San Francisco, CA — America’s general preoccupation with body weight, body-type, and general weight-related considerations is beyond prevalent. The obsession often plays its way into eating disorders and tends to garner a lot of negative or misleading airtime. But what of the impact it can have in less dramatic fashions on women as a whole? There seems to be a lack of real person-to-person discourse on the weight scenario, and now a new study may shed some light on why that is.
The fear of judgment seems to be a cornerstone of why, despite all the nation’s interest in talking about weight generally, few people are interested in opening up about it personally.
A recent UC Santa Barbara study exposed the fact that overweight and obese women show signs of psychological, as well as physiological, stress during any situation where they are at risk of being judged for their weight. The stress is significantly higher than women who are over average weight or are underweight.
The research, led by stigma and self-esteem psychologist Brenda Major, took a sample of 99 women whose BMIs ranged from scores of 19 to 44. The women who participated took part in first impressions between potential romantic partners. In the study, each was asked to prepare a speech about the things which made a good dating partner. The participants were then taped and later given to male and female undergraduate research assistants who would rate the participants as potential partners. Participants in one half of the group were told they would be videotaped. The other half were told only audio would be taped.
Major had previously predicted that the videotaped group would show more signs of stress than average or underweight women within that same group.
“Appearance is a huge factor in dating and attraction for both men and women, but particularly for women,” Major said in a phone call with The Huffington Post. “And so that was part of the reason that we chose the dating domain [for the task]. Because it’s a physical appearance-relevant domain, particularly for young women… you realize that somebody might be judging you negatively based on some self-attributes.”
The research group measured the physiological stress through heart rate, blood pressure, and other factors. The outcomes were ranged on a 7-point scale.
“We found that when women believed their weight would be visible to evaluators, the higher their BMI, the greater their stress reactivity, as indexed by increases in MAP from the baseline. Furthermore, when they thought their weight was visible, the more overweight women were, the more cognitively depleted they were, as shown by impaired performance on a Stroop task following their speech.”
The stress should not be confused with a self-loathing, according to Major. The study noted that the fear of external judgment had little to do with general self-confidence.
“Even overweight women who are personally satisfied with their figure still show weight stigma threat effects,” Major wrote in the research paper.
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