Sticky Words: Weight Stigma Awareness Week

By Kelli Swensen, Dietetics Student, Sargent College

Remember “cooties” in elementary school? It used to be that the majority of teasing involved these imaginary germs that could pass between boys and girls. Nothing was more embarrassing then catching someone’s cooties. Yes, this teasing caused some hurt feelings that day and a year or two of boys not letting girls play on the monkey bars or the girls excluding the boys from the swings, but the teasing only pinched the surface, after all everyone had cooties so it really wasn’t anything personal. What if instead of saying “I don’t want to catch your girl cooties” the boy on the monkey bars said, “I don’t want to play with someone who has chubby cheeks”? My bet is you are less likely to forget a stupid boy in the fourth grade excluding you because of a physical trait that is unique to you than forgetting being made fun of for being a girl. It may seem far fetched that one comment made in the fourth grade could cause a person to become overly self-conscious and obsessed with crash dieting later on, but it’s really not. In fact, it happens constantly. Words stick with us. And, unfortunately, mean words seem to be the stickiest.

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As we progress from cooties to crushes, the teases and insults change form too. Teenage and adult bullying comes in the form of slapped-in-the-face, hurtful comments that directly attack a person’s body size (no matter what that size is) and in less obvious feelings of prejudice that show up when a person is “Joking around”. Together, all these negative feelings and comments towards body size have created a weight stigma around the world, making most people – girls and guys – overly self-conscious about their bodies. Everybody is built differently. No one has the exact same body size, the same muscles, the exact same hair color, same bone structure, I could keep going but you get it: there is no “one” body size that we can all become. And thank goodness. I personally would hate to have the same body as every other girl. I love that my body is unique to me, that only I have my exact features. Despite how obvious it is that beauty is not defined by a pant size, people still continue to make negative comments towards both their own bodies and other people’s bodies. People are built differently and it’s time not only to accept the differences, but to appreciate them as well.

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To help reduce the amount of negativity surrounding body image, the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) has officially announced this week as Weight Stigma Awareness Week. BEDA’s website defines weight stigma as “bullying, teasing, negative body language, harsh comments, discrimination, or prejudice based upon a person’s body size.” So what can you do? The easiest way to participate is to simply stop saying negative comments about a person’s size, including jokes. Being mindful of what we say is only the beginning. In order to make a real difference, we have to change the way we think. We have to stop trying to attain a “perfect body”, after all who decided what a “perfect body” is anyways? Body size is not a reflection of a person, and it’s so important that we realize this in order to get rid of weight stigma. Changing your thinking is not simple. It’s easy to revert back to staring at the mirror and measuring your worth based on how well your reflection compares to the magazine sitting on your desk. Everyone has moments of low self-esteem; the key is to find a way to remind yourself of how perfect you are for yourself.

I’m not going to ask you to participate in Weight Stigma Awareness Week. Nope. Instead, I’m going to beg you to make a change in your life and become aware of weight stigmas that do exist and to help erase them. We are all affected by weight stigma, so it is only right that we all help to get rid of it.

For any interested BU student, there is a for-credit workshop/class that is being offered this fall and still has a few openings.  The class is called the Body Project, and it is designed for students who have ever had a negative thought about their bodies. The objective of the class is to help students to question the messages that bombard them about the perfect body size and shape. The course number is HE103 and there are two sections that you can choose from:

Section A: 9/28, 10/5, 10/12, and 10/19 from 10:30-11:30

Section B: 10/26, 11/2, 11/9, and 11/16 from 10:30-11:30

Weight Stigma Awareness Week is about being aware of the negativity that exists about body size and doing something to get rid of those hurtful thoughts and comments. I said it earlier, but I feel it is worth it to say it again: the goal isn’t to have a “perfect body” but rather to have a body that is perfect for you. Use this week to recognize and appreciate the body you have.

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