A new study finds that mass media conveys a powerful societal pressure to be thin – a message that has led to a fat-stigma among women.
The perceived burden is so great that the cultural message overrides the opinion of those who are closest to us, our family and friends – opinions we would typically say are most important.
Women harbor a fat-stigma even though their family and closest friends may not judge them as “fat,” according to findings by Arizona State University social scientists.
The research findings have scientists questioning the weight of messages from sources outside one’s social networks, especially those in mass media marketing.
“We found that women generally missed the mark when estimating what their friends and family thought about their weight,” said Daniel J. Hruschka, co-author of the study.
“Women were a bit more attuned to the views of close friends and family, but even then, they generally perceived the judgments of others inaccurately.”
The study results are published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
ASU researchers interviewed 112 women ages 18 to 45 living in Phoenix, Ariz., and 823 others in their family and social networks.
The focus was to understand how and why fat-stigma is distributed in the context of everyday interactions and relationships, and test some key ideas about how perceptions of stigma are amplified or mitigated by women’s relationships in the framework of their social networks.
Lead author of the study, Alexandra Brewis, noted that while obesity is a major medical and public health challenge, the stigma attached to it also creates suffering and needs to be examined.
According to the ASU findings, urging family and friends to be less judgmental may be of little assistance in alleviating the stigma.
“Fat is understood culturally to represent profound personal failing and the attendant moral messages attached to it include laziness, lack of self-control, and being undesirable or even repulsive,” the authors wrote.
“So powerful and salient are these anti-fat messages that some Americans say they would rather die years sooner or be completely blind than be thought of as obese.”
“The question this leaves us with is: ‘If it isn’t the opinions of friends and family that make us feel so bad about being overweight, then what does?’
What seems most likely is that media and pop cultural messages are so pervasive and powerful that even the most loving support of those closest to us provides only limited protection against them,” said Brewis.
Source: Arizona State University