Shining a Light on Weight-Related Bullying

Published on Topic: Body Image

According to the Journal of American Medicine, more than one-third of American adults (34%) are obese,  and are vulnerable to weight-related prejudices and stigmas, including weight-related bullying.

During March and April 2014, SheByShe explored the topic of weight-related bullying in a survey titled, “Women's Weight and Body Image Concerns.”  Over 700 women from across America took the survey and shared their heartfelt stories about weight-related bullying.

Fifty-two percent of the women completing the survey reported that they had been bullied because of their weight. Of these women, slightly more than half reported multiple instances of bullying, and about a quarter suffered frequent weight-related bullying.

Whether it happens once or many times, our survey found that weight-related bullying leaves lasting scars with each victim, often leading to low self-esteem, and sometimes leading to eating disorders and other medical concerns.

As one SheByShe survey respondent said,  “I have been fat-shamed about eating, about taking up too much space on public transit, and have had people talk about me as if I'm not there (ex, ‘Wow, she's big as a house,’ said right in front of me.) I have been rejected by dates, have had men assume I must be easy or should be so grateful for their attention and that I should be willing to have sex with them immediately ... it goes on and on.”

Most of the women who suffer weight-related bullying are overweight, although 20% describe bullying incident(s) that occurred because of being underweight. 

As one respondent shared, “There have been a few people in my life who have assumed I'm either anorexic or bulimic and tell me I need to eat more food. Some have gone as far as to wait and listen outside the bathroom door while I was using the restroom. These incidents made me feel bad about how I looked, even though I ate plenty of food, I was naturally very thin.”

And, another explained, “I've been called ‘anorexic,’ sack of bones,’ ‘toothpick’ by others because I'm thin. I've also been treated as being weak and fragile.”

Cruel Name Calling Most Common

Our survey found that cruel name calling is the most common form of weight-related bullying. What we sometimes excuse as ‘teasing’, is, in-fact, a common form of bullying. Some women also reported that they are left out of activities or opportunities because of their weight, and some have endured physical bullying.

As one woman said,  In middle and high school I was the victim of bullying due to my weight. I was called names such as:  free Willy, beluga and roly poly.  I was left out of many things due to my weight.”

And another respondent said, “I have had things yelled at me such as ‘fatty two by four can't get through the kitchen door’...family members telling me it’s my fault because I eat too much, and that you eat like a pig or calling me piggy piggy. [Also] instructors in advanced practice nursing school tell me I can't be valid as a practitioner if I am overweight because it sets a wrong example.”

And a third SheByShe respondent said, “[I suffered] joking comments from family and friends when I gained weight. Then my boyfriend at the time was pinching and grabbing me, making snarky comments about eating and exercising….”

According to the survey, most bullying occurs during childhood and teenage years, although many women are still the subject of weight-related bullying into adulthood. 

As one woman said, “I was bullied badly as a child and teenager    I was called terrible names. Nobody wanted to date me. I was ridiculed by the nuns in school regarding my weight   It was constant and painful. It affected me on the choices I made in life.  I lacked much self-confidence.”

Some women are bullied because of their chest size. 

I have large breasts that men never fail to notice and name call,” shared a respondent.

Who are the bullies?

As shocking as it might seem, most bullies are family members. Other bullies are childhood or teenage peers, and even teachers, coaches and instructors. 

As one woman said, “My father made comments to me growing up constantly about being chubby and making fun of me or being sarcastic. I was always in sports to keep weight down, of course. Later on I developed an eating disorder, panic attacks, and depression in high school as a result. I was devastated.”

Another explained, “A coach told me I didn't make a team because I was too heavy despite my equal performance with others. Another time a teammate yelled "boats too heavy" every time I got into a boat during a canoe race.”

A third woman said, “I was overweight in high school and people would whisper ‘jiggle jiggle’ when I'd walk by.”

 Our survey also found that some women are still bullied by family members today, “My father and grandmother (his mother) are the harshest at it.  They live remotely and when we talk, they ask frequently about my weight.  They talk nostalgically about how tiny I was in my teens and twenties.”

Bullying by Strangers

Co-workers and complete strangers are also guilty, especially if the stranger is angry for some reason, such as losing a parking space or is an unhappy customer. 

As one SheByShe respondent said, “I lost weight through [weight loss surgery] and the women in my office hate me.  I’m actively bullied by my boss.”

And, another commented, “Recently I had a run in with an inconsiderate person at a public event and he resorted to the whole, ‘fat, ugly, woman’ thing.”

And again, “I have been bullied as a child and an adult.  As an adult, a man screamed at me to lose weight in a parking lot.  I never saw him before.  Children have hit me in the stomach… there are too many other examples to say.”

These devastating stories help us all realize the immense damage caused everyday by weight-related bullying. Shining a light on these behaviors helps us all realize the damage caused by these actions.

Have you been the victim of weight-related bullying? 

Share your thoughts below.