Label Locked

Classified as Obese, Locked into a Label

It is a telling choice of words. More than half of black women over age 20 are categorized as obese, wrote Joseph Williams. Half of America will be considered obese within this decade, says Alyssa Bethencourt. Oliver Williams writes that 18.9 per cent of children in Year 6 are classified as overweight or obese. These writers likely mean no harm. But every time they trot out the thought of considering, classifying, or categorizing people as obese, they are serving up implicitly dehumanizing language.

We have no use for it.

How to Stigmatize the Other

This is one of four key pillars for stigmatizing any group. To stigmatize a disease, you need four ingredients. First, a mark help you spot them. Next, a label sets them apart. Then a threat summons fear. And finally, blame assures us that it’s their own fault. They did it to themselves. We’re just telling it like it is.

This is how we stigmatize obesity. The mark is a larger body. The label is obese. We carry on about the catastrophic health threat those people are causing and we blame them for their bad behaviors.

Humans, Not Labels

All of this brings us to a simple point. We agree with Whitney Virginia Morgan, who tells us that labeling people helps us feel safe. But then it silently destroys us. This tool is merely a crude tool for recognizing potential threats. But ultimately it isolates us.

People who are living with obesity are all around, comprising about 40 percent of adults. We don’t need to label our family and friends as obese. We need them close. So please, just drop the word obese from your vocabulary. Obesity is a disease that we discuss here every day. But obese is just a tool for labeling and dehumanizing people.

Read Morgan’s essay about labeling people here. For research on the stigma process, this paper is well worth your consideration.

Label Locked, image from patricia m / flickr

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January 19, 2020

3 Responses to “Classified as Obese, Locked into a Label”

  1. January 19, 2020 at 2:51 pm, Angie Golden said:

    YES YES YES – the word obese NEEDS to be removed from every dictionary, EVERY JOURNAL, every research title and especially our language! THANKS Ted for being such an advocate for all of us living and treating the disease of obesity.
    Angie Golden

  2. January 20, 2020 at 4:37 am, Chester Draws said:

    Definitely. If we stop talking about it, it will go away.

    Meanwhile, in the real world there are people who are making their lives miserable by being obese. People whose mobility is inhibited and whose health is worse.

    (For the record, I don’t think it is useful to call “40% of adults” as obese. That’s based on a random benchmark that doesn’t take into account anything much about an individual. The number of actually obese people is much smaller than that. But those people aren’t healthy.)

    • January 20, 2020 at 5:12 am, Ted said:

      Chester, who is suggesting that we stop talking about obesity?