How Being Heavier Drives Down Self-Esteem

Posted on March 28, 2016

Photo: flickr

Two UC Santa Barbara psychologists, Alison Blodorn and Brenda Major, set out to examine whether and how the anticipation of rejection -- versus the actual experience of it -- impacts an individual's emotional well-being.

The researchers recruited 160 men and women of various body weights, aged 18 to 29, who identified as heterosexual. Each young adult was asked to give a five-minute speech describing why he or she would make a good dating partner and was told the speech would be evaluated by an attractive member of the opposite sex.

"Heavier women -- or those with a higher BMI -- who thought their weight would be seen expected to be rejected by their evaluator," Blodorn explained. "This anticipated rejection led to lower self-esteem, greater feelings of self-consciousness and greater stress."

She noted that the same conditions that were detrimental to heavier women had the opposite effect for thinner women who saw their weight as an asset. "Thinner women expected to be accepted and this led to increased feelings of positive self-esteem, decreased self-consciousness and less stress," Blodorn said. "It's not too surprising, given that thinness and beauty are so intertwined in our society." The results, they discovered, depended on participants' weight and gender.

The results differed for men. "Interestingly, we didn't see any of the same negative effects for heavier men," Blodorn said. "They didn't expect to be rejected by an attractive female who was going to rate their dating potential when their weight was fully seen.

This experiment suggests -- for heavier women, at least -- that direct experiences with negative weight-based treatment are not necessary for weight stigma to have negative effects.

"Even in the absence of actual experiences with negative weight-based treatment, anticipated rejection can lead to negative psychological health," Blodorn said. "Given that weight bias is so pervasive in our society, these findings have huge implications for the psychological well-being of heavier women.

Category(s):Self-Confidence, Self-Esteem

Source material from University of California - Santa Barbara

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