Visual Exposure to Obesity

You don’t have to look very hard to find people who are scared to look at people with obesity. Plus-size model Tess Holliday on the cover of People magazine this week flushed out quite a few people worried about visual exposure to obesity.

“Is People magazine glamorizing obesity?” asks Katrina Fernandez on her blog at Fernandez describes herself as having “morbid obesity” and describes her belief that “a large part of being obese is living in denial.”

These themes get repeated over and over again in headlines and social media. They confront us with a false choice between denial of the health effects of obesity or self-stigma as an essential tool for overcoming the disease.

Even researchers concern themselves with these questions. Eric Robinson and Paul Christiansen published a new report on four studies of the effects that visual exposure to obesity had on women regarding their attraction to overweight men and preference for dating them. They conclude that “Exposure to male obesity increases female attraction toward overweight men and may affect mate choice.”

There was a time when people kept health problems like breast cancer and depression hidden. People mostly didn’t talk about those conditions because of stigma. Now people talk more openly about these conditions and affirm people who face them. “Glamorizing” breast cancer just isn’t a problem.

So please, can we set aside these stupid conversations about “normalizing” obesity? People have always come in many shapes and sizes. They always will. Denial of that fact is no more helpful than denial of the health effects of obesity. Dealing with obesity does not mean conforming to a one-size-fits-all ideal for body image.

Everyone at every size deserves respect.

Click here for the publication in IJO by Robinson and Christiansen. Click here from some blunt commentary (delicate ears might be offended) from xoJane.

Medusa, painting by Franz von Stuck / WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.