February 4, 2019

From Haley Jones, BS

Since the rise of national “obesity” prevention campaigns, the incidence of weight stigma has increased by about 66%. Though efforts to combat “obesity” are well-intentioned, the research is clear: the overemphasis on weight and the value our culture places on “thinness” can encourage disordered eating and have counterproductive effects (NEDA, 2018). Worth $66 billion dollars in the US, the “health and wellness” industry reinforces the belief that the ultimate standard of beauty and health is possessed by those that are heterosexual, cisgender, young, white, able-bodied, and thin. Through health and wellness campaigns, products, and media, the health and wellness industry profits off the ongoing traumatization of those living in and affected by western culture.

Diet culture trauma, trauma caused by living in a society that worships thinness and oppresses those who don’t fit into the western “ideal,” affects us all. Chronically traumatized people often suffer from persistent negative core beliefs. These are deeply rooted convictions that typically involve all-or-nothing thinking without balance or nuance (Marty, 2017). Through a variety of mediums, diet culture reinforces the belief that our bodies are not good enough, and if they were different we would be safe, loved, or well. In western culture, the effects of diet culture trauma include widespread disordered eating, eating disorders, weight stigma, fatphobia, and feelings of body shame.

Regardless of body size, weight is a normative discontent that permeates even the most socially aware spaces. Knowledge and awareness of diet culture trauma and weight stigma is integral to the creation of trauma-informed spaces. Linda Bacon, author of Health At Every Size™, states that there is no social justice when some bodies are reviled, ignored, or excluded. We can begin the shift to a weight-neutral, trauma-informed culture by embodying radical self-love in our own lives. Through the naming and unpacking of the oppressive voices of body shame and weight stigma in ourselves, we begin to notice the widespread effects of diet culture trauma. As social workers, counselors, activists, and individuals, we must shift from a Eurocentric, weight-focused narrative to a compassion-centered approach that promotes self-esteem, self-care, and respect for body size diversity. Author and activist Sonya Renee Taylor states, “It is only through our own transformed relationship with our bodies that we can begin to fight for the liberation of all bodies.”

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