The Burden

The Weight of Internal Stigma and False Dichotomies

YWM2018 offered two days of feasting on some of the best science, personal insight, and inspiration anywhere. But among all that great content, Rebecca Pearl managed to stand out. She really made us think about the burden of internal stigma. Attendee Faith Anne Newsome captured what many were thinking in a tweet:

Dr. Rebecca Pearl’s talk on internalized stigma reminds me how much I truly thought life would begin AFTER I lost weight. Choose happiness and choose to live life at any weight. Regardless of the internal and external weight bias tendencies that surround us. #YWM2018

Awareness and Advocacy

First, in her morning presentation, Pearl had us all thinking about the bias that surrounds us. She described how we may turn it on ourselves. Perversely, internal stigma makes our health worse. It actually gets in the way of dealing with obesity.

But the good news is that we can choose to challenge our own negative thoughts and reject stigma. Even better, it seems that taking action through advocacy can give us a sense of control over it.

Oddly enough, accepting our own bodies – just as they are – can be essential to improving our health.

A False Dichotomy

Then, for her afternoon presentation, Pearl teamed up with obesity medicine physician Scott Kahan. Together, they explored the false choice between weight management and body positivity. Often, we hear from fat acceptance activists that these two ideas cannot coexist. For example, this tweet recently came our way:

DeVos’s article and this commentary are really problematic. Body positivity is not about “loving your body.” It’s a political movement fighting for equal rights for *all bodies*. Weight management implies that a smaller body is healthier, worthier. Thus, it cannot co-exist.

Together, Kahan and Pearl explored some of the concepts of body positivity. They described how an activist might see this in opposition to dealing with obesity. But they also described how they can be complementary.

In the end, dealing with obesity successful requires being kind to ourselves and our bodies. We live in a polarized age and this is certainly a polarized subject. Emotions are strong. Nuance is lost.

However, Pearl and Kahan did a fine job of bringing us some of those nuances.

Click here for Pearl’s presentation and here for further perspective.

The Burden, painting by Honore Daumier / WikiArt

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July 22, 2018

4 Responses to “The Weight of Internal Stigma and False Dichotomies”

  1. July 22, 2018 at 8:04 am, Chester Draws said:

    It comes down to a philosophical choice.

    If you are in command of your own world, then you can be positive about your body and yet still work on being more healthy, which may involve weight management. That’s the traditional conservative view — people are in control of their lives.

    The progressive view in recent years is the opposite. Others control you — you are fat, poor, addicted, etc, because the media and society make you be those things. In this world view you can be body positive only by “recognising” that your weight is a result of evil corporations who make tasty but fattening food. You are not in control, so you cannot be trying to lose weight except you have been brainwashed by “fat shaming” or false body ideals.

    Trying to argue about weight control with those who don’t think people have control of their lives is a waste of time. Their entire world view demands the opposite. Fatness is not a personal issue, but a society one, because individuals don’t command their lives.

    In the extreme cases the advocates of this position hold that people even vote according to Facebook posts from Russia. The populace needs better controlling, not better responsibility.

    I applaud those who fight that you can control your weight without need for body shaming, but you are up against a for that is not amenable to reason.

    • July 22, 2018 at 8:25 am, Ted said:

      I’m not so sure that Russia is part of this, Chester.

  2. July 23, 2018 at 12:48 pm, Nutrition Wonk said:

    Thanks for linking to these slides! Do you know if a recording of the presentation is available anywhere?



    • July 23, 2018 at 4:52 pm, Ted said:

      Not yet.