Four Oppressive Words You Need To Stop Using to Fight Stigma

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Four Oppressive Words You Need To Stop Using to Fight Stigma

Meg McCabe

Words are the powerful building blocks we use to communicate. They influence our thoughts, our beliefs and how we view the world around us. Some words have certain connotations (implied ideas or feelings) that can influence how we feel. Paying attention to the words we use can lead to insight on how we feel and what we believe. Making an effort to stop using words with certain connotations, has the power to reduce stigma and neutralize our thoughts.

If you’re ready to free yourself and others from diet culture, fat phobia and eating disordered thoughts, take note of the words you should stop using- today.


This word implies that there is an agreed upon ideal weight, and if you are over that specific weight, you are “too much.” Weight stigma is also connected to this word, where it is assumed that this person has “lost control” and has stopped “taking care of themselves”. Making assumptions such as this is unfair and can potentially be very untrue about the described person. To be accepting of all body sizes, it is useful to realize how much this word immediately compares people to a predetermined “ideal” which may not be healthful or natural for their body. If you’re not sure how to describe a person in a fuller body, it’s best to ask them how they describe their body.

“Anorexic” or “Bulimic” etc.

When using these words, they tie a diagnosable mental illness (anorexia /bulimia/other) to a person’s identity. Instead of saying “Oh, she’s anorexic”, it’s less stigmatizing to say “She has anorexia” or “She struggles with anorexia.” These phrases add distance between the human’s identity and their illness. When a person says “she’s an anorexic,” it can feel accusatory and abrasive- and it might also be inaccurate. Using the word as a noun also makes it feel like a permanent condition, rather than something a person can get treatment for and recover from.


Using this word supports medical fat phobia. Whether or not a person is “obese” is determined by their Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is an antiquated measure of assessing health risk, and it does not consider elements of body composition such and muscle mass. This clinical word is charged with judgement and fear, that makes fatness a “moral issue” or a “disease” or an “epidemic.” Fear of being “unhealthy” perpetuates fat phobia and the idea that being fat is “wrong.” The word “obesity” also links weight to a person’s health which is also stigmatizing, because weight is not necessarily an indicator of a person’s overall health.


If you are masquerading your diet as a “lifestyle”, please stop. By calling your diet a “lifestyle”, you’re perpetuating the false hope that diets can last forever. A true lifestyle change comes when you get a new job, or move to a new location, or have a child, or experience a tragedy or illness. The fact that you’re suddenly dieting is not a lifestyle change because it will not last. If your lifestyle change has anything to do with consciously losing weight, it is still a diet.

If you’ve been using the words above- don’t beat yourself up too much; at one point, we all bought into diet culture dogma. The good news is, now you know that you could be choosing more supportive language to free the collective whole from weight and mental health stigma, (a social injustice) that has quietly been hurting everyone.

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Meg McCabe Guest author


Meg McCabe is a Life Coach and Eating Disorder Recovery Coach located in Boston, MA. She's fully recovered from anorexia and bulimia and works to help people heal their relationship with food and their body. Meg utilizes her platform to interview recovered survivors about their recovery journeys and raise awareness by having vulnerability and honest conversations about eating disorders. When Meg is not coaching, she's the Communities of HEALing Lead for the Boston Chapter of Project Heal, and a health educator at Boston Children's Hospital. In her free time Meg loves to dance, take care of her plants, and listen to podcasts. Visit her Website.