The Purgatory of Rejection


Two psychologists from UC Santa Barbara, Alison Blodorn and Brenda Major, wanted to know more about the dynamics of obesity-based rejection, and, in particular, about whether a person can be damaged by not even a real incident of being rejected, but by the mere expectation of it. They designed a study that “measured the effects of anticipated rejection caused by weight-stigmatizing situations.”

The 160 subjects were heterosexual women and men, from 18 to 29 years of age, and with a range of body weights. Each one had to give a speech explaining their desirability as a dating partner, and from there the methodology gets complicated.

Suffice it to say, as Blodorn did:

Thinner women expected to be accepted and this led to increased feelings of positive self-esteem, decreased self-consciousness and less stress. Heavier women — or those with a higher BMI — who thought their weight would be seen expected to be rejected by their evaluator. This anticipated rejection led to lower self-esteem, greater feelings of self-consciousness and greater stress.

So, yes, it turns out that psychological health can be negatively impacted by just the expectation of being devalued. But what about heavy men? This part is interesting and indicates, as always, a need for further investigation.

According to the study findings:

They didn’t expect to be rejected by an attractive female who was going to rate their dating potential when their weight was fully seen. It’s possible that these findings are limited to the dating domain, and more research needs to be done before we could say heavier men are not affected by weight stigma.

In other contexts, some men report that, on the contrary, their weight has adversely affected their dating potential. But there is more to life than romance, and rejection comes in many flavors.

Sometimes it feels like the whole world conspires to shun the obese. People mention things like walking into a certain clothing store and feeling the wall of condescending resistance go up. The same can happen in the wrong gym. In most media, the obese are presented as either laughingstocks, or projects to be worked on.

Professional comedians are adept at describing incidents of rejection in various areas, partly because their guiding principle is “Do it for the story.” However, sometimes a person would rather not have been handed the material for a story. When filmmaker and funny guy Kevin Smith was refused an airline seat, creating standup comedy from the incident was not his first thought.

A “listicle” from the website “This Is Thin Privilege” detailed some chilling perspectives. If you’re obese, the rest of the world is out there deciding whether people like you should even exist, and how keep any more of you from being born. The author says:

There is big money for people who are trying to eliminate people like me. They especially want to eliminate children who are like me… They hail an “enlightened” future world that no longer has people like me in it.

There is a whole month of the year dedicated to eliminating or preventing people like me. The very existence of people like me is called one of the top problems of our modern age.

Apparently, many individuals wish that people would simply let them quietly succeed in being overweight. For This American Life, Ira Glass interviewed Lindy West, who for many years convinced herself that if she didn’t mention her excessive weight, others would not notice.

It would just be a politely unspoken secret, as she very considerately refused to afflict these concerned friends with the crushing burden of her own failure. The strategy did not work, of course. West learned that, to normal-weight people, “You’re just a thin person who’s failing consistently for your whole life.”

Glass suggests that, according to thin people, the obese should not only admit to their condition, but provide ample proof that they are working very hard to slim down. He says:

As long as you’re a fat person who’s trying not to be fat, that’s acceptable. That’s a good fat person.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “For heavier individuals, the anticipation of rejection drives down self-esteem,”, 03/21/16
Source: “People Like Me,”, 2012
Source: “589: Tell Me I’m Fat,”, 06/17/16
Photo credit: Rich Moore via Visualhunt/CC BY

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