Sex researchers have long known that you cannot accurately study sex and sexuality without considering the body. Bodies, after all, are the vehicle through which we interact with other people, as well as ourselves. And, adding to other forms of diversity, like race, gender, and sexual orientation, it is crucial to recognize the diversity that exists among bodies: size, shape, ability.
Weight-Based Prejudice And Discrimination
Increasingly, social scientists are also recognizing the importance of studying the body. For example, a number of sociologists have began paying attention to prejudice and discrimination that exists on the basis of weight. Like any other form of discrimination, weight-based discrimination, which is experienced more by people categorized as overweight and obese, has been linked with health. That is, people who experience weight-based discrimination experience worse physical and mental health as a result of these discriminatory experiences.
Fatphobia And Health
Fatphobia, or prejudice towards plus-sized people, and weight-based discrimination are now being recognized as serious threats to plus-sized people’s well-being, health, and even success in school and work. In direct challenge to the medical research linking obesity to poorer health comes the finding that plus-sized people’s social experiences, at least in part, contributes to weight-based health disparities. Purdue University sociologists Markus Schafer and Kenneth Ferraro found in a 10-year national study that one’s subjective weight status predicts their health status — not their “actual” weight status (based on body mass index, or BMI). And, one’s subjective weight status as overweight or obese was the product of past experiences of weight-based discrimination.
Three factors exacerbate fatphobia: 1) who’s to blame for one’s weight and size, 2) plus-sized people’s own, internalized fatphobia, and 3) the absence of a positive collective plus-size community. Taking race as an example, one’s racial identity is seen as unchangable, thus equal rights for all people regardless of race are granted. (This is different, for example, than sexual orientation, which many continue to argue is chosen.) Indeed, people of color who have internalized negative views toward their own racial group have been found to experience worse physical and mental health. However, people of color who have a positive racial identity and strong connection with their racial group are protected from the negative health consequences of racial discrimination.
A future without fatphobia and with a celebration of body diversity depends, at least in part, on challenging cultural and internalized fatphobia and fostering a greater sense of self-acceptance and pride about one’s body in each individual.