Fiona Quigley

Let Me Explain Weight Stigma

Two weeks ago, Cancer Research UK blanketed the United Kingdom with billboards to proclaim that having obesity is like smoking. We and more than 12,000 petitioners have voiced strong concern that this misguided campaign will serve only to promote weight stigma, not health. Because CRUK has thus far not granted that promoting stigma might be a problem, Fiona Quigley, a PhD candidate at Ulster University, kindly explains this in a guest post today.

So let me explain weight stigma.

You are of a higher weight. People remind you of that constantly (in case you forget). Sarcastic comments, “concerns” for your health, suggestions on how to lose weight, you are surrounded by people who think there is something wrong with you.

A Ceaseless Battle

Meanwhile, you have probably tried and failed at every diet under the sun. You are constantly hungry, you are at war with your body, and the world is at war with you.

You avoid many situations in case someone talks about weight. And that includes healthcare situations too.

And now even at your local GP (you’ve tried hard to find one who won’t blame your weight when all you have is a sore ear), you see the posters.

So we’re talking about weight again. If only it were that simple. Next time, you won’t bother the GP. After all, you are causing your own cancer.

And you think to yourself – am I just stupid? Maybe the Cancer Research Policy Team is right – we just need to get people talking about weight.

No. Because people talk about weight all the time – and not in a helpful way. This is called weight stigma.

CRUK Can Do Better

So Cancer Research UK, you had an opportunity to have a better conversation about weight – one that reflected the complexities and nuances of people’s experiences.

And what did you do? You gave people more reason to talk about weight in an unhelpful way – just go eat salad, right? We need support for health, not more stigma.

In the days since the CRUK campaign began, we’ve heard much from the public about “tough love” for people with obesity. But we haven’t heard much from government about action to prevent or treat obesity. In fact, both Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock have hinted at reversing UK policies for obesity prevention. Meanwhile, access to actual medical care for people with obesity remains poor. A successful campaign? We think not.

For more about the problems with the CRUK campaign, click here. To sign the petition asking CRUK to do better, click here.

Fiona Quigley, photograph © by Fiona Quigley.

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July 16, 2019

6 Responses to “Let Me Explain Weight Stigma”

  1. July 16, 2019 at 4:49 pm, Chester Draws said:

    “You are of a higher weight” eh? That covers two very different groups, and it is misleading to elude them.

    I’ve seen people raise concerns with others about their weight. It wasn’t when “they were of a higher weight”, but when they were of a distinctly dangerous weight.

    People a few kilos overweight might get chided by their doctor, but then they do that for a living. I was 15 kilos overweight and my doctors never mentioned a thing, except about my drinking habit.

  2. July 17, 2019 at 3:40 am, Ted said:

    This is a tricky subject, Chester. Just speaking for myself, I don’t expect my doctor to “chide” me. I’m an adult. But then, I didn’t respond well to chiding as a child, either. A competent therapeutic dialogue is something very different from chiding.

  3. July 19, 2019 at 11:18 am, Joey said:

    So smoking stigma is ok then? Seems to me the anti weight stigma advocates don’t want to be lumped with those icky moral degenerate smokers.

    Let’s try this:

    So let me explain smoking stigma.

    You are a smoker. People remind you of that constantly (in case you forget). Sarcastic comments, “concerns” for your health, suggestions on how to quit smoking, you are surrounded by people who think there is something wrong with you.

    A Ceaseless Battle

    Meanwhile, you have probably tried and failed at every smoking cessation program under the sun. You are constantly craving a smoke, you are at war with your body, and the world is at war with you.

    You avoid many situations in case someone talks about smoking. And that includes healthcare situations too.

    And now even at your local GP (you’ve tried hard to find one who won’t blame your smoking when all you have is a sore ear), you see the posters.

    So we’re talking about smoking again. If only it were that simple. Next time, you won’t bother the GP. After all, you are causing your own cancer.

    And you think to yourself – am I just stupid? Maybe the Cancer Research Policy Team is right – we just need to get people talking about smoking.

    No. Because people talk about smoking all the time – and not in a helpful way. This is called smoking stigma.

    CRUK Can Do Better

    So Cancer Research UK, you had an opportunity to have a better conversation about smoking – one that reflected the complexities and nuances of people’s experiences.

    And what did you do? You gave people more reason to talk about smoking in an unhelpful way – just quit, right? We need support for health, not more stigma.

  4. July 20, 2019 at 7:53 am, Ted said:

    Joey, I’d recommend you take a closer look at what CRUK is actually saying about smokers, smoking, and alternatives for smokers. IMHO, they’re being smarter about smoking than obesity.
    https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/awareness-and-prevention/e-cigarette-hub-information-for-health-professionals

  5. July 20, 2019 at 12:55 pm, Joey said:

    Ted,

    My comment was clearly not about what CRUK says about smokers, it was about what this piece from Fiona Quigley says about smokers. Stigma = “a mark of shame or discredit” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stigma), so if one is stigmatized by these billboards (https://news.images.itv.com/image/file/1912227/img.jpg), then one thinks smokers are shameful.

    FWIW – I’m a chubby non-smoker.

    Joey

  6. July 20, 2019 at 2:26 pm, Ted said:

    Thanks for clarifying your meaning, Joey. Since Fiona said nothing whatsoever about smokers or smoking, it’s probably best not to speculate about what she thinks.