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Old 07-03-2004, 08:31 AM   #1  
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Default Overweight, formerly overweight, and normal weight body image

This was posted by mette in The Library in the General Forum. I thought it was great material for here, and she gave me permission to cross post. Thanks, mette!

Body image among average weight, currently overweight, and formerly overweight women


While doing a search for research literature (about something entirely different), I came across a new and interesting journal with some really good articles about body image. The journal is called "Body Image", and this article is from Volume I, issue 2 (2004):
“Tables of Contents & Abstracts” (on the right) lists issues of the journal.
The full title of the article is: “Body image and psychosocial differences among stable average weight, currently overweight, and formerly overweight women: the role of stigmatizing experiences”, and the full list of authors: N.M. Annis, T.F. Cash, and J.I. Hrabosky.

Annis et al. compared three groups of women: stable average weight, currently overweight and formerly overweight women.
The formerly overweight women had been at least 10 pounds overweight and had been of average weight for the past 2 or more years.
Results about Body image: currently overweight women had significantly poorer body image than the other two groups, and formerly overweight women slightly poorer than stable average weight women.
Both formerly and currently overweight women experienced significantly greater over-weight preoccupation and dysfunctional appearance investment than did the stable average weight women.
Results about psychosocial functioning: the currently overweight women reported poorer self-esteem, less overall satisfaction with their life, more symptoms of binge eating. The researchers found no significant differences in social anxiety or depressive symptoms between the three groups of women.

Annis et al. comment that while formerly overweight women may not continue to suffer from significant dissatisfaction or distress about their appearance, possibly because they have lost weight, preoccupation about their weight and appearance persist.
The authors call this “phantom fat” in formerly overweight women. At least 2 years after loosing weight, the women are no longer so dissatisfied with their body, but still are significantly cognizant and anxious about their weight.
So whereas sustained weight loss brings more body image satisfaction, perhaps the threat of weight gain and the past experiences of social adversities do not completely dissipate. But at the same time - this may promote healthy eating and exercise behaviors in the prevention of weight regain. Social self-esteem may be partially restored with moderate weight loss.

As for experienced stigmatizing because of overweight – they found that the formerly overweight women reported stigmatizing experiences comparable to the currently overweight women throughout life (childhood, adolescence, adulthood). But the formerly overweight women seemed to be largely unaffected by these experiences after weight loss. Perhaps the reduction of weight related stigma in their current lives reduces the impact of past prejudice and discrimination.

I suppose none of their findings were surprising or new in any way. But I still like that researchers actually look at the psychological consequences of being overweight, of losing weight, of not losing weight, etc. There’s a lot of biological research on obesity, but research on body image and psychosocial functioning is harder to find.

It is interesting that they found that even if body image improved when the women lost weight, their preoccupation with weight did not go away. This concept of “phantom fat” and what it implies for women who have lost weight is well worth a study on its own in my opinion. For some of us it really is a slow process to get used to different/thinner/thin bodies.
I also found it very interesting that formerly overweight women had experienced just as much stigmatizing because of overweight as currently overweight women, but they was no longer affected by it. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that it’s more painful when you’re still living with the weight everyday, and are probably still being stigmatized.

Last edited by mette : Today at 07:02 AM. Reason: to add link
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