New Study Reveals That, Hey, Weight Stigmatization is an Issue for Men Too

These days, there’s more awareness about “fat shaming” than ever before.

This is coupled with an embrace of the fuller-figured females in everything from social media campaigns to larger models on fashion week runways and the pages of Sports Illustrated. Anyone who publicly fat shames is quickly thrown under the bus at the hands of the Internet.

Just ask Nicole Arbour.

We’re at a critical point when it comes to how we view and celebrate the female body. Curves are finally coveted again and we’ve left the Barbie Doll ideal behind (well, for the most part).

The thing is, when it comes to dialogue surrounding weight stigmatization, it typically centres on women. A new study, however, reveals that men experience weight-based stigmas as well.

The study, led by Enrica Ruggs, Ph.D., Michelle R. Hebl, Ph.D., and Amber Williams, Ph.D., was designed to test whether heavier men would experience more interpersonal discrimination and included a series of experiments.

In the first experiment, six “heavier” men posed as job applicants and customers in retail environments. The participants – between the ages of 18 and 21 – all wore a size medium shirt and had an average waist size of 30 inches.

First, the men entered 102 stores as usual. Then, they donned an obesity prosthesis, an extra-large shirt, and 40-inch-waist pants and walked into the other 120 stores included in the study. Half of them pretended to be customers in search of a birthday gift for their sister, whole the other half pretended to be applying for jobs at the stores.

Also on hand was a team of five female observers, who pretended to be shopping while the experiment went down. The team recorded any formal discrimination observed towards the men. This could range from anything like the salesperson neglecting to greet them to denying assistance when requested. The observers were also asked to record any less obvious – or interpersonal – discrimination that occurred. This includes things like a lack of eye contact, to avoidance, pursed lips, or an attempt to end the interaction all together.

Upon analysis of the results, it was revealed that the men didn’t encounter noticeably more formal discrimination when they appeared obese – either as job applicants or customers.

They did, however, experience a lot more interpersonal discrimination when they looked obese. When the men wore the obese suits, they were treated less personably than when they didn’t. The most noticeable contrast occurred when the men who posed as customers.

As a result, the authors stress an importance of a focus on interpersonal discrimination and subtle behaviours along with formal discrimination in studying the experience of obese individuals. Additionally (and definitely not an afterthought), the research highlights the need to include men in dialogue concerning weight stigmatization.

Just because females get more attention when it comes to weight stigmatization, we should not assume that stigmatization is more common for them, say the authors.