Sunday, April 26, 2009

Weightism and judgment

I've been talking a lot lately to people about weightism. What is that you say? Well, in my basic translation it means, judgment about people based on their weight/size. As I'm interviewing people for the book to help families through their journey with eating disorders I'm hearing some really sad and unbelievable stories. One woman, who has binge eating disorder told me about her visit to her gynecologist for her annual exam. As she is having her exam (a very vulnerable position for any of us) the doctor decides to talk with her about her obesity, she is self-described as "morbidly obsese." The doctor says, "You know, if you want to lose weight, you should move to Asia as they don't have these disgusting obesity problems there." You can read the rest of her story in the upcoming book temporarily titled: "Navigating the rough waters of an ED; A Guide from Fear and Panic to Peace and Hope" (temp working title).

What exactly this "doctor" was hoping to achieve besides belittling and berating this woman is unclear. What is clear to me is a serious lack of training and a serious problem with prejudice against large people by the medical profession. That is just one of the reasons I am working with a coalition that has developed a healthy weight curriculum for all medical care providers to take to receive their CME credits. One of our goals is to bring this into medical schools so that future health care providers at least have clue as to how to treat people with respect. As you can see I am quite passionate about some changes that need to be made in the medical profession when it comes to eating disorders. Many aren't even aware that binge eating disorder is even a recognized eating disorder much less being aware that is the most prevalent of all the eating disorders.

I just read a wonderful article on about a beautiful singer named Susan Boyle that demonstrates our society's acceptance of weightism. I think Sherry Nau says it quite well.

Susan Boyle is a lesson for those who make quick judgments

Sherry Nau • guest essayist • April 26, 2009

The sudden rise to fame of Susan Boyle, the talented woman discovered on the show, Britain's Got Talent, highlights the ongoing objectification and stereotypes of women.

Consider the responses of the judges who described her as "the biggest surprise ever in the three-year history of the show," and admitted "everyone was against you." Why was she a surprise? Why did everyone think she couldn't sing?

The answer lies in the use of women in the media whose bodies are used to sell everything from liquor to fishing lures. In ads women are pictured in sexualized dress and positions. The women are perfect with no wrinkles, no blemishes, and certainly no bulges.

The message is clear: "These are women every other woman should aspire to resemble."

Trying to achieve the ultimate body comes at a cost to both girls and women. It is estimated that 7 million Americans have an eating disorder, and 1 in 200 American women suffers from anorexia. The occurrence of eating disorders in young girls has also increased as they feel pressured by friends and the media (Consider Hannah Montana — a size 4) who set the expectation that beautiful is thin and perfect. In a 2003 review it was found that 40 percent of newly identified cases of anorexia are in girls 15-19 years old.

CNN opened their story of Susan Boyle by describing her as "frumpy."

How inspiring it would have been if the story began, "A beautiful woman's song wins the hearts of many."
Nau is adjunct professor, University of Rochester, Warner School

Thank you Sherry for your valuable insights.

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