In my last post I mentioned that fat kids are more likely to commit suicide. Technically, though, what matters is perceived fatness (although there is correlation between the two).
The fact that the important factor is perceived fatness rather than actual weight may have something to do with the high rates of suicide among anorexics. These suicide rates, in my opinion, have to be taken into account when we’re talking about suicide and stigma due to toxic attitudes about size. Anorexia is often dismissed as a “rare” disease, but I don’t really agree:
“Anorexia is well known to have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. In fact, females between the ages of 15 and 24 are 12 times more likely to die from anorexia than all other causes of death, according to the National Eating Disorders Association in America. But according to new research conducted at the University of Vermont, to be published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, this shocking mortality rate is not due just to starvation or the physical deterioration which makes the person more likely to die during a suicide attempt.”
I don’t have any hard data, but it seems like a no-brainer that increasing fat stigma in a society and associating negative qualities like “lazy” and “messy” with fat people is going trigger more anorexia and lead to more severe cases of anorexia.
Interestingly, in the paper I linked to on the increased risk of suicide for kids who perceive themselves as fat, despite pointing out that perception rather than actual weight mattered, and despite pointing out that 24% of normal-weight girls think they are overweight, the article primarily recommended reducing overweight/obesity rates in order to reduce suicide, and only secondarily recommended trying to improve body image.
“Results indicate that body dissatisfaction, as measured by the perception of overweight, has a strong causal impact on all suicidal behaviors for girls. It raises the risk of suicide ideation by 6.1 percent, suicide attempt by 3.6 percent, and a serious suicide attempt by 0.5 percent. For males, the association is mostly driven by nonrandom selection, though there is a small positive effect on ideation. Conditional on overweight perception, actual weight does not have an independent effect on suicidal behaviors. Policies aimed at reducing the prevalence of overweight among adolescents will further reduce suicidal behaviors by limiting overweight perception, especially among girls. However, the independent role of perception also highlights the importance of educating youths and fostering healthy attitudes regarding body image.”
I really think it’s problematic when, on discovering that stigma hurts group X, the reaction is to say, “Well, just stop being so X, and you won’t be stigmatized. Problem solved!”