Combatting weight bias: Tips on inclusivity and empathy - Hindustan Times

Combatting weight bias: Tips on inclusivity and empathy

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Oct 04, 2023 04:28 PM IST

Weight bias extends not only to people with obesity but also to those who are not obese. Long gone unaddressed, it's crucial that we bring it to the forefront

In a world that often fixates on appearances, it is high time we address a pressing issue that affects individuals of all shapes and sizes - weight bias - as this pervasive problem extends its reach not only to individuals with obesity but also to those who are not obese. It is a matter that has long gone unaddressed and it's crucial that we bring it to the forefront of our discussions.

Combatting weight bias: Tips on inclusivity and empathy (Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels)
Combatting weight bias: Tips on inclusivity and empathy (Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels)

Debunking the Myths

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker, Bariatric and Laparoscopic Surgeon at Saifee, Apollo Spectra and Namah Hospitals in Mumbai, shared, “Society tends to hold negative views towards obesity, often simplifying a complex issue. The common assumption is that obesity stems from laziness or a lack of self-control and will-power. However, it's vital to recognise that weight gain is influenced by multiple factors, including genetics, mental health, and socioeconomic conditions. Obesity is a multi-factorial, complex and chronic condition just like diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. Reducing individuals solely to their size perpetuates stereotypes and fails to capture the full story.”

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The Weight Bias Faced by All

Individuals with obesity find themselves contending with a plethora of biases that overshadow their other attributes. Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker opined, “People fail to look at the person beyond their weight. Among the most prevalent biases is the perception that they lack willpower and discipline, leading to discrimination in various spheres of life, including employment and healthcare. Surprisingly, biases exist against non-obese individuals as well, though they are less openly acknowledged. Society often equates thinness with beauty, success, and self-discipline. This mindset can impose unrealistic expectations and pressures on naturally slim individuals or those grappling with being underweight. People may face judgement for not conforming to societal body norms, leading to assumptions about their lifestyle choices and perceived health status.”

Challenging False Beliefs

Highlighting that false beliefs about those living with obesity persist, marked by generalisations and unfounded assumptions, Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker said, “Individuals with obesity are often wrongly characterised as lazy and irresponsible, lacking willpower and self-discipline. The misconception that personal choices alone cause excess weight adds to the belief that they are entirely to blame for their health-related challenges. Furthermore, people with a larger body size are often deemed unattractive, leading to assumptions about the intelligence, hygiene and even the potential for success of those with obesity.”

Weight Stigma's Widespread Consequences

It is no secret that the repercussions of weight stigma reach far and wide, impacting various aspects of life and according to Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker, these include psychological well-being, where individuals grapple with low self-esteem and negative body image. She said, “Mental health is also affected, with increased rates of depression and anxiety. Weight bias can strain social dynamics, leading to rejection by peers and family members. It affects personal relationships, resulting in poor quality connections. In the professional sphere, it translates to lower pay and fewer promotions for those facing discrimination. Additionally, harmful weight control practices, including eating disorders, become potential risks as individuals attempt to conform to societal expectations.”

A Call for Change

To address the issue of bias between obese and non-obese individuals, Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker advised, “A shift toward a more inclusive understanding of health at every size is needed. Recognising the diversity in body types allows us to move away from appearance-based judgments and focus on holistic well-being, regardless of weight. Challenging these biases starts with introspection and open dialogues about the complexity of body image issues and their impact on individuals. By addressing these biases head-on and promoting empathy towards all body types, we can work together to challenge societal norms and create a more accepting world for people of all sizes. Let's make it better, one step at a time.”

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