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Size Acceptance

Results of the Research Study

The purpose of the study was to investigate large women's feelings about their body size and weight loss attempts in light of recent research challenging long-held cultural beliefs that one should be able to control one's weight.

The Sample:  Over 100 women anonymously returned questionnaires that had been distributed at NAAFA's 1990 convention (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance), large size clothing stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Radiance magazine.  The group was

  • predominantly white and heterosexual;

  • about half were single;

  • about half lived in the western U.S. 

  • average age was 37.5 (range 25-57),

  • average weight was 288 pounds (range 200-485),

  • average education was 3 years of college and

  • average annual  income was $35,000.  

Since this is not your average group of over-200 pound women, one should be cautious about generalizing results to large women in general.

Weight History: 

  • Most respondents said their weight became defined as a problem (and 45% tried to lose weight for the first time) in childhood.  

  • The average number of weight loss attempts was 40. 

  • 73% generally feel better about their bodies now than at earlier times in their lives. 

  • Over half the women say they generally accept their body as it is, and body acceptance was not related to weight (i.e., it was just as likely for the heaviest women to accept their bodies as the lightest).

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Other key findings:

  • The sample seemed to separate into two roughly equal groups: one in which the women basically accepted their body size and had little intention of trying to lose weight, and one in which the women didn't accept their body size and intended to try (or were currently trying) to lose weight.
  • There were many statistically significant personality differences between these two groups, although both groups' scores on personality measures fell into the psychologically healthy range.  The women who had decided to stop trying to lose weight were somewhat more strong-willed, assertive, confident, comfortable with conflict, sociable, creative, risk-taking, and somewhat less convention or inclined to postpone gratification.  The women who were continuing to try to lose weight felt generally lower self-esteem with a somewhat greater sense of shame, and were more conventional and conscientious.
  • Although there was no difference in the number of failed weight loss attempts between the two groups, the women who "gave up" trying to lose weight had scores indicating they regarded weight as something they had little control over.  But paradoxically, these same women had higher self-esteem and a greater sense of control in their lives in general.  This finding contradicts the idea that trying to control one's weight enhances one's sense of self-control and self-esteem; for the women in this study, the opposite was true.  This may be because if you believe you should be able to control your weight and you fail to do so, you may conclude that you lack self-control; but if you entertain the possibility that weight might be less controllable, your overall sense of control in your life may remain intact.
  • Body size acceptance was related to self-esteem, the belief that weight is not very controllable, giving up dieting, having fewer health concerns, experiencing greater physical well-being and ease of movement, having better social supports, and participating in size-acceptance activities.  Notably, it was not related to the degree of fatness.
  • The process of becoming more accepting appears to be complex, although most of the women in the study said they had become more accepting over the course of their lives. Most people seem to have started with the sense that their body size was unacceptable and made frequent attempts to lose weight.  Then there seemed to be a period for many when weight loss attempts alternated with self-acceptance as a strategy, until self-acceptance became more firmly felt.
  • Respondents were eloquent describing the threats to their self-esteem from the outside world, and almost all assumed that most other large women felt negatively about their bodies.  But most felt personally that they were happier, more attractive, healthier, more assertive, and more sociable as a result of feeling better about their bodies.

For more information, see "Is Giving Up on Dieting Giving Up on Yourself?" Radiance Magazine, fall 1991.

For the complete text of this research study, call 800-521-0600, x3781 and ask for publication #91-15186.

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Last updated: March 05, 2011.