Overweight Women Remain Highly Vulnerable To Stigma

A recently released study in the Journal of Social Science and Medicine has examined the effects of a close social network on how women judge themselves regarding obesity, body image, and perceived moral implications of being overweight.

It is already well understood that negative stereotypes exist throughout US society on issues around the subject of obesity. Overweight people are often negatively judged and labelled as lazy and self-indulgent. Media stereotypes, barriers to health care provision, and disapproving comments from society in general, are just a few of the challenges facing overweight individuals on a daily basis. This is especially true for North American women who must cope with unrealistic and unhealthy body image ideals, a preoccupation with diet and exercise, and an inappropriate focus on extremely thin and underweight models. The pressure to be slim is always present.

In this study, 112 women in Phoenix, Arizona were interviewed along with their close friends and family in order to determine whether or not strong social and interpersonal relationships could lessen the impact of stigma around obesity. The researchers questioned whether a supportive and understanding social network would be able to counter the profoundly negative messages about obesity, and explored the relationship qualities that contribute to sensitivity regarding a person’s weight.

Results from the study confirm that women are not especially influenced by the actions and opinions of their social network. Persistent and powerful messages concerning weight and body image are entrenched in our society. Overcoming the stigma attached to being overweight or obese will require considerable change in the way our society passes judgement on overweight people.

This study is published in the August 2011 journal of Social Science & Medicine, Volume 73, Issue 4, pp. 483-624. An abstract of the study is available online at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/02779536

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