Stigma about a woman’s weight is fueled by body shape, not amount of fat

Over at Arizona State University, a group of scientists determined that a woman’s body shape, and not particularly the body fat, is the leading factor of stigma when it comes to obesity.

The findings appeared in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Stigma toward the bodyweight or appearance of an individual is a form of prejudice, which often could lead to psychological problems for the affected individual.

For the study, the Arizona State group tested how the location of fat on the body impacted stigma, recruiting female participants regarded as average-weight, overweight, and obese.

According to researchers, women were stigmatized based on the type of fat and location on the body; for example, abdominal and gluteofemoral fat.

“The study participants stigmatized obese women more than overweight women and also overweight women more than average-weight women,” a news release of the findings read.

“But women with overweight who weighed the same were less stigmatized when they carried gluteofemoral fat than when they carried abdominal fat. This same pattern held for women with obesity, suggesting that body shape, in addition to overall body size, drives stigmatization.”

The notion that body shape drives stigmatization, as opposed to particular body fat, was evident even across various ethnicities and cultures, the study found. A number of people of both White and Black heritage, along with people in India, experienced similar stigmatization.

“This finding suggests that body shape is sometimes even more important than overall size in driving fat stigma,” researchers concluded.

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