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Creatively Re-Defining Fat: Identification Predicts Strategic Responses to Stigma, Ingroup Attitudes, and Well-Being

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Abstract

Antifat stigma is pervasive, often incurring deleterious effects on well-being among fat women. Based on predictions from Social Identity Theory, we examined the relationship between fat group identification, individual and collective responses to stigma, body satisfaction and self-esteem among a community-based sample of fat women. Fat group identification was found to predict collective social change and body affirmation endorsement along with reduced support for individual change through weight loss. Fat identification also predicted a preference for affiliation with other fat people, stronger perceptions of size discrimination, and less antifat prejudice. Implications of creatively redefining fat to affirm self-worth are discussed.
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Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
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Creatively Re-Defining Fat: Identification
Predicts Strategic Responses to Stigma,
Ingroup Attitudes, and Well-Being
Olivia J. Lindlya, Michelle R. Nario-Redmondb & Jeffrey G. Noelc
a Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University
b Hiram College
c University of Missouri–St. Louis
Published online: 12 May 2014.
To cite this article: Olivia J. Lindly, Michelle R. Nario-Redmond & Jeffrey G. Noel (2014) Creatively
Re-Defining Fat: Identification Predicts Strategic Responses to Stigma, Ingroup Attitudes, and Well-
Being, Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society, 3:2, 179-195, DOI:
10.1080/21604851.2014.865968
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21604851.2014.865968
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Fat Studies, 3:179–195, 2014
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 2160-4851 print/2160-486X online
DOI: 10.1080/21604851.2014.865968
Creatively Re-Defining Fat: Identification
Predicts Strategic Responses to Stigma, Ingroup
Attitudes, and Well-Being
OLIVIA J. LINDLY
Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University
MICHELLE R. NARIO-REDMOND
Hiram College
JEFFREY G. NOEL
University of Missouri–St. Louis
Antifat stigma is pervasive, often incurring deleterious effects on
well-being among fat women. Based on predictions from Social
Identity Theory, we examined the relationship between fat group
identification, individual and collective responses to stigma, body
satisfaction and self-esteem among a community-based sample of
fat women. Fat group identification was found to predict collec-
tive social change and body affirmation endorsement along with
reduced support for individual change through weight loss. Fat
identification also predicted a preference for affiliation with other
fat people, stronger perceptions of size discrimination, and less
antifat prejudice. Implications of creatively redefining fat to affirm
self-worth are discussed.
KEYWORDS antifat attitudes, collective coping strategies, fat
stigma, individual coping strategies, social identity, well-being
Prevailing, negative stereotypes of fat individuals1(Agerström & Rooth, 2011)
contribute to antifat attitudes (AFA) and prejudice (Crandall, 1994). In turn,
antifat prejudice is associated with size discrimination across educational,
home, health care, and employment settings (Andreyeva, Puhl, & Brownell,
2008; Roehling, Roehling, & Pichler, 2007). Beyond overt discrimination,
Address correspondence to Olivia J. Lindly, CDRC, 707 SW Gaines Road, Portland, OR
97239. E-mail: lindlyo@onid.oregonstate.edu
179
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180 O. J. Lindly et al.
fat stigma may threaten the subjective well-being of those who are stig-
matized. The purpose of this article is to examine how those stigmatized
as fat—particularly women—may counteract this threat via positive social
identification and coping strategies designed to challenge fat stigma.
The propagation of fat stigma can exert a substantial toll upon the well-
being of individuals who often internalize AFA (Crandall, 1994; Schwartz,
Vartanian, Nosek, & Brownell, 2006). Internalized fat stigma may elicit
adverse physiological responses, consistent with stress-based models of
disease (Muennig, Lubetkin, Jia, & Franks, 2006). Negative psychological out-
comes including depression, body image dissatisfaction, and low self-esteem
have also been demonstrated, particularly among fat women (Major, Eliezer,
&Rieck,2012; Puhl & Heuer, 2010).
Placing the negative psychological impact of fat stigma into a broader
social perspective, being categorized as part of a stigmatized group is threat-
ening to the self because a positive self-concept is a necessary cornerstone
for human functioning. Because the self-concept consists not only of one’s
individual attributes but also one’s identification with social groups (Turner,
Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherall, 1987), people are motivated to hold a
positive view of their group memberships. This is a basic tenet of Social
Identity Theory (SIT) and has received much empirical support (Hogg &
Abrams, 1988).
The problem faced by anyone categorized within a stigmatized group
is how to create and maintain a positive sense of self (Major et al, 2012).
Yet the self-concept is resilient insofar as members of stigmatized groups
cope with threats to self via identity enhancement strategies. Specifically,
stigmatized people can employ individual or collective change strategies
to ameliorate the negative psychological outcomes of experiencing social
inequity (Branscombe & Ellemers, 1998). Individual change strategies are
oriented toward the enhancement of each individual’s status; whereas, col-
lective change strategies focus on enhancing the entire group’s status either
by altering perceptions of their value (social creativity) or improving their
actual social standing (social change; Turner et al., 1987).
Individual change strategies are often conceptualized as ways individ-
uals attempt to distance themselves from a low status group (Branscombe
& Ellemers, 1998). For fat people, individual change strategies may include
dieting and other weight-loss regimens, or undergoing surgical procedures,
such as gastric bypass or liposuction. Historically in the United States, indi-
vidual change strategies have and continue to be the most widely promoted
by the medical care system (Lupton, 1995).
Collective social creativity strategies are ways individuals attempt
to positively redefine certain aspects or value alternative dimensions of
their stigmatized groups to mitigate social devaluation or identity threat
(Branscombe & Ellemers, 1998). For fat people, social creativity strategies
may involve downward social comparisons at the expense of other low status
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Creatively Re-Defining Fat 181
groups (e.g., “I may be fat, but at least I am not disabled”); re-appropriation
of previously derogatory language (e.g., reclaiming “fat” as a positive term);
and reaffirmation of group attributes stereotypically perceived as negative
(e.g., promoting that larger people can be healthy and beautiful). Emphasis
of positive group attributes indirectly related to weight as most relevant to
self- and/or group-evaluations may also be employed (Puhl & Brownell,
2003).
Collective social change strategies are similarly rooted in the fundamen-
tal awareness that a given low status group has as much worth as higher
status groups. Individuals who utilize social change strategies further believe
that their group’s low status is illegitimate, propelling them to confront or
challenge the status quo to raise their group’s actual status (Tajfel & Turner,
1979). Fat individuals have for the most part employed constitutional chal-
lenges and other political platforms using social activism to promote anti–size
discrimination policies and systemically advance fat acceptance (Fletcher,
2009).
Individuals’ use of certain strategies may be contingent upon the extent
to which they identify with low status groups (Ellemers, Doosje, & Spears,
1997). Degree of identification with a group is often operationalized as the
group’s centrality to an individual’s self-concept. People who are highly iden-
tified as members of their group report higher commitment to that group,
see themselves as more similar to other members and express less desire
to “defect” to higher-status groups compared to those who are not highly
identified (Echebarria-Echabe, 2009). Nario-Redmond, Noel, and Fern (2012)
found that higher identification with the disability community predicted less
self-reported use of individual change strategies, such as seeking medical
intervention to attempt elimination of a disability, and greater reported use
of social change and social creativity strategies. Importantly, these associ-
ations between social identification and strategy use were significant even
after controlling for permeability of group boundaries (i.e., visibility of and
proportion of lifetime with a disability). Those who are highly identified with
a stigmatized group may then prefer social change to change in individual
status, even when individual change is a relatively feasible option.
Research has also tested the extent to which social identification and
efforts toward collective change predict well-being. The self-protective func-
tion of high ingroup identification has been supported in studies among
women (Schmitt, Branscombe, Kobrynowicz, & Owen, 2002), ethnic and
sexual minority groups (Branscombe, Schmitt, & Harvey, 1999; Frable, Platt,
& Hoey, 1998), older adults (Garstka, Schmitt, Branscombe, & Hummert,
2004), and people with mental and physical disabilities (Nario-Redmond
et al., 2012). Furthermore, studies have found that collective coping strate-
gies focused on challenging social stigma (i.e., through creative affirmation
or working for political change) are more strongly associated with psycho-
logical well-being than individual change strategies among several low status
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182 O. J. Lindly et al.
groups including ethnic minorities (Outten, Schmitt, Garcia, & Branscombe,
2009) and people with disabilities (Nario-Redmond et al., 2012).
Studies of strategy use and well-being among fat people have primarily
examined psychological outcomes associated with individual change strate-
gies, particularly weight loss regimens (Bryan & Tiggemann, 2001;Kral,
Sjostrom, & Sullivan, 1992). These studies assessed well-being (e.g., depres-
sion, self-esteem, confidence, cheerfulness) before and after weight-loss
interventions. Although improved outcomes following weight loss have been
demonstrated, these were shown within a relatively proximal time frame
and only emerged once fat individuals had lost enough weight to avoid
being recognized as belonging to the stigmatized group (Rippe et al., 1998).
Transformation through individual weight loss is both difficult to achieve
and challenging to maintain (Gaesser, 2009). Additionally, Puhl and Brownell
(2003) suggested that fat people who use individual change strategies may
be more likely to blame themselves for the negative outcomes resulting from
their stigmatized status by maintaining the belief that weight is a control-
lable, personal attribute, which can also result in lower self-esteem (Crocker,
Cornwell, & Major, 1993).
By contrast, the benefits of collective change strategies for fat people
have become increasingly evident from evaluations of the Health at Every
Size (HAES) model and other self-affirming approaches promoting health
regardless of current size. Described as “the new peace movement” (Bacon,
2008, p. 157), a paradigm shift, and “an alternative public health model for
people of all sizes” (Burgard, 2009, p. 42), HAES is guided by the follow-
ing principles: accepting and respecting the diversity of body shapes and
sizes; recognizing health and well-being are multi-dimensional; and promot-
ing all aspects of health and well-being for people of all sizes including
balanced eating and individually appropriate, life-enhancing physical activ-
ity rather than exercise solely focused on weight loss (National Association
to Advance Fat Acceptance, 2010). Together these principles support cogni-
tions and behaviors that, through the lens of SIT, seem most closely aligned
with social creativity. Initial results suggest that this type of strategy may yield
positive psychological and behavioral changes (Leblanc et al., 2012).
The present study was designed to integrate and extend these disparate
empirical findings regarding strategy use by testing four SIT-derived hypothe-
ses. This study focused specifically on the experience of fat women because
women are more susceptible to experiencing fat stigma than men (Fikkan
& Rothblum, 2012). We are aware of no studies to date that have tested
the associations among weight group (fat) social identification, strategy use,
ingroup attitudes, and well-being among fat women. Given that body mass
index (BMI) has previously been found to be significant predictor of ingroup
attitudes (Crandall, 1994) and strategic coping strategies (McKinley, 2004)
among fat women, and childhood weight status has been found to pre-
dict their psychological well-being (Sanderson, Patton, McKercher, Dwyer, &
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Creatively Re-Defining Fat 183
Venn, 2011; Viner & Cole, 2005) these variables were also examined in the
present structured survey to test the following hypotheses:
1. High identification with fat as a shared group characteristic would be
associated with stronger endorsement of collective change strategies.
2. Low group identification would conversely be associated with stronger
endorsement of individual change strategies.
3. High identification would be associated with stronger preference for affil-
iation with other fat people, lower antifat attitudes, and greater perceived
size discrimination.
4. High identification (and endorsement of collective change strategies)
would each uniquely predict enhanced psychological well-being, includ-
ing global self-esteem and body satisfaction.
METHODS
Participants and Procedure
Fifty women from 18 to 69 years old (M=30.84) were recruited from
psychology courses (n=12), weight-loss (n=13) and fat advocacy
organizations (n=25), in the greater Portland, Oregon, and Seattle,
Washington areas. Flyers indicated that the study aimed to better understand
how women of size view their bodies in relation to their identities and
weight-related attitudes. Participant BMI ranged from 25.00 to 62.80 (M=
37.44), and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(2011), 20% were considered “overweight,” 44% were “obese,” and 36%
qualified as “extremely obese.” In terms of preferred identity, 42% selected
“fat” as the term most frequently used to describe their weight status, fol-
lowed by 18% who selected “overweight,” although 10% preferred “other,”
and provided their own self-descriptions, such as round or curvy. Most
community participants completed informed consent and study materials
individually. A few requested to be interviewed by phone (n=5) or were
mailed the survey (n=7) as an accommodation. All were compensated with
a $10 honorarium for their time. Student participants (n=12) completed
the survey in class in exchange for course credit.
Measures
Fat identification, strategic coping, and ingroup perception measures were
created specifically for this study as statements to which participants indi-
cated their agreement using 1 to 7-point response scales (see Appendix).
Consistent with a SIT perspective (Turner et al., 1987), fat identification was
operationalized as the degree to which women accepted membership in
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184 O. J. Lindly et al.
the fat community as self-defining. Social creativity focused on the degree to
which participants proudly affirmed their bodies or valued their size. Support
for social change captured fat advocacy and the importance of fighting for
the rights of fat people. Finally, coping through individual change reflected
the endorsement of weight-loss tactics as an effective means of escaping
the group. Our reliability analyses2showed each of the coping scales to
have high internal consistency with standardized alpha coefficients ranging
from .81 to .90. Similar to the fat-identity scale, indices were computed by
averaging across the five items corresponding to each of the three coping
strategies.
Two other indices were computed to assess (1) perceptions of size
discrimination and (2) preferences for affiliating with other fat people.
In addition, the AFA Questionnaire (Crandall, 1994) was included, which
consists of 13 items comprising three subscales measuring fear of fat/weight
gain, perceptions of willpower, and the dislike of fat people, using 10-point
Likert scales. The AFA Questionnaire is a frequently used measure of explicit
antifat prejudice (Perez-Lopez, Lewis, & Cash, 2001).
Three validated measures of psychological well-being were adopted
for this survey, consistent with prior research (Crocker, Luhtanen, Blaine,
& Broadnax, 1994; Sarwer & Thompson, 2002). Participants completed the
five-item Physical Appearance Subscale of the Extended Satisfaction with Life
Scale (ESWLS; Alfonso, Allison, Rader, & Gorman, 1996), considered to be
a useful proxy for global body image, particularly among those who are
fat (Nathan & Allison, 1998). Participants also completed the private self-
esteem subscale of the Collective Self-Esteem (CSE) scale, a self-evaluative
measure of personal beliefs about the perceived worthiness of one’s group
memberships (in this case weight-specific; Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992); and
the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, which measures global self-esteem based
on individual attributes (Rosenberg, 1965). All measures of well-being were
assessed using 7-point Likert scales, except for global self-esteem, which uses
a 4-point scale.
Participants were also asked about their age, ethnicity, education level,
and perceived childhood weight status (i.e., “Were you overweight as a
child?” Yes/No). They were additionally asked how they most frequently
described themselves in terms of weight using a list of 15 size adjectives (e.g.,
fat, overweight, voluptuous) and self-reported their current weight (pounds)
and height (inches) from which BMI was computed (see Table 1).
RESULTS
Table 2 displays the zero-order correlations between fat identification and all
other measured variables in addition to descriptive statistics. As expected, fat
identification was positively associated with the collective strategies of social
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Creatively Re-Defining Fat 185
TABLE 1 Participant Demographics
Number Percent
Ethnicity (N=50)
White (not of Hispanic origin) 41 82%
Nonwhite or multi-racial 9 18%
Education (n=50)
High school or less 19 38%
Bachelor’s degree 24 48%
Graduate degree 7 14%
Body mass index (BMI) category (n=50)
Overweight 10 20%
Obese 22 44%
Extremely obese 18 36%
Overweight as a child (n=50)
Yes 29 58%
No 21 42%
Currently dieting (n=50)
Yes 11 22%
No 39 78%
Currently in a weight loss group (n=49)
Yes 7 14%
No 42 86%
Significant weight loss in the past three months (n=50)
Yes 7 14%
No 43 86%
Significant weight gain in the past three months (n=50)
Yes 7 14%
No 43 86%
Note. Each participant’s BMI was computed according to her self-reported weight and height; each
participant’s BMI was then categorized based on existing national guidelines (Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, 2011).
change and social creativity or body affirmation, and negatively associated
with the individual change strategy of losing weight. In addition, correlations
between fat identification and measures of body satisfaction, global self-
esteem, and private-collective self-esteem were all significant and positive.
Fat identification did not vary by participant age (r=.10); and there were
no significant differences in identification between majority White Americans
(M=4.09) and ethnic minority Americans (M=4.56), t<1, or as a function
of education level F<1. However, the higher participants’ current BMI, the
more they identified with fat as a group self-category (r=.67, p<.001).
Furthermore, those who reported that they were “overweight” as children
scored higher on fat identity (M=4.38) compared to those who reported
they were not (M=3.47), t(48) =2.65, p<.01. Based on these results,
subsequent analyses examined differences in identity enhancement strategies
as a function of two continuous measures (i.e., fat identification and BMI)
and the binary measure of whether or not participants reported they were
“overweight” as children.
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TABLE 2 Correlations, Means, and Standard Deviations for the Measured Variables
123456789101112
1 Fat Identification
2 Body Satisfaction .44∗∗
3 Collective
Self-Esteem
.52∗∗ .66∗∗
4 Global
Self-Esteem
.28.62∗∗ .58∗∗
5 Weight Loss
Support
.62∗∗ .45.64∗∗ .28
6 Social Change .83∗∗ .41∗∗ .35.19 .63∗∗
7 Body Affirmation .69∗∗ .71∗∗ .78∗∗ .59∗∗ .71∗∗ .57∗∗
8 Ingroup
Affiliation
.64∗∗ .17 .25 .04 .24 .50∗∗ .37∗∗
9 Perceived
Discrimination
.57∗∗ .21 .09 .08 .36∗∗ .66∗∗ .37∗∗ .40∗∗
10 AFA Fear of Fat .68∗∗ .71∗∗ .75∗∗ .54∗∗ .76∗∗ .62∗∗ .78∗∗ .25 .31
11 AFA Willpower .78∗∗ .30.39∗∗ .11 .54∗∗ .75∗∗ .48∗∗ .42∗∗ .52∗∗ .65∗∗
12 AFA Dislike .61∗∗ .48∗∗ .59∗∗ .30∗∗ .50∗∗ .48∗∗ .55∗∗ .33.01 .65∗∗ .63∗∗
Reliabilities .91 .90 .86 .91 .81 .90 .86 .63 .60 .84 .82 .87
Means 4.17 3.35 4.21 3.23 3.74 4.68 4.05 3.34 5.13 3.91 3.37 1.17
Standard
Deviations
1.70 1.50 1.57 .61 1.52 1.86 1.49 1.24 1.13 2.89 2.29 1.23
Note. Mean scores computed on 7-point agreement scales except for antifat attitudes (AFA; 10-point scale) and global self-esteem (4-point scale).
p<.05. ∗∗p<.01.
186
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Creatively Re-Defining Fat 187
TABLE 3 Standardized Regression Coefficients for Fat Identification, BMI, and Childhood
Weight Status Predicting Coping Strategies, Ingroup Perceptions and Antifat Attitudes
Predictors βR2
Collective Social Change Scale
BMI .15
Childhood weight status .02
Fat identity .73∗∗∗ .69∗∗∗
Collective Social Creativity/Body Affirmation Scale
BMI .14
Childhood weight status .04
Fat identity .77∗∗∗ .49∗∗∗
Individual Change Support of Weight Loss Scale
BMI .21
Childhood weight status .06
Fat identity .63∗∗∗ .26∗∗∗
Perceived Size Discrimination Scale
BMI .39∗∗
Childhood weight status .09
Fat identity .35∗∗ .66∗∗∗
Ingroup Affiliation Scale
BMI .17
Childhood weight status .25
Fat identity .84∗∗∗ .47∗∗∗
AFA Fear of Fat Subscale
BMI .13
Childhood weight status .03
Fat identity .59∗∗∗ .26∗∗∗
AFA Willpower Subscale
BMI .17
Childhood weight status .01
Fat identity .71∗∗∗ .35∗∗∗
AFA Dislike Subscale
BMI .55∗∗∗
Childhood weight status .05
Fat identity .76∗∗∗ .25∗∗∗
p<.05. ∗∗p<.01. ∗∗∗p<.001.
To test the extent to which fat identification predicts identity
enhancement strategies, we fit a series of regression models, one for each
of the three strategic coping scales. For each coping strategy, BMI and per-
ceived childhood weight status were entered simultaneously with the fat
identity scale. Table 3 lists the standardized regression coefficients for each
variable along with the R2values for each model.
Predicting Collective and Individual Change Strategies
As expected, fat identity was a significant and unique predictor of both social
change and social creativity strategies. Specifically, controlling for BMI and
perceived childhood weight status, those scoring higher on fat identification
were more willing to advocate for social change and anti-size discrimination
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188 O. J. Lindly et al.
policies (β=.73, p<.001), and were more likely to affirm their weight/take
pride in their bodies (β=.77, p<.001). Neither BMI nor perceived child-
hood weight status emerged as significant predictors of either collective
strategy (see Table 3). Consistent with hypotheses and independent of cur-
rent BMI and perceived childhood weight status, those scoring higher on the
fat identity scale were less likely to endorse the use of dieting/the effective-
ness of weight loss programs (β=–.63, p<.001). No other effects were
significant.
Predicting Ingroup Perceptions and Attitudes
As expected, those scoring higher on the fat identity scale perceived more
size discrimination (β=.36, p<.05), and were more willing to affiliate
with other fat people (β=.79, p<.001), controlling for BMI and perceived
childhood weight status. However, independent of fat identification, those
who described themselves as having been “overweight” as children indicated
less preference for associating with fat people (β=–.24, p<.05). In terms
of AFA, fat identity emerged as the only significant predictor of the fear of fat
(β=–.59, p<.001) and the willpower/controllability of weight (β=–.71,
p<.001) subscales of the AFA Questionnaire. On the dislike subscale, both
fat identity (β=–.76, p<.001) and BMI (β=.55, p<.001) independently
predicted dislike of fat people.
Predicting Well-Being
Given the theoretical and empirically established importance of group iden-
tification in predicting well-being, a hierarchical regression approach was
selected to test whether BMI, perceived childhood weight status, or any of
the individual or collective coping strategies could account for additional
variance in the well-being measures, over and above the positive effects
of fat identification. In three separate analyses, the fat identity scale was
entered at Step 1 and all other variables were entered at Step 2, using the
stepwise method to assess the unique contribution of each predictor on body
satisfaction, and global and private-collective self-esteem.
As shown in Table 4, fat identification was a strong predictor of body
satisfaction, global self-esteem, and community-derived feelings of self-worth
at Step 1; however, it did not remain the most significant predictor in mod-
els that included all three coping strategies, BMI, and perceived childhood
weight status. Contrary to expectations, the social creativity strategy of affirm-
ing the value of one’s body size emerged as the best predictor of each
criterion measure of well-being, controlling for all other variables. That is,
independent of group identification, the strategy of valuing one’s body as is
accounted for the most variation in body satisfaction, as well as global and
private-collective self-esteem. No other effects were significant.
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Creatively Re-Defining Fat 189
TABLE 4 Standardized Regression Coefficients for Fat Identification, BMI,
Childhood Weight Status and All Coping Strategies Predicting Body Satisfaction,
Global and Private-Collective Self-Esteem
Predictor Step 1 Step 2
Body Satisfaction Scale
Fat identity .44∗∗∗ .10
BMI .10
Childhood weight status .07
Social change .00
Social creativity/body affirmation .78∗∗∗
Support for weight loss .10
R2.19∗∗ .51∗∗∗
Global Self-Esteem Scale
Fat identity .28.24
BMI .09
Childhood weight status .03
Social change .22
Social creativity/valuing body .76∗∗∗
Support for weight loss .26
R2.08.38∗∗∗
Private Collective Self-Esteem Scale
Fat identity .52∗∗∗ .04
BMI .09
Childhood weight status .12
Social change .14
Social creativity/body affirmation .80∗∗∗
Support for weight loss .18
R2.27∗∗∗ .60∗∗∗
p<.10. p<.05. ∗∗p<.01. ∗∗∗p<.001.
DISCUSSION
The purpose of this study was to extend the literature on well-being and
the experience of stigma among fat women by testing a series of hypotheses
derived from SIT (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Our results indicate that fat iden-
tification predicts greater use of collective strategies for coping with stigma
(promotion of social change and body affirmation) and less engagement
in individualistic strategies centered around weight loss (Hypotheses 1 and
2) among fat women. These findings were independent of the visibility of
respondents’ group membership (i.e., BMI) and their perceived childhood
weight status. Fat identification also predicted less internalization of stigma
or fear of fat as well as less prejudice toward fat people, greater desire to
affiliate with fat people, and greater recognition of the discrimination experi-
enced by fat people (Hypothesis 3). Finally, fat identification was a positive
predictor of psychological well-being among the women who participated
in our survey (Hypothesis 4). These findings suggest that positive social
identification may play the same role for fat people as for others who are
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190 O. J. Lindly et al.
stigmatized because of disability, minority race, and other socially devalued
group memberships (e.g., Nario-Redmond et al., 2012).
Additional findings included a unique association between perceived
childhood weight status and decreased preference for affiliation with other
fat women. This distancing may reflect increased likelihood of AFA internal-
ization when one has been categorized as fat for a longer period of time.
BMI classification as “overweight” and “obese” also independently predicted
higher AFA dislike scores among fat women. This internalized prejudice has
been observed in previous research (Schwartz et al., 2006) demonstrating
how elusive a positive group identity can be when a stigmatized attribute is
perceived as both undesirable and under the individual’s control (Crandall,
1994). Significant predictors in addition to fat identification also emerged
in the hierarchical regression examining the association of well-being with
identity and with individual and collective strategy use (Hypothesis 4). When
strategy endorsements were entered as a second set of predictors in the hier-
archical models after fat identity, only the social creativity strategy of body
affirmation remained significant in predicting well-being measures.
A main limitation of the present investigation is its cross-sectional study
design, constraining our ability to draw causal inferences. Another limitation
was the sampling method employed. The nonprobability sample recruited
was fairly homogenous in terms of demographic characteristics thereby lim-
iting the generalizability of findings. This was also a relatively educated
sample, which may have had greater ability to connect with advocacy groups
and learn about ways to challenge stigma, plausibly biasing the pattern of
results observed (Darling & Heckert, 2010). The sample size was also rel-
atively small, although we remain confident from post hoc power analyses
that sample size was sufficient to detect associations with high effect sizes.
Future research must replicate this study’s findings with larger samples and
more diverse participants to strengthen the statistical conclusion and external
validity of related inferences. Lastly, measures of weight-group identification
and the endorsement and use of identity enhancement strategies must be
further and more rigorously tested to ensure such measures are valid and
reliable.
Despite these limitations, the current findings provide valuable insight
into how fat identification and social change strategies may be associated
with both AFA and psychological well-being among fat women. Additionally,
our finding that social creativity was the only significant predictor of well-
being after accounting for variance associated with fat identity calls for future
research specifically addressing social creativity as a unique path to well-
being among fat people. Engaging in socially creative group affirmation
strategies that question predominant meanings of “fat” as a category may
carry benefits for the self beyond those that accrue from simply endorsing a
new social identity. Studies of disability identity are beginning to suggest that
creative re-definition of disability as consistent with strength, in addition to
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Creatively Re-Defining Fat 191
claiming identity and affiliating within clear ingroup boundaries, may be nec-
essary for maintaining a positive and beneficial sense of self (Nario-Redmond
et al., 2012). Our results analogously suggest that creative re-definition of fat
as consistent with beauty and health in addition to claiming this identity and
affiliating within a clearly demarked group may be associated with improved
well-being for fat people.
Our findings in combination with the suggested future research will
have important implications for health and social policy. One key policy
goal is to promote access to supportive social connections in the community
that foster new, empowering definitions of health and beauty instead of mes-
sages maintaining that individual change is the only viable coping strategy
and/or discouraging the well-being of fat individuals. Holistic, inclusive, and
strengths-based health promotion models such as HAES are a starting point
for these efforts.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
A partial report of these data was presented at the June 2010 annual meeting
of the Society for Disability Studies in Philadelphia, PA.
FUNDING
This research was supported in part by an Initiative Grant for Undergraduate
Research from Reed College, supporting the research conducted by Olivia J.
Lindly and advised by Michelle R. Nario-Redmond in fulfillment of the senior
thesis requirement at Reed College.
NOTES
1. The term fat is descriptively and non-pejoratively used throughout this article in concordance
with similar research (Crandall, 1994) and recommendations from the National Association to Advance Fat
Acceptance (2010). The term fat has been positively reclaimed to describe individuals historically labeled
as “overweight” or “obese” as part of the Fat Acceptance Movement that began in the 1960s.
2. The internal consistencies reported for each of the indices computed reflect reliability analyses
run on the present study’s sample.
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CONTRIBUTORS
Olivia J. Lindly was a student at Reed College at the time of data collection.
She has since joined the staff of the School of Medicine at OHSU and is a
doctoral student in public health at Oregon State University.
Dr. Michelle R. Nario-Redmond was a visiting professor at Reed College at
the time of data collection. She has since joined the faculty of Hiram College.
Dr. Jeffrey G. Noel is a Research Assistant Professor at the Missouri
Institute of Mental Health, a center for research, evaluation and policy at
the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His research and program evaluation
work has focused on substance abuse and HIV prevention, cognitive under-
pinnings of alcohol use, stigma associated with mental illness and disability,
and social identity.
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Creatively Re-Defining Fat 195
APPENDIX
STUDY INDICES AND INDIVIDUAL ITEMS
Fat Identification
Belonging to a group of fat women is important to me.
Belonging to a group of people who share my body size is important to me.
I am a member of the fat community.
I identify with fat people.
I identify strongly with others who share my same body weight.
Weight Loss Support
I identify strongly with the people who are trying to lose weight.
I believe that dieting and weight-loss are effective for most people.
Losing weight is important to me.
I prefer to be thin.
Fat people should try to lose weight.
Social Change
I support local/national fat advocacy/activist groups.
Fat people need to fight for their rights more than people who are not fat.
I belong to a fat acceptance group.
I believe that America needs more anti-size discrimination policies.
The National Fat Acceptance Movement is needed for social change.
Body Affirmation
I believe that “Big is Beautiful.”
My body size is sexy.
I am a better person because of my body weight.
I am proud of my body weight.
My body size enriches my life.
Ingroup Affiliation
I have a lot in common with people similar to my body size.
I feel the most comfortable around people similar to my body size.
I would rather associate with fat people than with people who are not fat.
Perceived Discrimination
Fat people are stigmatized.
Fat people are discriminated against more than people who are not fat.
The biggest problem faced by fat people is the attitudes of other people.
Lack of accessibility and discrimination by employers are the main reasons
why fat people are unemployed.
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... Fat Identification was measured using a 5-item scale (Lindly et al., 2014; "I identify with fat people." "Belonging to a group of fat individuals is important to me."). ...
... The extent to which individuals endorsed positive perceptions of their body size was measured using a 5-item Body Affirmation scale (Lindly et al., 2014; "I am proud of my body weight." "I am a better person because of my body weight."). ...
... Ingroup Affiliation was measured using a 3-item scale (Lindly et al., 2014; "I feel the most comfortable around people similar to my body size."). ...
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... Coming out disabled ultimately represents a rejection of the culturally presumed inferiority of disability status and an indication by the PWD that the state of being disabled has inherent value (Titchkosky, 2001). Demonstrating the effectiveness of this strategy, Lindly, Nario-Redmond, and Noel (2014) found that revaluing the stigmatized attribute (body type) was the best predictor of well-being in their sample. We also get a glimpse of this creative process when the disabled in-group revalues derogatory labels historically used by the out-group, calling themselves "crip," "cripple," or "gimp" (Kafer, 2013;McRuer, 2006;Shapiro, 1993). ...
... A common skepticism is that characteristics of PWDs can be quite varied given the myriad diagnosed impairments contained within the broader dis-11 This finding emerged from an interview study, but it nonetheless bears some similarity to the rejection-identification model (Branscombe, Schmitt, & Harvey, 1999). Lindly et al. (2014) found similar results in a quantitative study of fat stigma. Fat identification was positively related to perceptions of fat discrimination. ...
... Fat identification was positively related to perceptions of fat discrimination. Schur (1998) and Lindly et al. (2014) both discuss the relationship in terms that identification predicting perceptions of discrimination whereas Branscombe, Schmitt, and Harvey (1999) model proposes that it is the perception of pervasive discrimination which elicits positive identification as a buffer to negative well-being effects. Lindly et al. (2014) did not hypothesize nor test whether identification mediated perceived discrimination's effects on well-being. ...
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... Coming out disabled ultimately represents a rejection of the culturally presumed inferiority of disability status and an indication by the PWD that the state of being disabled has inherent value (Titchkosky, 2001). Demonstrating the effectiveness of this strategy, Lindly, Nario-Redmond, and Noel (2014) found that revaluing the stigmatized attribute (body type) was the best predictor of well-being in their sample. We also get a glimpse of this creative process when the disabled in-group revalues derogatory labels historically used by the out-group, calling themselves "crip," "cripple," or "gimp" (Kafer, 2013;McRuer, 2006;Shapiro, 1993). ...
... A common skepticism is that characteristics of PWDs can be quite varied given the myriad diagnosed impairments contained within the broader dis-11 This finding emerged from an interview study, but it nonetheless bears some similarity to the rejection-identification model (Branscombe, Schmitt, & Harvey, 1999). Lindly et al. (2014) found similar results in a quantitative study of fat stigma. Fat identification was positively related to perceptions of fat discrimination. ...
... Fat identification was positively related to perceptions of fat discrimination. Schur (1998) and Lindly et al. (2014) both discuss the relationship in terms that identification predicting perceptions of discrimination whereas Branscombe, Schmitt, and Harvey (1999) model proposes that it is the perception of pervasive discrimination which elicits positive identification as a buffer to negative well-being effects. Lindly et al. (2014) did not hypothesize nor test whether identification mediated perceived discrimination's effects on well-being. ...
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... Weight-centric messages are met not just with opposition or ambivalence, but are often met with accusations of offensive- ness and calls for reprimands, as was the case with Bryn Mawr College and its e-mail to overweight and obese students. A possible explanation for this is that weight-centric messages are viewed as threatening by those considered by others or themselves to be fat (i.e., fatness is embedded in their social identity) (Lindly, Nario-Redmond, & Noel, 2014). Looking at fatness as a social identity, rather than just a physical state, can provide insight as to why people are so easily offended by weight-loss oriented messages. ...
... According to this philosophy, weight-centric approaches have several problems: Doctors may over-rely on weight as an indicator of health; researchers often make health claims about the effects of excess weight and ignore other factors; and it causes a preoccupation with a number on the scale, causing people to engage in unsustainable/unhealthy weight-loss practices (for review, see Tykla et al., 2014). Some have even called for fat acceptance, wherein individuals who strongly identify as fat make arguments that instead of avoiding weight salience, fatness should be embraced in a positive man- ner ( Lindly et al., 2014) (e.g., the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance). A more moderate and commonly cited argument is that bodies vary, and therefore judging health based on body mass index (BMI) is ill-conceived. ...
... 2 Through engaging in nutrition and fitness, according to HAES, people can live a healthy lifestyle, regardless of weight. HAES and fat acceptance both rely on reframing fatness and how it relates to the non-fat ( Lindly et al., 2014). This phenomenon has roots in social identity. ...
Article
Obesity is a global health issue. Despite well-intentioned efforts by public institutions, traditional health promotion techniques often lead to offending those most in need of weight loss. For example, when Bryn Mawr College targeted overweight students to offer a free fitness and nutrition program, it was met with accusations of fat-shaming, indicating that weight-centric messages operate in a more complex sociocultural system than many public health concerns. To better understand reactions to weight-centric health messages, college-aged women evaluated the Bryn Mawr College e-mail. Using an embedded mixed-methods design, analysis revealed that reactions followed four positive themes, six negative themes, and one neutral theme. Statistical tests indicated that health literacy, feminist identification, body dissatisfaction, and body size discrepancy influenced evaluations of message offensiveness and effectiveness. Contrary to the recommendations of traditional behavior change research, these results indicate that audience segmentation and message tailoring may not be effective for promoting weight loss.
... In the context of weight-related groups, Lindly, Nario-Redmond, and Noel (2014) found preliminary support for the influence of identification with a higher-weight group on collective action and well-being. Among higher-weight women (BMI ≥ 25), stronger fat identification was associated with significantly greater collective action intentions against weight-based discrimination, and greater body satisfaction and self-esteem. ...
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The present research applied the social identity approach to examine how the perceived legitimacy of weight-based discrimination among ingroup members influences their experience of their higher-weight identity and their well-being, and the conditions under which this occurs. Specifically, we investigated whether portraying weight-based discrimination as legitimate, as opposed to illegitimate, influenced higher-weight individuals’ group identification, intentions to engage in collective action on behalf of their group, and their body satisfaction and self-esteem. The moderating role of group boundary permeability and the mediating role of group identification were also examined. North American adults with a self-reported BMI of or above 30 (N = 327) were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions: weight-based discrimination that was portrayed as legitimate or illegitimate by other ingroup members. Results revealed that portraying weight-based discrimination as being perceived as legitimate (versus illegitimate) among ingroup members significantly reduced group identification, but only among those who perceived their group’s boundaries to be more permeable. For this particular group, reduced identification predicted, in turn, lower collective action intentions, body satisfaction, and self-esteem. This study highlights the damaging effect of legitimized discrimination for ingroup identification and the downstream consequences for collective action and well-being.
... Historically, the disabilityrights movement has encouraged disability identification and collective action for social change (Little, 2010), but psychological theorists have been slow to recognize disability as a socially determined construct, independent of specific impairments (see Nario-Redmond, 2010). Research has consistently found that strategic responses to stigma critically depend on how one's disadvantaged status is appraised and whether one identifies positively as a group member (Lindly, Nario-Redmond, & Noel, 2014;Outten, Schmitt, Garcia, &Branscombe, 2009). To illustrate, Nario-Redmond, Noel, andFern (2013) found that those most strongly identified with disability as a social group were least likely to conceal, minimize, or overcome their disability status; and the more individuals identified with disability, the more they valued the disability experience, expressed pride in disability culture, and endorsed social change. ...
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Full-text available
Following social identity theory, the present investigation examines the political benefits of self-identification as a member of the disability community for disability-rights advocacy across college (n = 204), community (N = 93), and international (N = 268) samples of adults with disabilities. Consistent with predictions, emerging adults (EAs) with disabilities (n = 204) demonstrated more political conviction and were twice as likely to be involved in disability-rights advocacy as nondisabled peers (n = 1,111). Studies 2 and 3 revealed that disability identification predicted disability-rights advocacy, preferences for affiliation with other disabled people, and stronger perceptions of solidarity, personal, and group discrimination. Age-group moderated effects in Study 2 such that EAs least identified as disabled reported the lowest levels of solidarity and the least awareness of discrimination. Implications of social identification for the political involvements of stigmatized groups are discussed along with complexities related to age, impairment visibility, and duration of disability.
... Claire & He, 2009), reactions to stress, adjustment to trauma, and health-related decision making (Berkman & Syme, 1979). In addition, adopting group norms and expectations may not always promote healthy behaviors as some norms may emphasize unrealistic standards (e.g., weight; Lindly, Nario-Redmond, & Noel, 2013; body image; Tiggemann, Martins, & Kirkbride, 2007; Yelland & Tiggemann, 2003). For example, gay men have been found to be at higher risk for body dissatisfaction and dysmorphia (Beren, Hayden, Wilfley, & Grilo, 1996), which may be related to the extent they have internalized the gay-male stereotype as part of their self-definition (Ball & Nario-Redmond, 2013). ...
Chapter
Identification with social groups, including stigmatized groups, can promote health and well-being, especially in the face of social disadvantage, persistent discrimination, and other stressful conditions. Despite these findings, little has been done to apply this research using positive psychological interventions as a model to leverage social identification as a conduit for well-being. This chapter begins with research on the predictive power of social identification for psychological and physical indicators of well-being across various stigmatized groups (e.g., ethnic or sexual minority, physically or mentally disabled), and considers key mediating (e.g., social support) and moderating influences (e.g., identity disclosure). Following this, we suggest positive psychological interventions including practices that encourage the development of new or aspirational social identities (self-definition/re-definition interventions) and those that capitalize on existing group memberships (identity affirmation and collective action interventions). Next steps and implications for evaluating the effects of positive social identity interventions to inform best practices are also discussed.
Chapter
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Social identity theory as developed by Tajfel and Turner argues that there are two distinct aspects of the self-concept: personal identity and social identity (in American terminology, collective identity). Although many self-esteem measures are available in the literature, they allfocus on individuals'evaluation of their personal identity, whether in private or interpersonal domains. No scale currently exists that assesses the positivity of one's social, or collective, identity. A scale was constructed to assess individual differences in collective, rather than personal, self-esteem, with four subscales (Membership esteem, Public collective self-esteem, Private collective self-esteem, and Importance to Identity). Evidence for reliability and validity of the scale was provided by three studies, suggesting that the scale can be a useful research tool. Implications for research and social identity theory are discussed.
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People cope with stigma via individualistic strategies that minimize stigmatized attributes, and collective strategies that positively redefine stigmatized traits. Guided by social identity theory, we surveyed people with hidden and visible disabilities to investigate the association between disability identification and strategy use. Further, we tested the prediction that self-esteem (collective and personal) varies by disability identification and strategy use. Across two surveys of adults with disabilities (Ns = 93 and 268), disability identification predicted greater use of collective strategies, and higher collective and personal self-esteem, controlling for visibility and proportion of lifetime with disability. These findings support the prediction from social identity theory that group identification may be self-protective. Findings also support the sociopolitical model within disability studies, providing theory-based empirical evidence that working for social change empowers both one's group and oneself.
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Attributing negative outcomes to prejudice and discrimination may protect the mood and self-esteem of some stigmatized groups. Thus, the overweight may be low in self-esteem because they blame their weight, but not the attitudes of others, for negative outcomes based on their weight. In an experiment, 27 overweight and 31 normal weight college women received either positive or negative social feedback from a male evaluator. Relative to other groups, overweight women who received negative feedback attributed the feedback to their weight but did not blame the evaluator for his reaction. This attributional pattern resulted in more negative mood for these overweight women in comparison with other groups. Dimensions of stigma that may account for differences in the tendency to attribute negative outcomes to prejudice, and implications of these findings for weight loss programs and psychotherapy for the overweight, are discussed.
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Disturbance in body image has long been noted as one of the most distressing psychological factors for obese individuals. Yet, only in recent years have researchers and clinicians begun to appreciate the need to integrate systematic evaluation of this component into intervention programs. Accordingly, this mini-review offers an overview of selected strategies for the assessment of body image disturbance in obesity.
Chapter
In this chapter, readers are acquainted with the differences between social groups, on the basis of power, status and the influence they enjoy in society. Different theories of social identity and self-categorization are discussed in order to provide readers with an in-depth insight of how members of underprivileged groups strive to attain a positive identity for themselves. Three different strategies, namely, individual mobility, social creativity, and social competition are highlighted in regard to the social identity theory. Both individualistic and group-level coping strategies are presented in the chapter. The significance of prejudice for the protection of self-esteem has also been dealt with in the chapter. The fact that the perceived discriminations against the socially backward classes stem from external and unalterable causes needs thorough understanding. The concept of well-being and protection is also discussed in this context. An informative model of theoretical responses is presented in the remaining portion of the chapter, to give readers an idea of adopting different types of coping strategies.
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The authors theorized that overweight individuals experience social identity threat in situations that activate concerns about weight stigma, causing them to experience increased stress and reduced self-control. To test these predictions, women who varied in body mass index (BMI) gave a speech on why they would make a good dating partner. Half thought they were videotaped (weight visible); the remainder thought they were audiotaped (weight not visible). As predicted, higher BMI was associated with increased blood pressure and poorer performance on a measure of executive control when weight was visible and concerns about stigma were activated but not when weight was not visible. Compared to average weight women, overweight women also reported more stress-related emotions when videotaped versus audiotaped. Findings suggest that weight stigma can be detrimental to mental and physical health and deplete self-regulatory resources necessary for weight control.