January 11, 2019

How fat-shaming spread across the globe

Sapiens -Cross-cultural research among 11 Western and non-Western traditional societies suggests there has been a rapid and recent “globalization of fat stigma.” Until at least the 1990s, several of these societies, including American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and Tanzania, were considered “fat positive,” meaning they demonstrated a preference for plump bodies. But in the last two decades, with increasing globalization, these same countries have begun to stigmatize fat. Whereas fatness was once thought in those cultures to represent fertility, wealth, and beauty, it is now associated with ugliness, sexlessness, and undesirability. It should be emphasized that these stigmas cut across emotional, psychological, and physical categories at both the individual and societal levels.

The reasons for this rapid transition are complex, but research in Fiji and elsewhere suggests it occurred with the introduction of television and global media and the resulting exposure to largely Western culture, mores, and entertainment. Now, in addition to the health and physiological problems associated with fatness, there is well-documented emotional damage due to the “pathologization of heaviness” in these societies.

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