New Research Shows Body Shaming Actually Happens At The Doctor's Office

It's no secret that unrealistic body standards are deeply embedded in our society, and in recent years, the negative effects of body and fat shaming have become more prevalent topics in the cultural discourse. But now, new research shows microaggressions aren't just happening in everyday life -- body shaming has apparently founds its way into many doctor's offices.

Just to clarify what body shaming actually is, it's an umbrella term for criticism and micro-aggressive attitudes toward bodies that might deviate from what's considered normative.

It can take shape in anything from straight-up hateful rhetoric toward someone's physicality, to encouraging a person to change their appearance, to subtly suggesting a person's size influences their well-being.

The shaming practices that occur in media, our interpersonal lives, and in the online realm seem to be acknowledged more frequently these days, as many inspirational bloggers have made it their mission to drive the message home that all bodies are beautiful.

But recent research illustrates the damaging presence of body shaming in medical settings which, up until now, has hardly received the same amount of attention.

The research, which was presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, found that individuals treated with a bias against their size have consequently seen negative impacts in their health, and they are generally less likely to seek the treatment they need to be healthy.

Joan Chrisler, Ph.D., and Angela Barney, M.A., wrote of their findings in the research abstract,

Sizeism and stereotypes of fat people can have a negative impact on their physical health and well-being. Disrespectful treatment and medical fat shaming (in an attempt to motivate people to change their behavior) is stressful and can cause patients to delay health care seeking or avoid interacting with providers. The assumption that weight is responsible for, or related to, almost any presenting complaint has resulted in misdiagnosis. Recommending different treatments for patients with the same condition based on their weight (e.g., weight loss for fat patients; CAT scan, blood work, or physical therapy for other patients) is unethical and a form of malpractice.

The researchers recommend greater and more extensive training for medical providers to learn practices that encourage patient empowerment.

This is especially important because these damaging effects can have an even greater cumulative impact on those with intersectional identities -- people who very often experience other forms of oppression in addition to sizeism (like racism and transphobia, for example).

Furthermore, a study from earlier this year at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researched the relationship between the metabolic conditions of 156 adults with obesity, and what these participants internalized about their bodies.  

The findings were at once revelatory, and unfortunately, not all that surprising -- the way people felt about themselves because of what they believed about their bodies had an impact on both their physical and mental well-being.

The participants who held more negative beliefs about themselves in relation to their weight had a higher propensity for metabolic syndrome, and were at a much greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Hopefully this research can begin to pave the way toward fairer, healthier, and more empowering practices for all bodies.