This spam message arrived in my email inbox just in time for Weight Stigma Awareness Week. I can't imagine a better example of stigmatizing wrongness…
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Not for serious consumption!
What's next? Fat people breathe too much air?
Ruby Bowen brilliantly retorts: "That's because they weren't drinking DIET water."
Stigma dehumanizes. It can reverse polarity. In this case, because fat people are involved, the stuff of life becomes malign.
Stigma can also make people believe contradictions: fat people drink too much — and too little — water. Remember the diet-mentality tip to drink eight glasses of water daily for that feeling of fullness? (A debunked, yet persistent bit of advice.) In fact, if you gain weight from from drinking water, that's a sign of serious kidney disease, as Diane McRae, a fat community member with expertise in this subject, points out.
Stigma can also subvert science. Fat community member Andreae tells this story:
"A little while ago, a family member quite earnestly and sincerely explained to me that drinking ice water when you eat will 'congeal' all the fats you consume, causing you to gain weight, but that drinking hot water after a meal will 'flush the fat' out of your system, preventing weight gain. I'm pretty sure being a mammal with a stable core temperature trumps that theory. And that maybe she had 'consuming foods with fat in them' confused with 'pouring bacon fat down the kitchen sink.' In which case, yes, hot water will fix that. Because a kitchen sink is not a mammal."
People also believe the opposite, that drinking cold water will cause weight loss because the body must work harder to heat it to 98.6 degrees.
Such beliefs always remind me of the Magic Bean from fairy tales. Confronted with a big, scary thing like weight-based social hierarchy, people crave a simple way to zoom to the top of the pile. (Preferably involving secret tips about inexpensive household items.) They aren't nearly as eager to do the work of chopping down the oppressive system at its source.
When I posted about the ridiculousness of this less-water weight-loss claim on social media, someone couldn't resist bragging about their recent weight loss, all while trying to claim they think people of all sizes are great. Stigma is pervasive and it saturates. Even a little bit of it, even where it's not at all welcome, gets all over everything around it.
I'm all for raising awareness about stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and oppression. I'm even more interested in putting an end to them.