The Weight of the World: notes from a bigger Filipino woman

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

July 10, 2021

Writers: K Ballesteros and John Alvin Tapia
Editor: K Ballesteros
Researchers: Raven Gavino and Angelica Jane Evangelista
Creatives: Krystle Mae Labio and Klein Xavier Boiser
Moderators: Christine Joy Salva Cruz, Tobey Fhar Isaac Calayo and Aloe Janelie Olegario
Documentation: Alvin Joseph Mapoy and Ian Stephen Velez
Spaces: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Richardson Mojica, Azie Libanan, K Ballesteros

 

Despite notions of body positivity gaining traction in popular culture, finding consistent models and representations of myself in different forms of media remains too much of a challenge too often. People featured in gym advertisements. The models featured in healthy eating commercials. Even celebrities who are chosen to represent and market healthcare brands. Exclusion extends to the material world outside of visual media: seats on public transport vehicles like buses and the MRT are too narrow; shopping on ecommerce platforms like Shopee or Lazada often comes with the anxiety that my body will not properly fit into the clothes or not fit at all; experiencing a form of shame as I track down specialty boutiques clothes made specifically for bodies like mine, which reinforces how far out of the way I must go, and how alien or monstrous or shameful a body like mine is perceived. 

Having lived with this body all my life, articles describing the lived reality of women like myself who also experience weight-based discrimination take on a different resonance. According to a life course study of body weight discrimination based in Mesoamerica, people “affected by excess weight” experience discrimination in virtually all aspects of their lives, including romantic relationships, healthcare services, educational settings, and in employment [1]. For example, Virgie Tovar, author of You Have the Right to Remain Fat, briefly explained unexpected discriminatory behavior against her by employers: “it has been harder to find jobs with opportunities for promotion because employers associate fatness with laziness” [6].  Her experience finds resonance in studies [5] that predict a higher risk of depression and poor mental health as a direct result of experiencing discrimination. In a lot of ways, living as the size I am permeates and warps my experience of the world, the way people interact with me, and how I am perceived by acquaintances and close relations alike.

Food insecurity

International organizations including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have studied and described food insecurity as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, and the limited or uncertain ability to acquire enough nutritious food in socially acceptable ways [1]. Part of food insecurity is also concerned with the production of food, and access to nutritionally-sound food consistently [2]. In A Human Rights Approach to the Health Implications of Food and Nutrition Insecurity, the document reports and describes the massive and manifold systems that work to create food insecurity, and the devastating effects on communities, in general, and women in particular. For context, the report likewise describes four dimensions that must be fulfilled to create and sustain food security, namely: “physical availability of food, the economic and physical access to food, the body’s utilization of the nutrients found in food, and the stability of the previous three dimensions over time” [2]. 

Living with food insecurity can gravely affect an individual’s mental, social, and physical well-being, a sobering fact considering that globally, women often find themselves living within the intersections that make food insecurity inevitable. The report State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World from joint agencies including UNICEF, IFAD, and WHO, states that “forms of discrimination make access to food more difficult for women, even when they have the same income and education levels as men and live in similar areas” [3]). Weight-based discrimination and fatphobia contribute to mental health issues including depression, anxiety, insecurity, isolation, and lack of self-estseem — all issues which are “recognized more often in women” [1]. 

Another factor that significantly affects access to nutritious food is poverty. In Philippine cities and other urban areas, urban poor communities are particularly at risk. Those who live within these communities frequently allocate their income to afford food, essential needs like healthcare, transportation, and education [2] which makes consistent access to nutritionally-dense food difficult, if not impossible.  

The project of providing access to food consistently over time and, thus, answering the most pressing nutritional needs of those living in precarious situations in lower-and-middle-income-countries like the Philippines requires an international, multi-sectoral and coordinated approach. Part and parcel of this approach is to acknowledge both the stigma of anti-fat or fatphobic sentiments, and to address weight-based discrimination. International studies on food security likewise acknowledge that “weight-stigma is likely to drive weight gain and poor health and thus should be eradicated” [5].

Weight-based Discrimination & Mental Health 

The stigma attached to being overweight is perhaps most apparent in the idea that individuals, by themselves, are solely responsible for their nutrition, despite their immediate community, and issues of access: “standard medical advice for weight loss focuses on taking individual responsibility and exerting willpower” [5]. 

When it comes to body, health, and weight issues, inclusivity seems to extend in only one direction. Even tokenistic inclusions of bigger-bodied women are careful to curate images of women who are big, but only in certain ways, and who are still nominally and categorically beautiful. Terms like ‘body positivity’ and ‘self-care’ have taken on the same glamor as trends appropriated by consumer-centric branding, where enacting and performing body positivity and self-care are perceived as individual pursuits to reach individual goals with the threat of individual failure. You have to find ways to eat healthier food; you have to work out more often; you have to find the time and emotional resources to disbelieve pervasive and inescapable programming about your body, how it looks, and its inherent value. 

It is the pressure to shrink and to remain small, to attain an ideal body, that imbues weight loss with absolute value. In Virgie Tovar’s 2018 article on The Guardian, she says “weight loss is always considered a positive, no matter how it’s achieved” [6]. I hear this sentiment echoed by most social media posts, by fad diets that continue to pop up and gain significant attention despite adverse health risks, and by misleading promises by detox tea companies meant to help the body reject toxins and remove fat.

Emerging studies even suggest that stigma and fatphobic attitudes and behaviors may inflict intergenerational trauma: “children perceived as overweight by their parents are at greater risk for excess weight gain across childhood, independent of the child’s actual weight” [5]. Unfortunately, incidences of inflicting this kind of trauma is only bound to increase, as weight discrimination continues to increase globally [1].

Addressing weight-based discrimination

Although addressing stigma by itself is unlikely to directly impact many of the issues that contribute to food insecurity, changing behaviors are crucial to reforming opinions, beliefs, and perspectives that surround bigger bodies. 

Avoid commenting on your weight, and others’: Mired as we are in social media and image-heavy environments, it is important to step back and step away from the compulsion to comment on appearance. Prioritizing yours and others’ mental health by purposefully avoiding comments about body and body image can go a long way towards building healthier attitudes. 

Be mindful of your thoughts around food and body image: Building an awareness of how you think about food and your body may also help you recognize unhealthy coping mechanisms, and unhealthy beliefs you hold about bigger bodies. Self-checking, writing lists, and maintaining a curious and kind response to your own thoughts can help you extend empathy and practice kindness.  

Support local food sources. If you are in a position to choose to support local food sources, do so. Financial support will help buoy businesses, create awareness of local sources, build community, and interrupt the flow of processed foods.

Call out fatphobic remarks and actions: Studies indicate [5] that the effective approach towards building better behaviors is to address problematic attitudes from those who promulgate stigma, and discriminatory behavior. Part of being truly and authentically body positive is to call out weight-based discrimination as it happens. 

Join us as we discuss weight-based discrimination this July 10 on our regular #UsapTayo tweetchat from 7 to 8PM. We also have run #UsapTayoSpaces from 7 to 9PM. Tara, #UsapTayo! 

QUESTIONS

  1. How have you experienced fat-shaming and weight-based discrimination?
  2. What are your healthy coping mechanisms when you experience weight-based discriminatory behavior? 
  3. What practical behaviors can we change to address the stigma around weight-based discrimination?

Post-Session Question

  1. What can you say to those who experienced weight- based discrimination? 

 

REFERENCES

[1] Martínez Jaikel, Tatiana y  (2017), “Life course perspective and body weight discrimination: an integrated approach to understand the relationship between obesity and food insecurity in women..” Población y Salud en Mesoamérica, Vol. 15, núm.1, pp.1-17 [Consultado: 5 de Julio de 2021]. ISSN: . Disponible en :   https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=44656020009

[2] Ayala, A., Meier, B.M. A human rights approach to the health implications of food and nutrition insecurity. Public Health Rev 38, 10 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40985-017-0056-5 

[3] FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2019. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019. Safeguarding against economic slowdowns and downturns. Rome, FAO. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

[4] Cotugna, N., Mallick, A. Following a Calorie-Restricted Diet May Help in Reducing Healthcare Students’ Fat-Phobia. J Community Health 35, 321–324 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10900-010-9226-9

[5] Tomiyama, A., Carr, D., Granberg, E. et al. How and why weight stigma drives the obesity ‘epidemic’ and harms health. BMC Med 16, 123 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1116-5

[6] Tovar, V. (2018). “Diet advice and tiny seats: how to avoid 10 kinds of fatphobia”, The Guardian, 03 September. Available on https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/sep/03/diet-advice-and-tiny-seats-how-to-avoid-10-forms-of-fatphobia (Accessed: 05 July 2021). 

 

How do you feel about this?
0%
67%
33%
0%
0%
0%
0%

Recommended Reading