Right now we live in a culture that is definitely not neutral when it comes to people's weight. Most of us have been taught - and have deeply internalized - messages about the connections between weight and worth, weight and morality, weight and health, and weight and attractiveness. We have been taught to feel positive toward thinner bodies and negative toward larger bodies.
Today we’ll be examining something called weight neutrality. First let’s define this term and then we’ll spend some time talking about why it matters.
Weight neutrality is an evidence-based approach that promotes attitudes and policies that do not use weight as an indicator of someone’s health, morality, worthiness or the kind of relationship to food they have.
Normative approaches to weight emphasize weight and weight-loss when defining health and well-being. The paper titled, “An Evidence-Based Rationale for Adopting Weight-Inclusive Health Policy” published in 2020 in the journal Social Issues & Policy Review highlights what the normative approach to weight looks like in public health policy and points out the problem with this approach:
Weight-neutral approaches - on the other hand - emphasize “viewing health and well-being as multifaceted while directing efforts toward improving health access and reducing weight stigma.”
In “What's Weight Got to Do with It?: Weight Neutrality in the Health at Every Size Paradigm and Its Implications for Clinical Practice,” written by longtime Health At Every Size advocate, eating disorder specialist and psychologist, Dr. Deborah Burgard points out that:
Let’s focus on the word “care.”
The conversation about weight often gets mired in data and statistics. Sometimes we forget we’re actually talking about human beings whose lives are being deeply impacted by weight stigma. We forget we’re talking about what the purpose of all this data and statistics should be - to do the least harm, to promote humans thriving in a way that allows them autonomy and dignity, to give and promote care.
Weight neutrality is something we can request of our medical care professionals, colleagues, family and friends. Though we may not have our request respected 100% of the time (because, again, we’re living in a moment when weight neutrality is seen as counter-cultural), we can set boundaries and make a plan for how we want to deal with people and situations where our needs aren’t being met. We can advocate for change and we can also set limits with individuals who will not or cannot understand the value of weight neutrality.
Weight neutrality is something we can also adopt personally as individuals.
Here are some examples of switching from stigma-informed language/thinking to weight-neutral language/thinking:
Instead of: “Weight-loss is better for everyone’s health.”
Try: “Weight-loss is actually not a good gauge of health. There are dozens of health-promoting behaviors, however, that benefit people of any size, like going for a walk, meditating and spending time with loving friends.”
Instead of: “I just prefer dating thin people.”
Try: “I live in a culture that has taught me that thin bodies are more valuable than fat bodies. What I might experience as a preference may actually be primarily social influence. I am capable of dating people of all sizes and seeing them as equally valuable.”
Instead of: “I feel like I would look better with a little less weight.”
Try: “My idea of what looks good is influenced by media and social attitudes. I can create my own definition of looking good that has nothing to do with my weight.”
This week, try noticing moments where weight neutrality could benefit the conversation or space. See how it feels to rewrite the situation in your head using what you know now. If you’re up for it, try sharing what you learned with someone else.
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+ Take a look at my books: You Have the Right to Remain Fat (I narrated the audiobook), The Self-Love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color, Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion