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The ‘Ism’ That Is Rarely Discussed

And how it's impacted my life in so many ways.

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Color animation of the word SIZE-ISM
Mark Butchko
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Sizeism/Weightism/Fatism: prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s size; generally used with regard to someone who is overweight.

As we should, collectively we pay a lot of attention to the evils of racism and sexism, yet perhaps less to ageism, ableism and classism and, unfortunately, even less to “sizeism.” 

Sizeism is a significant issue in the workplace and in society in general, yet not enough focus is on it. Why is this? Perhaps it’s because we can collectively handle only one major concern at a time. Or maybe it’s because of a deep-seated discomfort ingrained in all of us about anything regarding weight. In fact, sizeism is so ignored that it even isn’t well protected by law, as other isms are. The fact that it isn’t talked about isn’t really surprising, nor are the facts that little attention is given to it and that not much is done about it. One of the reasons we are silent about sizeism is that it hits a very sensitive nerve — perhaps because of our past experiences or our own fear of having weight issues. 

Personally, sizeism has impacted my life in many ways. In the workplace, I am certain that it has kept me from getting certain jobs, advancing and even keeping jobs. I’ve seen the familiar look on the face of a possible employer when I am the best potential employee on paper but seen as  unattractive as a candidate due to my weighing 300 pounds.

While I can’t prove that weight was the definitive factor, I’ve felt that my career has been stagnant — not progressing to higher ranks — due to my weight.  

In my personal life, it has affected me in my (not only romantic) relationships. Sure, with romantic relationships, the writing on the wall is fairly obvious. Simply put, many people aren’t visually attracted to and therefore aren’t personally attracted to heavier people. But I contend that I’ve even had difficulties acquiring or maintaining friendships due to my weight. Much in the same way as with romantic relationships, I believe that people prefer to associate themselves with thin people.

Then, there have been the downright hurtful daily experiences I’ve faced: the small children who have pointed to me while asking mommy why I’m so fat; seeing someone on an airplane sigh with frustration when they realize I’ll be joining their row. 

Family members can be hurtful, too, and I’ve even been shamed by doctors. 

And while weightism also is an issue for those who are underweight, that is an entirely different situation.

I wasn’t always overweight. On my wedding day I was a beautiful size 10. The weight began to creep on before my first and only pregnancy five years later and then increased as a new divorcée with a 2-year-old. The most weight I put on was when I turned 50. Along with the weight gain came on-and-off dieting, big weight fluctuations and a whole lot of hurt, which eventually was inextricably tied in with depression. 

Some people who are sizeist may not even realize they are being so. But judging someone based on their size can be incredibly hurtful.

As a whole, we have odd ideas about the overweight, subconsciously attaching laziness or a lack of willpower to the person and subtly ignoring the possibility of medical issues and/or heredity being a factor. As with any issue, the first step is to recognize that sizeism does indeed take place so that we can try to understand it and do better. Later steps include trying to remove people’s bias through continuing to educate themselves and check their own behaviors. As is often the case, self-reflection is the key to personal change and then systemic change.  

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