Prejudices - Obesity

Anything that does not fit into the above categories, but is related to psychology, including discussion of public and media perceptions of psychology, satire related to psychology, etc.
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mungle
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Post by mungle » Fri Feb 04, 2011 7:33 pm

Obese people seem to get much more prejudice that others engaging in harmful behaviour (even when behaviour such as speeding directly threatens others' lives) because it can be instantly seen. Also, we seem to view others' weights as ok to gossip about, criticise etc. whereas other personal choices are not reviled with such glee or disgust. Weight is often used as a short-hand measure by women to judge success or failure.....she's married, independent, had wonderful kids, travelled the world, totally renovated a house, broken a world record, reached the top of her career but ooooooh she's put on a couple of stone!
Last edited by mungle on Fri Feb 04, 2011 11:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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workingmama
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Post by workingmama » Fri Feb 04, 2011 8:44 pm

Indeed - fat being a feminist issue, and all that. I liked thinking about Jane Doe's comment on the literal death of the self. There's something enormously poignant about the image that sentence brings.

I used to keep a 'prejudice diary' - it was part of my counselling training. A friend and I used to pick a fresh prejudice each and co-work on them until we felt ready to move on to the next one, although we weren't 'allowed' to if we didn't both agree we were good enough to move on. Nearly eight years on, and I'm still not worked through them all - sigh. I still really get a lot from the process though.

Did you have a plan for working through this one, Kieran, or were you just having a bit of a mulling over the idea of prejudice at the moment?

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miriam
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Post by miriam » Fri Feb 04, 2011 9:36 pm

I agree that people often use extra weight as a shield, but I don't think this is a 'conscious choice' either.

Maybe I'm as guilty of this as the next person, as when I was single I used to like the fact that (in my thinking) my fat filtered out all the shallow people I wouldn't have liked that might have tried to chat me up if I fitted their mould of attractiveness. I think if I'd be naturally slim and fitted a tabloid idea of an attractive woman I'd have found a different way to 'sabotage' being too widely perceived in that way.... but then, I've always been a bit contrary.

Debates like this make me feel like I ought to have read more feminist literature. We've discussed this before, but I've always been a bit put off by some aspects of the feminist agenda as I perceive it. I should at least have read Orbach, but if anyone wanted to recommend me any other easy-going and non-extreme examples of books on feminism I'd be prepared to give one or two a try.
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jane doe
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Post by jane doe » Sat Feb 05, 2011 11:07 am

I'd recommend 'Fat is a Feminist Issue' (an obvious one, but I really like it), 'Bodies' and 'Hunger Strike' by Susie Orbach

I'd also recommend 'Fed Up and Hungry' and 'Psychotherapy with Women' by Marilyn Lawrence (et al)

I find both of these authors really inspiring, and there's no off-puttingly extreme rhetoric

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workingmama
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Post by workingmama » Sun Feb 06, 2011 10:27 am

Personally, I adore a bit of off-puttingly extreme rhetoric :lol:

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Post by jane doe » Sun Feb 06, 2011 11:15 am

Ha ha - yes, totally :D But I usually reserve that for my reading on anti-psychology ;)

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Post by eponymous85 » Sun Feb 06, 2011 11:17 am

I'm nit a big fan if orbach tbh, I've only read Bodies but I find her style too journalistic (yet presented as factual evidence). I think im in a similar place to you Miriam; wanting to read more but nit really sure where to start. This was sparked off for me this Xmas when a relative bought me A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf. I read it cover to cover and found it just so inspiring! It's focussed on female achievement rather than body image butfeels like a really nice intro to feminist ideas. I think she also makes a very good point that really good writing shouldn't be driven by anger. Strange to feel like I agree with this as so much good literature as cine from strong passion; she just makes a really good case for it. Sorry slightly off topic :)
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othello
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Post by othello » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:10 pm

I think that although there may be some people who want to be obese for whatever reason (conscious or not) the vast majority would rather not be. Of couse, making healthier choices in terms of exercise and food/calorie intake would help with this difficulty but for many people there are complex psychological, social or physical reasons why they are unable to do those things in a way that is effective to reduce their weight. Things that aren't accounted for in the simple calories in/calories out model of overweight are factors like social stigma which means that overweight people are more reluctant to exercise in public, they may also be reluctant to eat in public leading to binging in private, restraint eating leading to binging, body dissatisfaction, cognitive distortions around weight, eating or food, "secondary gains" like access to services or a way of keeping others at a distance, emotional regulation ("I'll eat some chocolate, that will teach them" or "Yipee, I did it, wheres the cake"), easy of access to cheap unhealthy foods, perceived peer pressure to be able to enjoy unhealthy foods in the company of others, difficulties in achieving moderation or balance (which can be fueled by media campaigns which suggest to loose weight you need to eat less calories than an obese person needs just to stay alive), lack of motivation due to prior experiences of attempts to change not being successful, feeling that in a stressful world (or at a stressful time) the task of loosing alot of weight is too difficult to attempt, lack of support...I'm sure there is loads more but thats what springs to mind.. I think it's rarely "selfish" although easy for it to look that way!
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BlueCat
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Post by BlueCat » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:17 pm

There's also self esteem and self concept issues. If someone has always thought of themselves as fat (regardless of whether they were or are) then there's no point trying to be anything else, and so that person gets fat! Early puberty in girls (jiggly bits), having to wear glasses (fall off, poorer peripheral vision) make engagement in sports at school harder for some, which leads to less enjoyment etc.....

I thinkthat the "conscious" decisions start in adulthood, and by the time you get there you have a whole bundle of luggage and health/wellness behaviours that you didn't personally choose....
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Goats
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Post by Goats » Wed Feb 09, 2011 3:06 pm

Can I just say thanks to everyone I feel I have learnt a lot from some of the responses on this thread. :)

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Campion
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Post by Campion » Fri Feb 11, 2011 3:21 pm

workingmama wrote:Personally, I adore a bit of off-puttingly extreme rhetoric :lol:
You called? :wink:


I think the next thread on prejudice should somehow involve the forums collective views on psychiatrists... Not that I mean anything by that of course. :D




Campion.
'Think how many blameless lives are brightened by the blazing indiscretions of other people.' - Saki.

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miriam
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Post by miriam » Fri Feb 11, 2011 7:11 pm

I've started reading Fat is a Feminist Issue, and its quite interesting. Part of it I want to dismiss as not being relevant to me and now, because it is set within a late 1970s feminist framework, but part of it seems pretty interesting.

The stuff that sits well with me: There is an incongruence between the idea that the perfect woman feeds others (her man, her children, guests) but not herself. She is selfless, with the full meaning of that word. Being overweight has been made synonymous with failure and lack of self-control (as the start of this thread demonstrates) but food is also filling the void of unmet emotional needs because it is so associated with nurture. Fat neutralises the female as a sexual object, and says she wants to be judged on other merits. That being fat has secondary gains which are not always explicit and lead women to have cognitive dissonance about their eating, body image and weight goals.

The stuff that doesn't sit well with me: Orbach believes that fat is an adaptation to the oppression of women, that "getting fat is a very definite and purposeful act connected to women's social position". That thin women are seen as sex objects but with that comes the idea that they have nothing else to offer, they are incompetent and don't need to be taken seriously. That mothers teach their daughters to suppress their desires to be autonomous, energetic, self-directed and productive, and to meet the needs of others (and teach boys how to accept emotional support but not to provide it, and so women's needs remain unmet). She thinks mothers underfeed female babies both emotionally and physically, and are skewed in their parenting by the fact that being a mother is the only thing a woman is allowed to do well, or has any power in, so they are reluctant to allow their daughters to go on to be independent and relinquish this role. So fat becomes a visible sign of the conflict between mother and daughter.

It strikes me that she is basing a generalised theory on a skew sample (including herself) of women who have very distorted beliefs about eating and size. I can't tell in retrospect whether that is partly because of the work feminism has done in making women like me not feel these messages so strongly, or because these messages were never as universal as she believed.

I should say I've only read 51 pages so far (just over a quarter of the book), but I'm enjoying the intellectual journey so far, and thought I'd throw out some of my thoughts to add to this debate.
Miriam

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Post by miriam » Sat Feb 12, 2011 8:00 pm

I was talking to my mum (also a CP) about this thread today. She made a valid point which hasn't been covered here:

If we see a person who is anxious, we are sympathetic to the fact that this skews their life because it makes certain things difficult (eg going out where there are a lot of people, public speaking, interacting with others). We don't generally say "stop being such a wuss, its only a supermarket, everyone else can manage it" (at least not if we are in the mental health sphere, I hope). We accept that in their experience the meaning of that activity is different, for legitimate reasons to do with their life experiences which have made their thoughts and feelings about this thing different to that of most other people. We are sympathetic that although they are making choices that don't appear on the face of it to be rational, this isn't fully their choice, and they probably are the most affected by and the least happy with the outcomes.

So, when people are obese, why can't we be sympathetic to the fact that this skews their life because it makes certain things difficult (finding attractive clothing, being able to sit in standard chairs comfortably, being able to exercise, etc). Why is it okay for people to say "stop being such a lazy glutton, its only food/exercise, everyone else can manage it". We should accept that in their experience the meaning of that food/eating is different, for legitimate reasons to do with their life experiences which have made their thoughts and feelings about this thing different to that of most other people. We should be equally sympathetic that although they are making choices that don't appear on the face of it to be rational, this isn't fully their choice, and they are probably the most affected by and the least happy with the outcomes.
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h2eau
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Post by h2eau » Sun Feb 13, 2011 3:53 pm

As we tweeted on the ClinPsy twitter account, there's going to be a '4thought' short film on this topic next week entitled 'Does society discriminate against fat people? Is it genetics or greed?' Worth looking out for on channel 4...
We deem those happy who from experience of life have learnt to bear its ills without being overcome by them ~ C.G. Jung

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Re: Prejudices - Obesity

Post by Beggarsroost » Tue Apr 19, 2011 3:17 pm

Maybe this thread is a bit old now but I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading this thread! A very interesting topic that I myself have been thinking about a lot recently.

I dont mind saying that I too hold some prejudices around obseity and obese people. I too have never struggled with my weight but have people close to me who do and who are obese. Maybe its my inability to empathise but untill recently I always held the view that "if it makes you that miserable go on a diet and do some exercise!"

I have recently been questioning this thinking: why do I feel this way about obesity and not say drug users/alcoholics? surely these are also "choices" (for want of a better word) people have made that have a negative impact on society?

Also, I am lucky enough to be able to eat what I want and my weight never fluctuates too much. Who am I to say that because you happen to have a different matabolism to me/put weight on easier you are denied the pleasure of a takeaway/chocolate bar whenever you feel like it? I'm allowed because my BMI is lower? Thats an abhorrent way to think i sure everyone will agree.

Again just want to say thanks for opening up this debate!
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