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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 12-Nov-10


Friday 12-November-10

Anticipation, power and fat people

I don't know if you are allowed to call people fat these days but 'obesity bias' is alive and well. In recent research, Olivier Klein and colleagues showed subjects a picture of someone they were going to meet and then asked them some careful questions about how they were feeling.

Subjects who were shown pictures of overweight people (as opposed to those who were shown pictures of 'normal' weight people) used more words like "powerful" and "strong" to describe themselves, indicating a relative sense of power. They also indicated their sense of social superiority with phrases like "I could make the interaction more enjoyable for my partner" and "I expect that my partner will like me more than I like him". They were also critical of obesity, such as saying it was due to a lack of will-power.

Subjects were selected randomly and the results indicated how widespread common perceptions of obesity are, such as being weak-willed and lazy, and consequently inferior.

It's a simple fact that bias of all kinds is a pert of the human condition and although we try to banish it, from ourselves as well as others, it has a stubbornness that seems likely to persist.

Klein, O., Snyder, M., & Gonzalez, R. (2009). Stigma and Social Power: Expecting to Interact with an Obese Person Activates Power in the Self-concept. Self and Identity, 8 (4), 378-395

Your comments

Fat people are shunned because in this age, it tends to subliminally suggest poverty. Obesity is actually not a cut and dried matter of Diet and Exercise...and everyone knows this, but most people do not want to know it or acknowledge this, since it makes their feeling superior to fat folks less meaningful. Some people exercise for hours and eat one meal a day for years and don\'t have any change of weight at all. Complex interaction of genetics, movement and metabolism determine how much fat one retains.

Poor people are fatter than rich people, even if discounting social success being higher for good looking folks right off the bat. The poor eat food that is less nutritious and more sugary since it\'s all they can access, living without kitchens. When the poor fall ill they get less good health care so bones muscles etc. deteriorate faster. When someone can\'t walk right, or is in pain when exercising, they do less of it without thinking. Finally rich people can afford cosmetic surgery and tailored clothes that hide what fat they do have more sleekly.

So when people dislike the fat, it's usually because they have a half-righteous excuse to hate or dislike someone, or place themselves in an outwardly expressed superiority position.

100 years ago fatter people were actually richer folks while poor people were starving, so fat women were considered sexy and fat men considered wealthy. The world has become inverted in so many ways, in such a short time...

-- DM Thraam

Dave replies:
Interesting -- maybe bias against fat people has some racial memory of 'fat = power' with a consequent status envy involved. I also believe that there are still countries where one's weight is assumed to correlate with one's affluence.

There can also be a stereotype in recruitment of fat = lazy, with the assumption that overweight people cannot be bothered to exercise and hence will be poor employees. A recent report said that 10% of the world is overweight, with particular increases in more affluent countries.

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