A new University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions study finds that a large proportion of participants in a study on weight stigma reported their disagreement with negative stereotypes about people with higher weight, such as being lazy, lacking willpower or having poor eating habits.
However, most of the participants said they nonetheless struggled with positive self-image because of their weight.
The findings, which appear online ahead of the print version of the journal Body Image, suggest the mechanisms of internalized weight stigma are more complicated than previously thought, said lead investigator Rebecca Pearl, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the PHHP department of clinical and health psychology.
“Internalization of negative stereotypes may be so deeply ingrained that individuals may not even be aware that they hold these beliefs. It can be difficult to step back and recognize our own biases, even when they apply to ourselves,” Pearl said.
Internalized stigma has been defined as awareness of negative societal attitudes and stereotypes about one’s group, agreeing with them and applying the beliefs to yourself.
“Most participants in our study did not agree with negative stereotypes about weight. They reported that they did not think the stereotypes were true of themselves or others, yet they were still scoring high on a scale of internalized stigma and reporting that they were experiencing negative thoughts and feelings about their weight,” Pearl said. “These findings challenge our existing theoretical understanding of internalized weight stigma, which assumes that individuals must agree with negative stereotypes and apply them to themselves before experiencing low self-esteem and self-worth due to weight.”