Nikki Massie

OW2021: Living with Obesity, Self-Stigma & Hot Topics

Today marks the opening of ObesityWeek (OW2021) and the one thing you won’t want to miss is the Presidential Plenary. That’s because it packs a fabulous inventory of the hottest topics at ObesityWeek into just two hours. The premier is at 10:00 am (East) today, with an encore at 9:30 pm tonight. But the most notable aspect is that the meeting opens this year with a spotlight on living with obesity and the self-stigma that is all too prevalent.

Starting with the Lived Experience of Obesity

For way too long, obesity has been a dehumanizing condition, with implicit bias imposing a narrative on people that simply does not fit. Nikki Massie is a board member of the Obesity Action Coalition. She will give the opening presentation to explain this experience. She tells us about growing up marginalized by media. Larger people were either absent from the mainstream or depicted as clumsy targets of jokes – always obsessed with food. In no way did these depictions match who she was:

“I was into all sorts of things that did not agree with the narrative about obesity. And yet, I still believed it in my heart.

A Presumption of Unworthiness

So stigma defined her experience of seeking care:

“When I finally did get the opportunity to address my weight and health by having bariatric surgery – an evidence-based and effective treatment for the disease of obesity – and I was put through a battery of tests that had nothing to do with my ability to survive and recover from surgery and everything to do with my worthiness to have surgery, I did not question it. I didn’t ask whether obesity, the health condition I was dealing with, was being treated vastly different from any other kind of health condition. Of course I had to prove I was worthy of having this life-saving surgery. Nobody should have to make accommodations for me.

“That’s the dangerous thing about weight bias. When you are told – through words, imagery, policy, and culture – that you are lazy, unmotivated and that absolutely every struggle in your life is caused by your weight . . . you tend to believe it.”

Self Stigma and Health Outcomes

Following Massie, Rebecca Pearl will present on research that describes the link between self stigma and poor health outcomes. Pearl and other fine researchers have done much to provide objective data on the harm this stigma does to people living in larger bodies.

Their research leaves us to question, as Massie does, our tolerance for weight bias and the harm it does:

“Weight bias is not putting people in a position where they have any help for meaningful change. It’s really just making people feel bad. Why do we want to keep doing that?”

If we can stop weight bias, then the truly groundbreaking research in obesity – also packed into this plenary – can begin to make a difference in the lives of people affected.

But at present, weight bias is blocking progress. So this is something that must change.

Click here for more on the Presidential Plenary and here for more on stopping weight bias.

Nikki Massie, photograph © Obesity Action Coalition

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November 1, 2021