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Weightism is a form of discrimination based on overweight and obesity. What forms does weightism take? Why are overweight and obese people treated badly?


  1. Weightism - what is it?
  2. Ombudsman for People with Obesity
  3. People with obesity - how do we perceive them?
  4. "There was no fat in Oświęcim", or everyday weightism
  5. Weightism - where does it come from?
  6. Obesity rights movement>

Weightism - what is it?

The wordweightismdescribing various forms of discrimination based on overweight and obesity appeared in our country a few years ago. However, the phenomenon has been known for a long time, although overweight and obese people have not spoken out loud about it. Stereotype:you owe yourself that you are fat because you do not have the will to lose weight- it did not allow them to openly regret their rejection, let alone oppose their persecutors and ask for assistance. What do overweight and obese people experience every day?

Barbara ,teacher, she came back from the store without shopping. Right outside the house, several children she knew from the neighborhood destroyed her bag, shouting to " eat less ", it will lose weight.Anna , a pensioner, was pushed brutally off the bus because " took up too much space ". She fell to the ground and smashed her head. Nobody helped her.Karolina , a student, did not receive a prescription for contraceptives from a gynecologist. The doctor looked disgustedly at her 25-year-old body with 20 kilograms overweight and said that she would not be needed anyway, " because no guy will touch such a fat pig" .Beata , lawyer, Honorary Blood Donor, according to one nurse, she could not donate blood because she was too fat. Beata did not find any recipe confirming the nurse's thesis. ForWiktor , also a lawyer, the crowd is a threat. He avoids even major church ceremonies. So that people during, for example, Midnight Mass, would not make a sensation with his 150 kg body. He goes to church on Sunday morning or evening and hides in the vestibules, side chapels, so as not to be exposed to ironic looks and malicious comments. He prefers taxis. If only not too longappear on the street.

Janusz,a craftsman, was transported to hospital thanks to the help of firefighters. They placed his 200 kg body on a tarpaulin, pulled it out of the house and carried it to a special fire platform. Janusz was in the Intensive Care Unit for 6 weeks. On the floor. There was no bed for him. However, he is grateful to the doctors that they took care of him and treated him with commitment.Irena was less fortunate.She lay in the Emergency Department for a few days. Naked, covered only with a sheet. When she began to complain about something hurting her back and she wanted to get off the bed, she was tied to him with straps. As it turned out later, Irena was lying on a rescue board. It was not removed because it was not visible. It was covered by the body of Irena, who weighed about 170 kg. She cried silently as other patients took pics of " whale " and the staff passed by indifferently. Doctors took care of Irena when her daughter sought help from the Social Ombudsman for People with Obesity.

Ombudsman for People with Obesity

In 2013, experts from the Polish Society for the Study of Obesity declared a fight against the myths about obesity and obesity. They started looking for a person suffering from obesity, brave enough to speak publicly about their experiences with ill-treatment, to stand up for other patients. In this way, the Social Ombudsman for Obesity Patients started to operate in Poland. After several publications in the media, letters from patients began to flow to the Ombudsman's e-mail box. And in them stories showing the dramatic conditions of obese people in Poland. Stories about beatings (" you have thick skin, you will be fine, and you will knock a little fat "), locking the refrigerators with a padlock ("inyou eat and nothing for us will not stay "),taking money and food ("there were no fat people in Oświęcim"), sexual harassment, rape - ("what? at least now you know what sex is") mobbing in the workplace ("the lady is too fat to sit at the reception desk because it will scare customers away") and many others. People with obesity wrote that people do not understand their disease, much less their location. -Why are we treated worse than animals? After all, we differ from others only in the thickness of adipose tissue ? - they asked.

The Defender received so many requests for help that he decided to establish an NGO to support his activities. In this way, the Foundation of People with ObesityOD-WAGAwas established, which was the first to start collecting data on forms and toolsdiscrimination of obese patients in Poland.

Obesity is a disease

Obesityhas been known for centuries. She was a synonym of we alth (" this is only a long time ago, since they eat so much "), and thus of high social status. To this day, it is associated with the image of representatives of certain professions, e.g. cook, butcher. But also obese people were perceived as sinners prone to a riotous lifestyle, because their fat tissue greater than in others resulted from failure to observe one of the deadly sins in the canon of the Catholic Church, namely " immoderation in eating and drinking ".

Until the end of the 20th century, the number of overweight and obese people worldwide began to increase dramatically, now reaching the proportions of a pandemic. Obesity researchers and doctors began to appeal to abandon stereotypes, because the current obesity has nothing to do with the one we have known for hundreds of years.

Obesitycontemporary is a complex chronic disease, which is caused by many factors, the so-called environmental (including improper nutrition and low physical activity), psychological, metabolic and hormonal (disruptions in the work of hormones responsible for sending signals to the brain about hunger and satiety). Obesity is not only a disease, but also leads to about 30 serious complications, incl. type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc., as well as disability (often complete) and death. More than half a century ago, the World He alth Organization (WHO) included obesity (under the code E66) on the International List of Diseases and He alth Problems. In Poland, this classification has been in force since 1996. Meanwhile …

People with obesity - how do we perceive them?

Hard scientific evidence - theirs, but people know theirs anyway. Thus, obesity is still seen by the society as, for example, the effect of nutritional neglect in childhood. Many families still believe that " a fat baby is a he althy baby ". For others, obesity is the result of the so-called bad lifestyle, "eating" stresses, complexes, life failures. For others, overweight - be it small or large - is simply an aesthetic defect of the body consisting in the accumulation of adipose tissue.

Obesity is a complicated disease, not an aesthetic defect or the result of neglect.

How are people with obesity and obesity seen by others - these strangers and their relatives?

  • lazy, slow, disorganized
  • without ambition, living from day to day, without goals
  • devoid of willpower
  • less educated, lowerIQ
  • motion inactive
  • eating junk food, only eating unhe althy foods
  • sloppy, hygienically neglected
  • lonely, unable to establish and maintain relationships with people
  • ugly, sexually unattractive
  • thinking only about food
  • people who " owe themselves to themselves, have what they deserved, have brought themselves to this state ".
Weightism - forms of discrimination against obese patients:
  • visual- looking at them with eyes full of disgust and disgust
  • verbal- using nicknames, insults, names ridiculing and humiliating, comparing to large-size animals (e.g. elephant, hippo, cow, pig)
  • physical- poking, nudging, hitting
  • psychic- bullying, manipulating their guilt, addiction to loved ones, humiliating, creating humiliating and harassing situations
  • legal- ignoring this group of patients in legislation
  • technological ,architecturalandsocial

"There was no fat in Oświęcim", or everyday weightism

Overweight and obese people most often complain of being harassed by strangers, e.g. on the street, in a shop or in a park.Anna , a secretary who likes to run, says that her slower pace is often ridiculed by other runners. And several times she was pushed off the path as " elephant blocking the movement ". The harassment of relatives from whom patients expect understanding and support are more severe.Iwona,who weighs about 120 kg, wanted to study pharmacy very much. She didn't even fold the papers. Her mother convinced her that she would not be able to cope at the university, and then she would not fit between the shelves in a pharmacy.

Overweight and obese people are publicly ridiculed in the media, movies, theater, cabaret, and advertising. But they feel most humiliated in doctors' offices and hospitals. And it is not only the fact that Polish medical facilities lack emergency equipment (ambulances, stretchers, etc.), diagnostic equipment (scales, blood pressure monitors, ultrasound machines, computer tomographs, etc.), medical equipment (e.g. operating and outpatient tables) and the so-called patients, i.e. beds - adapted to the needs of patients with morbid obesity, i.e. body mass index BMI - greater than 40. Obese patients complain that doctors refuse to test them, have no knowledge about obesity and its treatment methods, and the only recommendation they have is:"not to eat, or lessto eat because have you seen fat people in concentration camps? "

Katarzyna , a trader, sent her CV to one of the companies, and after a few days she was invited to an interview. The first question asked by her potential employer was: " So you want to work with us. Did you look at yourself in the mirror? Only slim women work with us ". Overweight and obese people also describe situations in which the employer refuses to grant them a promotion, send them to training, or assign more responsible tasks " until they lose weight ", or colleagues publicly ridicule, criticize their way nutrition.

Although there are more and more people with overweight and obesity in the world, this world does not notice their needs. There is a lack of appropriate seats, chairs in, for example, offices and institutions, public transport, cinemas, theaters, and airlines require passengers with greater body weight to pay extra for… excess baggage. City gyms and public bikes have a maximum load capacity of 120 kg, and the beds in sleeping cars are simply too narrow.

Weightism - where does it come from?

In several countries of the world (eg Great Britain and Canada) research is conducted on the phenomenon of weightism and stigmatization with obesity disease. Why do we treat overweight and obese people with such disgust, disgust, and often aggression? There are several theories:

We do not respect obese people for fear of disease, because we follow stereotypes, because we feel better, or simply go unpunished.

  • fear -obesity disease is unpredictable, it does not recognize age, gender, education, wallet (applies to both poor and rich people); so we look at our relatives, neighbors, colleagues, etc., we see how easily their disease has "caught up", and then how difficult their life has become and how they are mistreated, and then fearing that we ourselves will find ourselves in such a situation - we turn against them.
  • feeling of superiority- seeing an obese person we think: " is a weak person, addicted to food, cannot control himself, and I am different - stronger , aware, overweight and obesity will definitely not happen to me".
  • following stereotypes- we do not know what obesity disease really is and how it is treated; or we have such knowledge, but we do not believe in it, and the distorted image of obesity reproduced by other people confirms our belief that we are right.
  • social consent- discrimination due to e.g. skin color, faith, sexual preferenceshe is loudly branded and condemned; overweight and obese people are the last social group that can be harassed with impunity.

Obesity rights movement

A transnational movement to defend the human rights, patients' rights and civil rights of obese patients is being created in the world. The Foundation of People with ObesityOD-WAGAis its Polish representative. Similar organizations operate in countries such as Sweden, Iceland, Austria, Italy, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Czech Republic, Portugal, Spain, USA and Canada.People with obesity say :We don't mean that that you feel sorry for us, but that you treat us with respect, just like other people. We do not ask for any additional rights for us, but to find us in the legal, medical and social support systems that already exist. These systems have adapted to the needs of people with motor disabilities, the blind, deaf, people with intellectual disabilities, and people with other diseases. It is high time that public institutions saw our needs as well.

Weightism - Where To Go For Help?

If you have experienced discrimination - you or your relatives, including children - in medical facilities, offices, institutions, shops, etc.:

  • report the matter to the person in charge of the facility where you were mistreated
  • report the case to the appropriate ombudsman: the Ombudsman ( or the Patient's Rights Ombudsman ( or the Ombudsman for Children (

and send a copy of the declaration to:

  • offices of the Social Ombudsman for People with Obesity -, [email protected]
Important supports safe treatment and a dignified life of people suffering from obesity. This article does not contain discriminatory and stigmatizing content of people suffering from obesity.

About the authorMagdalena Gajda A specialist in obesity disease and obesity discrimination of people with diseases. President of the OD-WAGA Foundation of People with Obesity, Social Ombudsman for the Rights of People with Obesity in Poland and a representative of Poland in the European Coalition for People Living with Obesity. By profession - a journalist specializing in he alth issues, as well as a PR, social communication, storytelling and CSR specialist. Privately - obesity since childhood, after bariatric surgery in 2010. Starting weight - 136 kg, current weight - 78 kg.

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