight people were overweight due to much deeper issues beyond laziness. It’s almost never as simple as someone eating too much merely to eat too much. It’s usually a form of coping either with a childhood trauma or a current bad situation such as a failed relationship, death or illness.

I know part of the reason I became so overweight was that I was coping with being depressed over my physical problems as a result of my accident. I had also gone through clinical depression where eating made me feel better. I had given up, but I frankly thought I had good reasons to give up. According to the individual I spoke with, there was never a good reason to give up. Then again, he’s never experienced anything bad in his life such as a long-term illness, death or other loss.

Reality star Kelly Osbourne recently said that she received far more criticism in the press for being overweight than she ever did for her extensive drug and alcohol problem. In our society, it is far worse to be overweight or obese than it is to battle substance abuse. That is a sure sign something is wrong with our society’s values. In what universe should somebody be high and thin as opposed to overweight and sober? Apparently America’s.

It’s taken decades for the stigma of substance abuse to fade only slightly. Although there is still a great deal of shame associated with this illness, it has become much more publicly accepted. Society generally understands substance abuse is a disease that the individual cannot help anymore than a diabetic can help being diabetic.

However, when it comes to obesity, people rarely acknowledge that food addiction is just as real as drug addiction. It is generally thought that an overweight person can just stop eating so much and hit the gym like it was as easy as flipping on a light. Sadly, it is not that simple, but it would help a lot if society became more accepting and willing to help.

Instead of judging overweight friends and neighbors, try walking around in their skin for a while. They want to be thin and healthy, but there are often deep issues stopping that from happening. Offer support rather than criticism. If you’re a gym enthusiast, offer to take them to the gym for some basic exercise instructions. Are you a healthy cook? Share recipes and have them over for dinner to help teach proper nutrition and portion control. Or be there as a listening ear and offer advice.

For people who have never struggled with weight, I suppose it is easy to judge and brush off overweight people as lazy and unmotivated. But for those of us who’ve walked around in their skin for a while, we know all too well, it is never that simple.

Overeaters Anonymous: Finding Help


6 Responses to “The Obesity Stigma”

  1. abbyabbersby August 8, 2011 at 8:45 PM #

    I totally agree with you. For years following my own accident, I felt that it was ok to give up on my body. But I’ve come to realize it’s never too late to stop being ok with giving up. My deal now is to keep up the momentum of realizing that I’m worth being my best me. And being the best of yourself requires A LOT of introspection. (it really isn’t over-eating for the sake of over-eating).

  2. twistedsassette August 9, 2011 at 4:34 AM #

    Well said, I couldn’t agree more. You can’t really understand something until you’ve been there yourself, and there are almost always deeper issues than overeating that have to be dealt with along the individual’s weight loss journey. It’s not as easy as some people seem to think it is.

  3. Hannah August 9, 2011 at 6:13 AM #

    I think it’s crazy to think that obese people are at fault for how they are! A lot of research has been done lately on links between BPA in plastics and obesity, sleep and obesity, gestational diabetes and obesity…the list goes on. It really is sad that a person finds it okay to judge ANYONE based on their prejudices or limited knowledge of another person’s life. I guess I’m mostly sad that this person has lost his compassion for other people. Hopefully we can all take the time to try and understand the people around us and be helpful members of the community instead of isolating ourselves behind judgement and narrow-mindedness.

    Thanks for a great post to remind me to be kind and understanding! It always take thoughtfulness on my part–I have to work for compassion just like everyone else 😉

    • Noel D. August 9, 2011 at 6:18 AM #

      It is easy to immediately judge, I think. You look at an overweight person and think just stop eating the cheeseburger. But, sadly, the cheeseburger really isn’t the problem, it’s their psychological issues, or lack of sleep or exposure to chemicals, who knows? But yeah I wouldn’t have really ever known that had I not been there myself. The individual I argued with is extremely narrow-minded in most aspects of life, so it’s not surprising he’s so prejudiced against overweight people. But it’s very sad.


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