How can we curb the spread of stigma against the overweight?

In a New York Times article called “Spreading Fat Stigma Around the Globe,” it’s being demonstrated that cultural views of obesity are becoming more and more negative. Even in cultures like Puerto Rico where the ideal of beauty has more curves, the tide of public perception about obesity is turning; an increasing number of people are perceiving overweight people as lazy as opposed to being perceived as suffering from a condition resulting from genetic and social circumstances.

It’s easy to be judgmental about an overweight person, especially if their condition is unpleasant or inconvenient for you. But it’s important to remember that genetic factors play an enormous role in a person’s weight, and that losing excess weight takes a great deal of discipline and self-control. Stigmatizing obesity will not help: shame is never a good motivator.

What can you do to avoid developing a judgmental attitude towards the overweight?

  1. Stay respectful towards others by constantly trying to empathize with them. Think about things you’re ashamed of and how mortified you’d be if someone were to draw attention to them. Don’t dwell on this, but at least keep it in mind.
  2. Be polite to overweight people, even if they inconvenience you in some way. For example, many people can recall an occasion where they’ve had to sit next to one on a crowded plane or bus. If your “space” is invaded, consider whether you can politely ask them to move slightly, or if you can discretely ask a flight attendant if you could switch seats. But do not allow yourself to grow rude or impatient as this would further propagate disrespect of the overweight.
  3. Don’t ever draw attention to an obese person’s appearance, which could make the problem worse by raising their levels of self-consciousness.

Resist the temptation to negatively judge others. Obesity is an epidemic, and shaming its victims is counterproductive and belittling. More importantly, it’s never productive to cultivate judgmental attitudes about others, even internally.

What are your thoughts?


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