Weight Bias – It’s NOT Trendy

As editor of Your Weight Matters Magazine, I receive dozens of pitches on a daily basis for possible article topics. Earlier this week, I received a pitch with “Why is being a FAT head the trend of 2014?” as the subject line of the email. The gist of the email pitch was centered on a medical professional’s viewpoint of how the brain processes certain foods. It continued by explaining how our brains are not evolved enough to handle certain carbs and sugars. Taking a step back for a moment, the concept of the pitch is actually quite interesting; however, the pitch itself, from the public relations company, greatly perpetuated weight bias and furthermore, it completely sidetracked the main focus of the story. Trying to be witty by saying “fat head,” completely removed all legitimacy to the real issue being pitched – how the brain interacts with food.

I immediately emailed the public relations contact and expressed my concern about the subject line of their email. Shortly thereafter, I received a response stating that they did not mean to be “distasteful or offensive.” Honestly, what scares me the most regarding this whole experience is that I believe the response from the person who was pitching this story idea. I believe that they probably did not mean it in a bad or stigmatizing way, and this is why weight bias is such a significant issue – it is the “norm.”

I’ve blogged many times on the OAC’s Blog regarding weight bias. Weight bias is a passion of mine, not just because of my career, but also because of my personal battle with obesity throughout my life. Weight bias is all too common in the everyday life of someone affected by this disease. It is prevalent in employment settings, healthcare settings, school, media, entertainment and more. The fact that this public relations firm used that as a subject line to “get my attention,” clearly tells me that weight bias is alive and well. Being affected by obesity is not “trendy.” Obesity is a disease – period. We would never say having cancer is “trendy.” So, why do we feel comfortable doing that with obesity? The answer – because we do, but…that needs to change. We do because we always have. We do because it’s been the “norm” for so long; however, this has to stop.

I don’t fault the public relations team for their pitch. They simply do not know any better (giving them the benefit of the doubt). On a daily basis, I talk to reporters on the phone and always say to them “Please don’t use any headless people with this story.” They always say, “Excuse me?” My response, “Yes, look at any article or television news segment on obesity, and nobody has a head. Why?” The reporter usually takes a second and then says, “You know what, you’re right.” We can’t blame folks for not knowing. The old saying of “knowledge is power” is very true. In order to change the perception of weight/obesity, we must first educate.

Okay, so many of you are probably saying, “Well, where do we start?” There are many things you can do today to help the OAC and combat weight bias:

In closing, I think it’s important to remember that when we see weight bias, and sometimes it’s more obviously intended than others, it’s important to alert the person/company to it. More importantly, it is of great value to educate them on the effects of weight bias, and encourage them to make a change.

About the Author
James Zervios is the Director of Communications for the OAC. He is responsible for developing and distributing OAC communications to Association members and the public. His responsibilities also include Web site development and fundraising. He is a graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in mass communications. He has worked in the non-profit sector for more than 10 years.

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