Trabian Shorters

Discerning and Constructive: Building On Our Assets

“You can’t lift people up by putting them down.” As part of a series on the future of advocacy, this is how Trabian Shorters explains the importance of asset framing – building upon a community’s assets. But too often, we start with the deficits. Shorters points this out in the context of racial justice. It applies equally to public health. In fact, the “war on obesity” may have done more to promote health stigma than public health.

Thus we find promise in new research that demonstrates weight neutral and weight inclusive messaging for public health may serve to promote health and well-being.

A Series of Three Experiments

In the Journal of Health Psychology, Joanne Rathbone, Tegan Cruwys, and Jolanda Jetten describe three experiments with public health messages. The object was to understand how different messages influence health behaviors and well-being. They found that weight-focused messages don’t do much to change intentions about health behaviors for higher or lower weight individuals. But weight neutral messaging may have benefits for motivating healthy behaviors without promoting weight stigma.

In short, focusing on weight as the problem – rather than health as the aspiration – may do more harm than good.

Starting with Aspirations

This is the foundation for Shorters’ emphasis on asset framing. To overcome problems, building upon assets must be the starting point:

“Whatever my aspiration is, if you acknowledge it before you go into my various challenges, you’re telling a truer story about me.

“Once you start to engage people as obstacles, as problems, then recognize that you’ve become the problem.”

So if we want to fight racism, we need to start with the aspirations of communities that want to be free of it. To overcome obesity, we must start with aspirations for health and a better quality of life. To stop weight bias, we must start with the human potential and dignity of people living in larger bodies.

This is precisely why catastrophizing obesity is unhelpful. Hyping the burden makes the challenge seem insurmountable and leads to counterproductive responses – like cutting off access to care because of perceptions that it is unaffordable.

Whether the problem is racism, obesity, or weight stigma, it helps to be discerning about the true nature of that problem. But even more important is being constructive – by building upon the assets of the community it affects.

Click here for the Rathbone paper, here and here for more on Trabian Shorters’ thinking on asset framing.

Trabian Shorters Explains Asset Framing, video by the Skillman Foundation / YouTube

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March 21, 2021

One Response to “Discerning and Constructive: Building On Our Assets”

  1. March 22, 2021 at 4:07 pm, Mary-Jo said:

    Great concepts presented here! Lately, I’ve been feeling so fed up with 2 terms/concepts often seen and heard in discussions of weight: ‘thin privilege’ and ‘being blessed with eating whatever and as much as one wants without gaining weight’. So, are those of us who are not thin, naturally, down and out low-lifes, who must watch what we eat and regulate amounts of food, cursed?! It really does add to the negative impressions we already have of ourselves. I’m working on feeling good about myself, being thankful for the attention and awareness I’ve had to incorporate in my life, from an early age, in order to get and stay healthy. It has been a bummer that it’s been difficult to get the support and help that I needed to manage obesity and weight instead of going it alone all,the time. Also, it’s been frustrating and maddening seeing those that are naturally thin and who can be more cavalier about their dietary intake automatically being seen as more knowledgeable and expert on diet and weight based on their appearance— celebrities, for sure, but also in HCP networks.