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Public health campaigns branding obesity as a disease are sometimes perceived as criticizing individuals, rather than expressing the environmental and social factors that lead to weight gain.
Research has found a significant prejudice against fat people.

Whether functioning in the general community, in school or in the workplace, men, women and children with overweight problems are being targeted by a community that, neither understands, nor sympathizes with their condition. Along with obesity being seen as a serious public health threat; there is a growing prejudice against fat people.

Thinness has come to symbolize important values in our society. Being thin has become attached to discipline, hard work, ambition and willpower in the minds of the public.  If you are not thin; then you don’t have these traits. The media also significantly promotes the idea that the only way to be attractive is to be thin. Models are captured with Twiggy-like bodies and celebrities are exhibiting photo-shopped pictures of themselves, in order to perpetuate their image of thinness. Those that do not have naturally thin bodies will often resort to extreme measures in order to reduce themselves to the size that we, as a public, have come to think represents success and beauty.

Public health campaigns branding obesity as a disease are sometimes perceived as criticizing individuals, rather than expressing the environmental and social factors that lead to weight gain. To some people, this leads to the sense that they have a license to engage in public fat-shaming. While the media portrays extremely thin as “in”, it also portrays heavy people as fat, lazy and gluttonous. Overweight people are stereotyped as engaging in out-of-control eating or bingeing on junk food. They become the target of humor or ridicule. With the amount of media the public consumes; these stereotypical representations stick.

Those that suffer from obesity struggle to deal with the oftentimes inaccurate images of who they are as individuals. Yale University recently published a study suggesting that male jurors did not administer blind justice when it came to plus-size female defendants. While female jurors displayed no prejudice against fat defendants; men – especially lean men – were more likely to slap a guilty verdict on an overweight woman and more quickly would label her a repeat offender who had an obvious predilection to repeat offenses.

Another recent study by the Center for Creative Leadership discovered that top managers suffering from weight problems were judged more harshly by their peers and seen as less effective than their slimmer colleagues and co-workers. These prejudices were attached to both their work performance and interpersonal relationships. In fact prejudices against those suffering with obesity were found “across the board.”  For example, fifty percent of doctors were found to assume that fat patients were “awkward, ugly, weak-willed and unlikely to comply with treatment.” Nearly 24 percent of nurses said they were repulsed by their obese patients. When teachers were polled, it was found that up to 30 percent of teachers said that becoming obese was “the worst thing that can happen to someone.”  More than 70 percent of obese people said that they had been ridiculed about their weight by a family member.

Ridicule of fat people shows no bounds. A political consultant who had lost 120 pounds and still had 100 more to lose, related how she was thrown off an airline flight on two different occasions, because the carrier deemed her “too fat to fly.” Both times she was stopped at the gate by airline employees, who proceeded to quiz her loudly about her weight and dress size before denying her boarding access. 

Those suffering from overweight issues listen to bystanders refer to them as whales and use other derogative terms, often while looking directly at them. People have no qualms about aiming overt cruelty at obese people, because there are few consequences. The fat stigma is rarely challenged and often ignored. In effect, it is the last acceptable prejudice. With no federal laws on the books that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of body weight, this sends a message that it’s no big deal.

The public reflects a belief that obesity is a temporary condition, completely under an individual’s control. Fat people receive no sympathy, even from others struggling with their own weight issues. Even as obesity rates continue to soar, rarely does there seem to be an understanding of or sympathy for the issues that surround this disease.

Distributed by Client Initiatives

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