Fat-shaming women is unhelpful, insensitive and downright sad

A new study takes a look into the lives of overweight women -- and the sexism that pervades them

Published July 10, 2014 5:20PM (EDT)

                     (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-783025p1.html'>warakorn</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(warakorn via Shutterstock)

Fat-shaming isn't effective. It's prevalent, to be sure, although research has shown that stigmatizing obesity can actually contribute to increasing obesity rates. A recent study published in the Journal of Health Psychology aimed to evaluate why the positive correlation between stigma and obesity exists, specifically for women. By reviewing daily assessments of the weight-based interactions of 50 overweight women, researchers found that the negative feelings associated with fatness can lead to negative psychological health overall, in addition to reduced physical well-being.

The study's lead researcher, Jason Seacat, shared some of the women's responses with the Science of Us. Participants experienced an average of three fat-shaming moments per day, but Seacat said these stood out:

Teenagers made animal sounds (moo) outside of the store.
The dentist was worried I might break his chair.
I was told what a bad mother I am because I can't set limits as to what my son or his friends eat during sleepovers, because I can't even control myself.
With friends at a baby shower I went to McDonalds first so people wouldn't look at me eating more than I should.
Boyfriend's mother denied me access to food, also stated that I was so fat because I was lazy.
My ex-boss looked at me several times in a restaurant but acted like he didn't know me. I worked for him for 5 years but he always hated fat people.
Spent the day gardening - realized with this survey how much time I spend alone.

Seacat's research reveals not only the downright sadness to which many overweight women are exposed, but also the sexist undertones inherent in much of the fat-shaming his participants encountered. The comments about what constitutes a good or bad mother, the reasons a woman might become fat or even the conception of female fatness itself all create detrimental expectations for women. The study doesn't simply make a case for becoming more empathetic to women of all shapes and sizes; it also illustrates the damage we do by perpetuating fat-hate.

By Jenny Kutner

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