Eating Disorders and Plus-Size Individuals: The Harm in Glorifying Weight Loss
This is a gorgeous guest post from Michelle Peterson. Ms. Peterson’s mission is aligned with that of recoverypride.org, which is to celebrate addiction recovery and those who achieve it. She and the team at recoverypride.org aim to take addiction and recovery out of the taboo spaces in public dialogue and into the light. Here, she’s delving into the world of eating disorders, glorifying weight loss, and the painful fact that it’s only once you’re “too thin” that anyone believes there’s a problem.
Glorifying Weight Loss
In a fat-phobic society, weight loss is considered the ultimate goal for obese women in particular. Few thin individuals could fathom fat people being happy with themselves and their bodies and it shows in Western media.
Try to think of an overweight female character in a show whose story had nothing to do with her weight. It’s difficult, isn’t it?
Being told every day through so many different outlets that your weight is unacceptable has an impact on your mental state. When your shows, your music, your role models, and even those around you praise thin people and fixate on people who are not thin losing weight, you are eventually going to internalize those concepts.
The subtle harm that glorifying weight loss is doing to obese people goes largely unnoticed by the majority. Here are some of the ways overweight people are experiencing eating disorders differently and what it is doing to their mental health.
When Overweight People Slim Down, They Receive Praise
No one is congratulated for gaining weight.
It simply doesn’t happen. Yet when overweight or obese people begin to lose weight, they are praised and told how good they look. It may seem like a harmless action, simply paying someone a compliment, but in reality, the harm it can do runs deep.
When overweight people become sick or develop an eating disorder, they are praised for how they look despite the havoc being wreaked on their health. With eating disorders, well-meaning people are reinforcing the idea that this mental illness is good and the person becomes far less likely to seek help.
Why would they want to cure the disorder that is bringing them social acceptance and praise?
Rapid Weight Loss is Not Only Accepted, It is Advertised
How often have you seen a commercial or billboard for losing a lot of weight in just a few days? Western society is all about fast results. We are not a patient culture.
When a plus-sized person drops twenty pounds in just a few weeks, no one comments on how unhealthy it is for them. Instead, the person is complimented on how quickly they are managing to slim down. This lack of information on weight loss and health perpetuates unhealthy habits.
“Healthy” is Considered Synonymous with “Thin”
One of the biggest arguments against body positivity is a concern for the health of overweight people. Overweight people who are doing their best to overcome cultural perceptions of their weight and love themselves are met with criticism for not wanting to be “healthier.”
Yet no one voices their concern over a plus-sized person’s health when their weight plummets at a dangerous rate.
Their photos are used as “before” and “after” shots, and they are praised for all their hard work despite the detriment to their health. When people claim to be concerned about overweight people’s health, they are really boiling “health” down to a number on the scale. This mindset is not only incorrect (obese people can actually be very healthy) but can be dangerous to the lives of many.
Cultural perceptions of overweight people will not change overnight
People will continue to lose weight at a dangerous rate. And others will continue to offer praise in the face of poor health. Though you cannot change the world as a single person, you can do your part.
If someone you know seems to be dropping weight at a rapid pace, offer your support. Eating disorders can happen to anyone but are fall less likely to be recognized and treated in those who are overweight or obese rather than underweight. Do not be afraid to express concern.
You may be one of the only people who will.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with an eating disorder – at any size – there is no need to feel alone or ashamed. Go see your doctor, check out Psychology Today (if you’re in the USA), or contact me and I can refer you to an Eating Psychology specialist who works online with eating disorders. I do not work with eating disorders, but I have professional contacts who do 🙂
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