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Not all fat is created equal when it comes to body shaming

Photo by Kat Jayne of Pexels

In the world of apple-shaped and pear-shaped women, fat shaming in person and on social media has regrettably become the norm. And it turns out that body shape is adding another layer to fat stigma, in addition to body size and weight.

New research shows overweight women with abdominal fat are shamed more than overweight women with fat in the thighs, hips and backside (gluteofemoral fat), and the same holds true for obese women. In fact, overweight women with belly fat are more stigmatized than obese women with gluteofemoral fat, indicating that body shape is a factor of body shaming.

The findings underscore how pop culture trends with an emphasis on larger backsides have influenced thoughts on body shape. Further, not all fat is created equal since different types of fat can be associated with overall health. For example, abdominal fat is largely associated with diabetes and poor cardiovascular health, whereas fat on the hips, thighs and backside may promote the idea that a woman is fertile. However, body shape has not been studied much when it comes to body shaming.

"Because theories have not focused on body shape, we haven't tested for its importance and have missed one of the major drivers of fat stigma for some time,” Jaimie Arona Krems, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University and first author on the paper, said in a statement. “It is important to put data to this idea so we can improve interventions for people with overweight and obesity."

Krems and co-author Steven Neuberg, PhD, professor and chair of Arizona State University Department of Psychology, wanted to know if body shape plays a part in fat stigma. They showed illustrations of women with different body types of varying sizes to include underweight, average-weight, overweight and obese body types to 750 study participants of different ethnicities and two different countries.

Unsurprising to researchers, obese women were stigmatized more than overweight women in the study, while overweight women were stigmatized more than average weight women. On the flip side, underweight women were not viewed favorably in comparison to average weight women.

Fat shaming has been linked to reduced self-esteem, eating disorders and various psychological disorders, including anxiety, depression and body dysmorphia. It can also lead to additional weight gain.

“I hope these findings give us a better idea of how to target our future interventions to stop fat stigma—which we already know doesn't actually benefit anyone,” Neuberg told The Whipp.

While there much work to be done to eradicate fat and body shaming, companies are taking notice and taking action.

Popular dating app Bumble recently updated its terms and conditions by banning any type of body shaming on its platform. Bumble strictly warned it would ban users who violate the new rules and called body shaming unacceptable.

“Our particular data affirms what women have long known—that body shape is important in people's social perceptions of women,” Neuberg told The Whipp. “But I also think that women have the power to choose to ignore those social perceptions and do what's best for themselves and their mental and physical health.”

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