U.S. Successfully Exports Body Loathing

Illustration for article titled U.S. Successfully Exports Body Loathing

While occasionally American women are reminded that other cultures don't put such a premium on thinness (see: Oprah and Jessica Simpson marveling at places where bigger women are considered most attractive), a new study found that Western prejudices against fat people are being adopted in areas where being overweight was once celebrated.


Arizona State University researchers surveyed people in nine different areas around the world and found that in every location, overweight people are increasingly viewed as "ugly, undesirable, lazy, or lacking in self control," according to EurekAlert. Biological anthropologist Alexandra Brewis, who co-authored the study, said:

"Previously, a wide range of ethnographic studies have shown that many human societies preferred larger, plumper bodies. Plump bodies represented success, generosity, fertility, wealth, and beauty."

However, when presented with various statements about body size, people from the U.S., the U.K., Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Tanzania, and American Samoa all seemed to have adopted a stigma against overweight people. Researchers found attitudes are changing quickly, too. Previous researched showed people in American Samoa didn't have a negative view of large bodies as recently as the 1990s. Co-author Amber Wutich explained:

"People from sites that have adopted fat-negative attitudes more recently seem to be more strident. The late adopters were more likely to agree with the most judgmental statements like 'fat people are lazy.'"

The study didn't focus on why attitudes are changing, but the authors speculated that, "newer forms of educational media, including global public health campaigns" are to blame. A previous study pointed to greater access to Western media sources. Researchers found that while Fijian culture traditionally prizes a plumper body shape, after TV was introduced to the island in 1995 there was a sharp rise in eating disorders.


Of course, even in our own culture not everyone considers thinness to be attractive (which is why it was a little weird to see Oprah and Jessica Simpson gawking at men finding bigger women sexy). But the prevailing message in our society is that thin is good and fat is bad. And unfortunately, it seems we're doing a good job of promoting that idea around the world.

Negative Attitudes Toward Fat Bodies Going Global, Study Finds [EurekAlert]
Beauty Around The World [Oprah.com]


Earlier: Price Of Beauty: Jessica Visits Ugandan Fattening Hut
Higher ED Risk For Girls Whose Friends Watch TV

Image via Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock.


Violet Baudelaire

For me, it also has a lot to do with changing socio-economic factors and their impact on weight. Many years ago (and still now in developing countries), plumpness/fat indicated that the person was wealthy and could afford enough food and live a leisurely life. This was a sign of their socioeconomic status and perceived advantage. Poor people were the thin ones - lack of food and manual labor combined to make this so, as well as the fact they often couldn't afford the rich foods that lead to easy weight gain (creams, cheese, red meat, white bread)

Now it's the opposite - plumpness/fat is associated with lower socioeconomic status in fully developed countries. The poor imbibe the fattening foods which are cheap, readily available, and they have the least time/knowledge/access to exercise and nutrition. The wealthy are those who have access and education on quality foods, gyms, etc. If you have an American mindset, we're taught culturally that poor people are lazy - so if fat/lazy=poor=ugly, where as thin=rich=attractive.

I'm not negating the role that magazines, etc play in all of this - but there is much more going on here than simply human beings are suddenly changing their minds on what's hot. Hotness has always been somewhat arbitrary depending on culture, but it seems a bit ethnocentric to just say Americanism is spreading when really this could have as much to do with changes within the country itself leading to a parallel experience as to what this culture started going through many many years ago