Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Size Bullying IS Bullying, thank you Jennifer for fighting back!

If no one has ever criticized you for your weight, body shape or size you may not know that this was bullying. If you have never been yelled at by a bunch of teenage boys in a pickup truck as you were going for an evening walk, you may not realize this was bullying. If your doctor has never ignored your health complaints to tell you that your weight is the problem, even if you were just coming in for a play ground injury, you may be oblivious to the fact that size bullying happens outside of school. If you’ve never been overweight or obese and felt the impact of a society that judges your health, morals, personal characteristics, and abilities in one glance, than you might think that what happened to Jennifer Livingston was just “constructive criticism.”

I was amazed and inspired when a few days ago I saw TV anchor, Jennifer Livingston, fight back against the most pervasive stigma in our culture- weight stigma. Livingston had been sent an email calling her obese, questioning her ability to be a role model, and criticizing her for not “improving” her condition. She eloquently fought back, and not just for herself, for the many American children targeted with bullying based on their size. Sadly, but all to predictably, many media outlets have openly rebuked Livingston for engaging in “bully-creep,” in other words alleging that she used the term “bully” to described what they deem to be merely “constructive criticism”- (Thanks E! News… et al.) What these media outlets failed to mention was that statistics show that the most common reason cited for being harassed is a student’s appearance or body size. The definition of bullying at StopBullying.gov includes aggressive behavior that occurs within an imbalance of power and with repetition. Research shows that discrimination based on weight and size affects people’s ability to gain housing, employment, education, as well as other socially desirable statuses. Because of the financial, economic and social discrimination people of size face there is evidence based imbalance of power wherever size bullying occurs. Aggression and repetition are clear, the hatred and public outcry in the vitriolic “war against obesity” or more accurately the “war against the obese” is just one example of this pervasive and aggressive stimga. Livingston, in fighting back and not passively accepting prejudice, has established a challenge that I hope more of us can step up to. Size bullying is bullying. Size and appearance based bullying is in fact the most common form of bullying. During national Bullying Awareness Month let us remember all of the amazing things we learned from BEDA’s National Weight Stigma Awareness week (Sept 24th-28th): recognize, express, reclaim, recommit, and celebrate!

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