Prof seeks to end 'stigma' of 'large body types'

A University of Texas professor recently urged his colleagues to “remove the stigma associated with large body types.”

Professor Robert Reece, who teaches sociology at the university, argued in a recent essay for Teaching Tolerance magazine that educators must fight against fat stigma because it causes “internalized stigma and destructive behaviors” among overweight people.

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“From destructive behaviors to low self-esteem to discrimination, the known negative effects of fat stigma should cause significant concern and calls for intervention,” he argues, adding that there’s no reason to stigmatize fatness in the first place, since a person’s weight indicates “nothing” about their health.

While the Center for Disease Control lists obesity as one of the 10 most pressing health concerns facing the nation, Reece contends that this is inaccurate, noting that “mounting evidence suggests that the connection between body size and health is not as clear as many people assume.”

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“Moreover, our collective obsession with that connection—and the stigma associated with it—may spawn an entirely separate set of problems,” he continues.

Criticizing society’s propensity for fat-shaming, Reece goes on to say that this is “driven by a society that conflates size and health,” suggesting that thinness is used as a metric “to define individual self-control and worth.”

In order to fight such conceptions of fatness, Reece spells out several recommendations for educators in a “multipronged approach” that spans from individual classrooms to broader society.

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First, he encourages educators to “speak carefully” when referencing weight, saying teachers must never suggest it is a student’s responsibility to lose weight, because doing so “unfairly blames them for the harm that others inflict on them.”

Additionally, he claims that school dress code policies should be reconsidered because they can “unfairly target” overweight students.

“School dress codes that point to fit, length, and tightness disproportionately target certain students, particularly girls and fat students,” he elaborates.

Ultimately, he says, schools “must decouple discussions of health from discussions of weight” by rejecting “both the use of weight, size, or BMI as proxies for health, and the myth that weight is a choice.”

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“Given the negative health and social effects of anti-fat attitudes, internalized and otherwise, positive depictions of people of all sizes may go a long way toward improving the overall health of fat people—and toward reducing our collective misplaced obsession with weight,” he concludes.

Campus Reform reached out to Reece for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen