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Even After Weight Loss, Fat Prejudice Persists

 

The pressure to be a certain size and look a certain way in our society is great. Overwhelming, in fact. So much so that even when women lose weight, the stigma of obesity follows them no matter their dress size, according to new research published in the journal Obesity.

The study asked young men and women to read scenarios describing a woman who had either lost weight or kept her weight stable. Subjects were then asked for their opinions of the different woman based on a number of attributes, such as her attractiveness, along with his or her overall dislike for obese people.

The results were surprising—and worrisome. Researchers found that participants in the study showed a greater bias against obese people after reading about women who had lost weight than after reading about women who had kept their weight stable, regardless of whether the weight-stable woman was thin or obese. In other words, women who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight, researchers told ScienceDaily. Additionally, researchers found that the negative attitudes towards obese people tended to increase when participants were falsely told that body weight is easily controllable (think of all of the times you're told that losing weight is simple if you just take this pill or eat/don't eat this or that!).

Pamela Madsen, author of Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home In Time to Cook Dinner, blogger, speaker and integrative life coach specializing in women's issues, compares being obese to having cancer, minus the support and empathy. "Fat sticks even when it is lost," Madsen says. "It's like being a cancer survivor—people always know you had it. Only you are not brave; you're judged as being the cause of your own suffering. No one is wearing pink for you and supporting your journey." 

Called the fat or obese stigma, Madsen says that overweight women (formerly or currently) are met with real judgment—both from others and themselves. "They are rebelling against society's judgment, but it is a constant uphill battle for them," she says. "Every day they are told about something new that they should do, and the constant message is that they are broken, unacceptable, not sexy and repugnant. Some men don't like to admit that they like round women, for fear of being judged!" So what can we do to stop or at least curtail obesity discrimination? Madsen recommends a good dose of compassion and self love, no matter where you go or what event you attend.

"Go into every situation deciding ahead of time, and behaving that you know—deep in your bones—that you can have as wonderful a time as anybody else at this event," she says. "Your weight does not have to hold you back from meeting someone interesting and sexy to talk to, having fun, and dancing the night away if you choose."

Have you ever seen this research first hand? Been judged for your current weight or former weight? Judged others because of their sizes? Let's discuss this weighty topic...