21 Oct 2021 Interview: Obesity through a different lens
Today marks 2 weeks until the #FoodActive2021 conference, where we will bring together over 400 delegates to learn more about the impact of weight stigma and what we can do to help put an end to it to this unacceptable form of discrimination. We interviewed one of our speakers, Angela Chesworth, a patient advocate on obesity to find out more about her experience of living with obesity throughout her life, and what action she would like to see.
Can you remember the first time you felt stigmatised for your weight?
At the age of 10 years old I would have to give a girl in my school 20pence and a chocolate bar each day or she would physically beat me. She would tell me “I’m doing it for your own good, so you don’t get fatter”. I couldn’t tell anybody what was happening because in my head my bully was right I was fat. It continued for nearly 2 years. I would steal milk off a neighbours doorstep, I would keep the money my mum had sent me to the shops with so I could give it to my bully. If I had no money I would drink vinegar and put my fingers down my throat to make myself sick so I would be kept off school. All because of the body I lived in.
Do you feel this has changed at all in the years gone by?
I believe Obesity stigma has changed over the years but not for the better. The introduction of social media has magnified weight stigma and given a virtually uncontrollable platform for people to be judgmental and cruel whilst behind a keyboard with no consequence. I have personally received an anonymous message on social media after a radio interview regarding my lived experience of Obesity, the messenger told me “you should just go away and die so someone who is genuinely sick can receive help”. Not long ago I received over 900 abusive comments on Twitter from one comment I had made on a labour MP’s Twitter account who I had met earlier in the week at an Obesity All Party Parliamentary Group Meeting in London.
In your opinion, do you think weight loss interventions / programmes can actually end up stigmatising individuals?
Unfortunately yes. What Needs to change is the narrative that is used with weight loss interventions/programs. The Eat Less Move More narrative is not working. Everyone needs to eat healthy and be active to live a healthier life, however if you are a person living with obesity you need treatment/support to address the complexities of obesity, along with Tv, Media, Governments and Society being educated to the science of Obesity to stop the narrative that Obesity is a lifestyle choice.
I’m a firm believer it’s not what we do but how we do it. People living with obesity deserve access to treatments and support if they as individuals choose to accept it. Just like a person living with cancer can choose to have treatment or not.
In your opinion, do you think eliminating stigma will help to reduce levels of obesity in the UK?
I 100% believe eliminating weight stigma will have a huge effect on the levels of Obesity not only in the Uk but globally. You may never have witnessed weight stigma but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
People living with obesity even stigmatise themselves. During Covid19 everyone has experienced restrictions, feelings of isolation, fear of illness and loneliness. For me as a person living with obesity this has been nothing new.
I’ve lived most of my life being restricted and felt isolated thanks to stigma from other people and my internal thoughts. I’ve lived in fear of judgement, ridicule, physical and verbal abuse. As a person living with obesity reaching 24 stone I’ve had many experiences of weight stigma and bias. As a Bariatric patient who is maintaining a 10 stone weight loss, over the past 8 years, I have witnessed so many more acts of weight stigma, not to me but to other people living with obesity. People see you as “Normal” so they try to engage with you by sharing a “fat joke” or a derogative comment about another person, rolling their eyes and laughing whilst pointing.
I have even witnessed stigmatising comments from a health care professional. I was attending a weight management clinic for my annual check up appointment, I was sent to have my bloods taken. The Nurse told me “sorry to keep you waiting, the fat clinic are in today and it takes so long to try and get blood out of them” I don’t think she would have said that comment had I not been seen as a “normal” weight.
What would be your key take home message for the readers of this blog?
I would ask the readers of this blog to look at Obesity through a different lens.
Please see each person as an individual, just because one person can control their weight through lifestyle changes doesn’t mean the next person will achieve the same result. We are ALL different. Please don’t assume, the person living with obesity is lazy, a glutton, lacks willpower or is uneducated. Put yourself in their shoes. We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect no matter what size body we live in. With 650 million people living with obesity around the world, it is virtually impossible for you not to know someone living with obesity. It could be your Mother, Father, Sister, Brother. A Friend or a work colleague.
The next time you laugh at a fat joke, or stair at a stranger and roll your eyes, make a nasty comment on social media or a judgement on what they are eating. Just remember that could be someone who you care about, and weight stigma will not help anyone live a healthier life. It’s more likely to make them feel a failure, worthless and alone.
What would be your key ask for the Government?
I would ask All governments to listen to the scientific proven facts of obesity. We have all been asked to follow the science regarding Covid19. Why are we not listening to the science of obesity? We need our government to be brave and act on obesity with a different strategy. Eat less Move More is not working. We need access to treatments. We need funding for research. We need life long support. But most important. We need to Stop Obesity Stigma. There needs to be a consequence for peoples stigmatising actions. Obesity Stigma seems to be a socially acceptable form of abuse.
We Need to Act on Obesity Stigma Now – don’t we all just want to live a happy healthy life!
You can catch Angela and more fantastic speakers at our conference on Thursday 4th November – registration is still open but tickets are now limited, so secure your place now here.
Follow Angela on twitter here.