Many of you know that I own a nutrition therapy practice in Memphis. You may not know that I am grateful everyday for the wonderful and like-minded dietitians/nutritionists that work with me. Recently, Janet Zimmerman, who once was a student in my practice joined the SNT team as a nutrition therapist. Please join us in the fight against weight stigma. Janet, thank you for sharing your story with us.
As a previous intern at BEDA, I helped launch the first annual Weight Stigma Awareness Week. I learned so much about the dangers of weight stigma three years ago as I looked through all of the research. I am so thankful that the awareness of weight stigma continues to spread. In honor of the third annual Weight Stigma Awareness Week, I am sharing a story about how weight stigma (shame) has affected me.
Much to my delight, I was recently asked to be a bridesmaid in a wedding. A bridesmaid’s dress was picked from a trendy store. The staff assured the bride that the dress would fit everyone in the bridal party even though it was only offered in 3 sizes. Much to my chagrin, when I tried on the dress, I quickly realized that the dress did not fit my 6’ tall, larger-framed body well. In my mother’s words, if I were to wear that dress in the wedding, people would think I was headed somewhere else…
I was crushed. There was an explosion of tears. I was feeling shame, sadness, and pain. I wanted to fit in, and the reality that I do not fit the societal standard of beauty had just smacked me in the face. I also felt humiliated because I was causing one of my sweet friends extra hassle by asking her to choose another dress. This was not her fault. It was my fault. No, it is society’s fault.
I have spent years of my life working on body acceptance: being thankful for my body and working to take care of it. I have learned to work with the “genes” I have, and I encourage clients to do the same on a regular basis. I know that research suggests that “body acceptance” leads to better self-care, and I also know that body acceptance has given me great joy. But, in that moment, being thankful for my unique body was challenging; I had been directly confronted with the fact that I did not fit society’s (or at least the store’s) size standard. I was taller and denser than desired.
Thankfully, I have a wonderful mother who got angry at society for me and then reminded me that beauty is not defined by being petite. The circumstances worked out, and we got another dress.
But, this experience made me pause and ask, “How many people go through similar circumstances or even experience being ridiculed verbally for their size? How many people buy into the weight stigma they experience on a daily basis because they do not have a voice of truth like my mother in their lives?” Sadly, I know the answer is too many.
Please, be like my mother in this story and get angry at society and any narrow lens of beauty. Speak truth into your daughter, friend, and sisters’ lives. Let’s get LOUD about the pain of weight stigma and stand firm against “fat talk” and weight stigma, which only cause harm. Instead, start changing society one person at a time by helping the people in your life know that they are beautiful and worthy of acceptance. Are you with me?