BOOK REVIEWS: Weight Bias: Nature, Consequences and Remedies

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
January/February 2006 Volume 17, Number 1
©2006 Gürze Books

(Edited by Kelly D. Brownell, Rebecca M. Puhl, Marlene B. Schwartz, and Leslie Rudd. New York, NY: Guilford Press; 2005; 320 pp; hardcover; $35.00)

Compiled by leading scholars, this welcome volume pulls together a large amount of information about the nature and extent of weight bias, and the ways in which society overtly and covertly discriminates against obese persons. From a social-psychological perspective, such discrimination isn’t very surprising, since, except for the few saints in our midst, humankind seems to have a predilection to discriminate against those who appear physically deviant, especially when their appearance runs counter to what society has defined as “ideal” for a given time and place. In our culture, although obesity is clearly increasingly prevalent and, therefore, at least statistically less deviant than it was before, being fat is clearly “out,” particularly for women. Correspondingly, in most situations, “fat-ist” discrimination impacts women more than men, but men are affected as well. As laid out in the excellent chapters in this book, such bias is very prominent in the media and starts early, even among children as young as 4 to 5 years of age.

For those seeking juicy facts and figures about weight bias, the chapters in this book provide a bounty: Studies suggest, for example, that weight accounts for about 35% of the variance in hiring, and that obese women earn roughly 3.5% to 30% less than non-obese women for comparable work. In addition, obese people experience far more negative attitudes from health professionals and other staff in health-care settings, and much more. The social origins of stigma are fully explored. The destructive costs of stigma and of its operational offspring such as teasing take major tolls on the self-esteem and self-image of the obese recipients of the overt and covert slights, slings and arrows.

What can be done? Of practical importance, legal aspects of weight discrimination are discussed in detail, as are practical approaches to combating weight bias and the stigma associated with obesity. The final chapters, which suggest strategies that may help prevent and alleviate discrimination related to weight, will be of particular interest and substantial value to the parents, educators, health-care providers and policy-makers who take up this worthwhile fight.

— J.Y

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