Janet Latner,Ph.D
Image: University of Hawaii

As if losing weight weren’t challenging enough, the formerly fat may have to conceal it in order to elude enduring stigma. Once-obese women who’ve slimmed down are viewed more negatively than those whose weight stayed the same, thin or not, according to a new study by Janet Latner, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at UH Manoa, and Kerry O’Brien, Ph.D., senior lecturer at University of Manchester, England. The formerly obese were rated as less attractive by college students who had been provided with the study subjects’ weight histories.

Asked to comment on the study’s implications for, say, job hunts, “The current findings suggest that formerly obese people should carefully consider when to disclose their weight histories,” Ratner responded in an email to the Weekly. “This may be especially important because evidence suggests that obesity is discriminated against in employment scenarios, and even women who used to be obese but are no longer overweight show lower than expected earnings and occupational attainment,” Ratner added. Popular culture’s obsesson with “fail-proof” weight-loss regimes and TV shows fuels the stigma by promoting the false idea that body weight is readily manageable–while in reality, the main factors, physiology, genetics and the food environment, are beyond our control. For example, in many places, “healthy fruits and vegetables are relatively inaccessible, and high-fat, calorie-dense choices are abundant,” Ratner explained, concluding: In Hawaii’s food-centric ‘ohana culture, “it is a unique challenge to have to demonstrate restraint and moderation in the face of pressure from others and social expectations.”