Body Image and Psychosocial Differences Among Stable Average Weight, Currently Overweight, and Formerly Overweight Women: The Role of Stigmatizing Experiences

Body Image. 2004 May;1(2):155-67. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2003.12.001.


Substantial research has compared obese and nonobese persons on body image and psychosocial adjustment. While differences in body satisfaction are often observed, the literature is less clear on other dimensions. Extant differences are typically thought to result from the social stigmatization and maltreatment experienced by obese persons, especially females. The present study of 165 women compared three cohorts who were currently overweight, never overweight, or formerly overweight. Relative to never-overweight women, currently overweight women reported more body dissatisfaction/distress, overweight preoccupation, and dysfunctional appearance investment, as well as more binge eating, lower social self-esteem, and less satisfaction with life. Consistent with the "phantom fat" phenomenon, formerly overweight women were comparable to currently overweight women but worse than never-overweight women on overweight preoccupation and dysfunctional appearance investment. Correlations confirmed that, among overweight but not formerly overweight women, more frequent stigmatizing experiences during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood were significantly associated with currently poorer body image and psychosocial functioning. Scientific and clinical implications of the findings are discussed.