Obesity is understood as a major medical and public health challenge, but the stigma attached to it also creates extraordinary suffering. The pervasiveness of morally negative views toward the overweight and obese, such as laziness and lack of self-control, are undeniable in mainstream U.S. society, situated both institutionally (such as health care barriers or media stereotypes) and interpersonally (such as the negative comments of others). To test basic pathways related to the etiology of women's vulnerability to feeling "fat-stigma" in interpersonal relationships, we present a study conducted between August and November 2009 that combines social network, anthropometric, body image, and interview data for 112 women aged 18-45 years, living in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., and linked follow-up interviews with 823 of their social ties. Based on the proposition that some social network characteristics should amplify the personal experience of stigma, and others should ameliorate it, we ask: what relationship qualities make women more sensitive to the judgments of others about their weight? We find that what others say about women has only a very limited influence on how women judge others' negative views of their weight once actual body size is taken into account, but that women are more influenced by the opinions of those they are closer to and interact with more often. Ultimately, the degree to which women perceive themselves to be judged by others regarding their weight is not well explained by the actual opinions of people in their networks, either known or unknown to them. The assumption that social network norms exert considerable influence on people's stigma experiences needs to be carefully evaluated, at least in the domain of overweight and obesity.
- Social networks
- Weight discrimination
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health(social science)
- History and Philosophy of Science