Being obese is unhealthy and can be a precursor to numerous other health issues including diabetes and heart disease. Whenever a person is overweight, it does not matter where the excess weight is storied, the danger is equal. Despite this fact, when it comes to women, excess weight is acceptable as long as it is stored in the “right places”. The right places, according to society at large is the butt and hips.
Overweight and obese women are often stigmatized. But a new study has found that stigma is more often directed at a woman’s body shape than her weight.
The small study by Oklahoma State and Arizona State University found that overweight women with butt, hips, and thighs fat were less stigmatized than overweight women with belly fat. What’s more, overweight women that had belly fat were more stigmatized than obese woman with butt fat.
Sabrina Strings, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, who wasn’t involved in the study, was not surprised by the study’s finding.
“As a culture, we are well aware of the fact that hourglass shapes are valorized,” she told Insider. “Our society is telling people that they are not worthy as they are, and this is the thing that we need to work on.”
Researchers behind the study, published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science set out to determine how people perceive women with belly or butt fat.
In this study, researchers made graphics of underweight, average-weight, overweight, and obese females with different body shapes, and nearly 750 participants from three groups viewed the illustrations and rated characteristics associated with the bodies.
“The findings from this study are probably not surprising to most women, who have long talked about the importance of shape, or to anyone who has read a magazine article on ‘dressing for your shape’ that categorizes body shapes as apples, pears, hourglasses and the like,” Jaimie Arona Krems, first study author assistant professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University, said in a statement.
Beyond the stigma towards obese and overweight women, the study found that women who were underweight weren’t perceived favorably either. Participants stigmatized underweight women more than average-weight women.
These findings were consistent among all the participants who were white and Black, and living in the US or India.
Strings said the visuals in the study did not include different races, which isn’t representative of reality. Gathering data on the interplay between race, weight, and stigmatization would be useful, according to Strings.
“Would a dubiously named ‘average weight’ Black or Indian woman, for instance, face greater stigmatization than a heavier white woman? This research could provide even more valuable data about the world we live in,” Strings wrote in an email.
Strings said there are numerous consequences if women’s bodies don’t fall within society’s cookie-cutter version of a beautiful body.
“For women, and for especially women of color, there’s a narrow range of features that are deemed acceptable. And if you are falling outside of what’s deemed acceptable, you’re going to be ridiculed.”
Fat stigma can also affect your health. In one study, overweight women who were affected by fat shaming were found to be more at risk of heart disease and diabetes than average-weight women who had a positive image of their bodies. An earlier study found that primary care physicians view obesity treatments as less effective than treatments for other diseases.
Strings agreed that fat stigma in the doctor’s office can have negative health consequences. “Once they are at the doctor’s, if they tell them to lose weight, then they might force themselves into a very unhealthy diet.”