Our view of our bodies is not fixed as you might think. The way people think about their overweight bodies may be due to the size and weight of people around them. Or so says a new-1.3 million person study from the University of California-Boulder.
According to a Journal of Health and Social Behavior study analyzing the three-way relationship among obesity, life satisfaction and where you live (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 6/10/14, 29E), “obese men and women who live in U.S. counties with high levels of obesity are much happier than obese men and women who live in slender areas. Nor do people of ‘normal weight’ enjoy much advantage in neighborhoods with more flesh per capita.”
The study’s conclusion: what is important to us is that in order to feel satisfied, we need to “look like the people around us.” The study was done by asking people to rate their satisfaction and the results were then graphed on a map to see where high, low, and medium satisfaction cropped up in relation to obesity rates in certain geographic areas. The finding: “Where obesity is more common, there is less difference among obese, severely obese, and non-obese individuals’ life satisfaction…but where obesity is less common, the difference in life satisfaction between the obese (including the severely obese) and non-obese is greater.”
The study’s authors make the point that it is not fat cells which produce chemicals that cause depression, that is, it is not the fact that people are overweight or obese that is at the root of dissatisfied feelings. It is, first, that they compare their bodies to those of others and, two, that this comparison leaves them feeling inadequate. This conclusion meshes with what eating disorder experts have been saying for decades: carrying excess pounds in and of itself is not at the root of feeling negative about one’s body and one’s life. Said another way, there is nothing inherent in being fat which causes feeling dissatisfied. A sense of inadequacy comes from the context you are in and, I’d add, whether you’re the type of person who measures your value vis a vis those around you.
In my experience, if you are an approval seeker and people pleaser, are hyper-focused on what others think of you, and are appearance conscious to begin with, you are far more likely to feel badly about your body if you weigh more than you would like to. If you desire to weigh less, it’s time to recognize that comparing yourself to slimmer people is only going to make you feel worse, not better, about yourself. So cut it out!