In a study done by Cyberspsycology, Behavior, and Social Networking, men and women at normal weights were inserted into virtual reality with virtual humans of different weights and genders. The normal weight people then hugged each virtual human, and the duration of hug was measured.
This was one of the first studies to, instead of using self-reporting which can be unreliable, used virtual reality to simulate real interactions. This simulation gave what is, hopefully, less biased results.
Those at a normal weight can be made uncomfortable by or mistreat overweight people.
It has been shown that when a person is at a lower weight, they are more likely to interact negatively with those at a higher weight. This can include bullying, gossiping, or simply being uncomfortable and awkward around them.
There is obvious bullying that plagues those at higher weights. A New York Times article tells the story of Aleta Walker, who went through school while being overweight. Other children would oink at her or make a show of getting out of her path in the hallways, pretending she would've been too big to fit otherwise. While not all bullying of overweight persons goes to this extent, it still exists and is very psychologically damaging to the victims of the abuse.
However, not everyone displays their weight bias in such an obvious way, or even intentionally. A way that people at normal weights can make obese people uncomfortable is with silent judgements. For instance, instead of making eye contact while talking, looking at an obese person's body can be very noticeable and humiliating to them, even if not on purpose. There are many ways people at normal weights can accidentally make overweight ones uncomfortable, and this needs to be more widely realized so people can pay attention to what their body language says.
Anti-fat attitudes are associated with certain personal attributes such as gender and body image satisfaction, as well as past interactions with people of higher weights.
Since the person is happy with themselves they don't feel the need to judge others. Therefore, someone with lower self-esteem is more likely to engage in weight bias. This is because they gain satisfaction with themselves by emphasizing what they consider to be flaws in others.
Men tend to in general be more satisfied with themselves compared to their female counterparts. Though this should indicate a lower weight bias, the study showed the male gender is more judgmental of overweight people, especially females.
The study discussed that positive experiences with those at higher weights was correlated to slightly less negative feelings towards them. However, a negative experience with an overweight person was strongly correlated to anti-fat attitudes.
As shown in the study, both groups hugged the overweight person of the opposite sex for a much shorter amount of time compared to the virtual human simulated at a normal weight. This follows previous data that people at normal weights prefer other people they interact with to also be normal weight. It is hypothesized that the reason hug times increased for the overweight human of the test subject's own gender was due to a perceived increase in self-confidence because they considered the virtual human less attractive.
Many factors go into how much weight bias a person has. There are personal attributes correlated to greater mistreatment of the obese, as well as the effects past experiences can have on current opinions.
The mistreatment and discrimination of overweight people can have lasting mental and interpersonal effects on them.
People who are overweight have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and low self esteem compared to those at a normal weight. This especially applies to women, who have a much higher tendency to attempt to conceal their weight, engage in binge eating, and have a lower satisfaction with life in general.
Weight bias also affects overweight persons because of employment discrimination. Especially among those in the very obese group (weights at 50% or more over ideal or average weight) reported both employment discrimination and school victimization. Obese persons also have a lower college acceptance rate than their academically comparable normal weight peers.
The stigma based around being overweight has a very negative impact on those at a higher weight. The affects factor not only into their mental health, but also into more quantifiable parts of their lives such as college acceptance rates and job offer statistics.
We can improve the treatment of overweight people and decrease negativity in America.
America in general has become more accommodating towards many groups, which has been a positive step forward for our country. Unfortunately, not as much effort is being put towards eliminating weight discrimination.
With prejudices on the rise toward overweight people, we must put in a greater effort to include them and make them feel as comfortable and safe as those at a normal weight. We must work to decrease our own bias and then set an example for younger generations, so one day all humans can interact between each other in the same way regardless of size.