A new study by Arizona State University researchers have found that negative attitudes toward overweight people are becoming the norm around the world.
Although the U.S. has increasingly idolized thinness, until recently, the rest of the world still appreciated people with a little meat on their bones.
“Previously, a wide range of ethnographic studies have shown that many human societies preferred larger, plumper bodies,” said Dr. Alexandra Brewis, a biological anthropologist and one of the study’s authors. “Plump bodies represented success, generosity, fertility, wealth, and beauty.
But the times are changing. With American media and culture fast becoming our biggest export, many countries have adopted our hostile views toward overweight people.
According to Eureka Alert, the study surveyed people from around the world to gauge their feelings about weight.
Eureka Alert reported:
“The researchers surveyed people in Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, the U.S., and the U.K. Also included were American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and Tanzania—cultures that have traditionally been thought of as fat-positive. People were asked if they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about body size. Some statements were fat-negative (‘Fat people are lazy’), others were fat-positive (‘A big woman is a beautiful woman’).
The responses across these diverse cultures were largely congruent with Western attitudes, the researchers found. What’s more, the highest fat stigma scores were not in the U.S. or the U.K., ‘but rather Mexico, Paraguay, and—perhaps most surprisingly—in American Samoa,’ the researchers write.
The change in attitudes in American Samoa has happened with remarkable speed, says Dr. Brewis. ‘When I was doing research in the Samoas in the 1990s, we found people starting to take on thinner body ideals, but they didn’t yet have discrediting ideas about large bodies,’ she said. ‘But that appears to be changing very quickly.’
‘People from sites that have adopted fat-negative attitudes more recently seem to be more strident,” said cultural anthropologist Amber Wutich, another of the study’s authors. ‘The late adopters were more likely to agree with the most judgmental statements like ‘fat people are lazy.'”
Despite there being more overweight people than underweight people in the world, this study highlights the rapid change in perception towards weight, and underscores just how difficult things can be when you don’t quite fit the prevailing standard of beauty.