Do You Have An Unconscious Weight Bias?

We all have a bias in us. Whether we mean to or not, over the many years of our lives and the hundreds of advertisements, conversations, pictures, posts, movies and tv shows we have developed certain biases.

This is not unusual but this typically is not great. The bias we hold towards people of color, religion, political party, weight, gender, and so on affect how we treat and think about people without even meaning too.

I loved this statement I read from Megan of @bodyposipanda and she said,

The first thought you have about someone is your societal conditioning. The second thought is all you.

The great part of this is often you might think something unkind about someone, only to quickly have another thought about just how unkind and untrue your thought or statement is. The question arises though, what if you don’t have a second thought. What if your societal conditioning, is how you also believe?

Though there are many biases I could talk about, because I care deeply about body image and worthiness for women, today I am going to focus on weight bias (weight stigma).

So what is weight stigma? Weight stigma is a negative response to someone based upon their weight and is the fourth most common form of social discrimination among adults, behind age, gender and race.

Here are a few things you might have thought or hear others say that show a weight stigma:

  • Why is she dressed like that? It’s not really made for her body type.

  • Doesn’t she know we can see her celulite? How is she not self-conscious?

  • If they would just put down the burger and grab a salad they wouldn’t be so fat.

  • Ew, I feel so fat.

  • Did you lose weight? You look amazing/so much better!

  • Do I look fat?

These simple phrases show just what we believe about fat and health. Have you ever found yourself thinking or saying any of these things? I know I have before.

This belief that we are able to judge and understand someone based simply upon their weight makes me so frustrated but is something I also believed for the early part of my life. It is natural for us to make quick judgements about people and move on, but only when you start to pay attention to those judgements can you begin to learn about yourself and how you see the world.

The way I viewed and thought about people based on their weight disappointed me. I was not proud to be someone who thought that way and it was only through developing an inner dialogue to challenge those thoughts and educating myself around obesity, weight loss and weight stigma that I was able to change that bias.

Did you know that weight stigma is often encouraged more by friends or family than by strangers? That people feel as though they are helping “out of love” when really they are part of the cause of the disordered eating and negative self view.

The simple truth is that the weight shouldn’t matter and should not be a pre-requisite for how you treat or judge people. You should have no opinion about what someone eats or how they choose to move or not move their body. Simply, it’s none of your business.

Check out this shirt by @whollyhealed reminding you of just that!

But this bias within us makes us want to “help” and it makes us assume things without ever getting to know the person underneath.

You are no better or worse than someone based upon how you look and what you weigh. Though this is not what we are taught, this is the truth we need to fight for. This assumption that we can “know” someone based on one simple fact, removes us from learning about others, opening our minds, becoming more empathetic and challenging our bias.

You are not your bias but you do have to choose to challenge it. You do have to choose to slow down and think beyond the conditioning you are taught. Weight bias can be a hard one to break through because from every angle we are sold that weight loss is the ultimate priorety and that being thin means being happy. To somehow challenge that you can be fat and happy goes against so much of what we are taught to believe.

But if you see someone being fat and happy and it upsets you, or you don’t believe it, that shines a light within yourself of what you think happiness is allowed to look like. We conditioned to believe certain things about groups of people and most commonly these are the things we are taught about someone who is fat.

  • They are lazy

  • They don’t care

  • They are not attractive

  • They are not successful

  • They are not happy

  • They are simply the comic relief/sidekick

I wrote a blog post here that you can check out that goes more into depth about this conditioning.

The challenge though is to look beyond those things and to see them for what they are.


We cannot judge someone based simply on their looks and we should not want to be judged simply by how we look either. When we realize that this belief benefits the industry and not the consumer we can see just how easily we are being played.

Your bias may be unconscious but often what you believe about others, reflects what you believe about yourself. It shines a light on your fears and your insecurities. It shows a part of you that many of us are uncomfortable sharing.

If you are interested in addressing and changing your bias here are a few simple ways you can start doing that.

  1. Deliberately slow down decision making

  2. Reconsider reasons for decision making

  3. Question cultural stereotypes

  4. Monitor each other for unconscious bias

(Steps obtained from video by The Royal Society; watch here)

It all starts with getting in touch with yourself. You must realize that you are worth more than your physical appearance and learn to give others the benefit of the doubt too. You are worth more than your weight and so is each individual around you.

I would love to hear some of the ways you are working to address bias in your life and maybe a time you have been on the receiving end of someones unconscious bias.