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Body Norms and Fat Stigma in Global Perspective

While slim-body ideals have spread globally in the last several decades, we know comparatively little of any concurrent proliferation of fat-stigmatizing beliefs. Using cultural surveys and body mass estimates collected from 680 adults from urban areas in 10 countries and territories, we test for cultural variation in how people conceptualize and stigmatize excess weight and obesity. Using consensus analysis of belief statements about obese and fat bodies, we find evidence of a shared model of obesity that transcends populations and includes traditionally fat-positive societies. Elements include the recognition of obesity as a disease, the role of individual responsibility in weight gain and loss, and the social undesirability of fat but also the inappropriateness of open prejudice against fat. Focusing on statements about fat that are explicitly stigmatizing, we find most of these expressed in the middle-income and developing-country samples. Results suggest a profound global diffusion of negative ideas about obesity. Given the moral attributions embedded in these now shared ideas about fat bodies, a globalization of body norms and fat stigma, not just of obesity itself, appears to be well under way, and it has the potential to proliferate associated prejudice and suffering.