Society for the Teaching of Psychology: Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

Appearance Discrimination Resources

Print Resources

Andreyeva, T. Puhl, R.M., & Brownell, K.D. (2008). Changes in perceived weight discrimination among Americans, 1995-1996 through 2004-2006. Obesity, 16, 1129-1134.

This study investigates trends in perceived height/weight discrimination based on age, gender and race and provides evidence that weight/height discrimination in American society is prevalent and is increasing.

Bell, M.P. & McLaughlin, M.E. (2006). Outcomes of appearance and obesity in organizations. In J.K. Pringle, A.M. Konrad, & P. Prasad (Eds.), Handbook on workplace diversity. (pp. 455-474). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

This chapter reviews literature about the relationship between appearance and treatment in companies and organizations. The implications for selection, placement, and earnings are discussed. Specific attention is given to weight and its effect on employment. The chapter ends with suggestions to researchers and practitioners interested in this topic.

Boyes, A.D., Latner, J.D. (2009). Weight stigma in existing romantic relationships. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 35, 282-293.

This study looks at associations between body mass index and relationship quality in dating or married couples. Researchers found that heavier women had lower quality relationships, were judged by their partner as lower in attractiveness and as poorer matches to their partner’s ideals. Men’s body mass index was not associated with relationship functioning.

Brochu, P.M. & Morrison, M.A. (2007). Implicit and explicit prejudice toward overweight and average-weight men and women: Testing their correspondence and relation to behavioral intentions. Journal of Social Psychology, 147(6), 681-706.

This study examines prejudices toward persons who are overweight. Results found both implicit as well as explicit prejudices were present, with males displaying higher levels of prejudice than females. The study also found that overweight men and women received more criticism than average-weight men and women. The limitations of the study and the directions for future research were also discussed.

Brownell, K.D., Puhl, R. M., Schwartz, M. B., & Rudd, L. (Eds.) (2005). Weight bias: Nature, consequences, and remedies. New York: Guilford.

This edited volume contains 22 chapters that explore prejudice and discrimination based on weight, with sections on the nature and extent of weight bias, explanations for this bias, consequences of weigh bias, and remedies for weight discrimination, including public policy and advocacy.

Corrigan, P. W. (2004). How stigma interferes with mental health care. American Psychologist, 59, 614-625.

This article addresses the negative consequences of the mental health stigma, including its effect on people’s willingness to seek treatment and on the self-esteem of persons with mental illness.

Crandall, C. S. (1994). Prejudice against fat people: Ideology and self-interest. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 882-894.

This article includes the anti-fat attitudes questionnaire and explores how symbolic attitudes can be used to explain anti-fat attitudes. The article also addresses the similarities between racism and anti-fat prejudice.

Chin, J.L. (Ed.). (2005). The psychology of prejudice and discrimination: Disability, religion, physique, and other traits, (Vol. 4). Westport, CT, US: Praeger Publishers/Greenwood Publishing Group.

This volume is one in a four volume series that focuses on prejudice and discrimination in today’s world. The authors provide fresh perspectives on issues that have been around for ages. Each chapter also includes a “toolbox” at the end that provides specific suggestions for fighting prejudice and discrimination. This particular volume pays special attention to discrimination of religion, disabilities, and appearance.

Crandall, C.S. & Martinez, R. (1996). Culture, ideology, and antifat attitudes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22(11), 1165-1176.

This study examined antifat attitudes among college students in the United States and Mexico. Results found that Mexican students worried less about their weight and were generally more accepting of overweight people than the students from the US. The authors found that these attitudes toward people who were overweight could be linked to social ideologies of control. The US ideology says that people have control over the events in their lives and this contributed to the US antifat attitudes. These controllability ideologies were seen as less important for the Mexican students and did not play a role in their attitudes towards overweight people.

Etcoff, N. (1999). Survival of the prettiest: The science of beauty. New York: Doubleday.

In this highly readable book, Etcoff summarizes the social science literature on how physical appearance influences people’s perceptions about and reactions to others. The author includes many references to current popular culture that complement her strong emphasize on the results of scientific research.

Fine, M., & Asch, A. (1993). Disability beyond stigma: Social interaction, discrimination, and activism. In M. Nagler (Ed.), Perspectives on disability (2nd ed., pp. 49-62). Palo Alto, CA: Health Markets Research.

This article addresses researchers’ assumptions about the nature of disability, most of which can be readily applied to other contexts, such as the classroom.

Gerhardstein, K. R., & Anderson, V. N. (2010). There’s more than meets the eye: Facial appearance and evaluations of transsexual people. Sex Roles, 62(5-6), 361-373. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9746-x

This study investigated the role of facial appearance in prejudice and discrimination toward transexual individuals.  Facial appearance that was congruent with the individual’s desired gender was perceived as more attractive than when facial appearance was incongruent. Negative evaluations were correlated with higher levels of transphobia and sexual prejudice.

Gilbert, G. C., Ro, A., Gavin, A., & Takeuchi, T. (2008). Disentangling the effects of racial and weight discrimination on body mass index and obesity among Asian Americans.  American Journal of Public Health, 98, 493-500.

In this study, the authors investigated whether racial discrimination is associated with increased body mass index and obesity among Asian Americans. The authors found that racial discrimination was associated with increased BMI and obesity after weight discrimination, social desirability and other factors were controlled for.

Gouvier, W. D. & Coon, R. C. (2002). Misconceptions, discrimination, and disabling language: Synthesis and review. Applied Neuropsychology, 9, 48-57.

The authors provide an accessible review of research demonstrating discrimination against PWDs and offer strategies for overcoming its effects.

Haines, J. Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Thiel, L. (2007). Addressing weight-related issues in an elementary school: What do students, parents, and school staff recommend? Eating Disorders, 15, 5-21.

This study investigated weight-related issues affecting elementary school children in order to gain understanding into how best to present these issues within a school-based intervention. The authors found that weight-related teasing and poor body image surfaced as important issues affecting students. The results suggest that prevention programs for weight-related disorders should not only include issues of nutrition and physical activity but also strategies to reduce weight-related mistreatment and to improve students’ body image.

Hall, C.C.L. (1995). Beauty is in the soul of the beholder: Psychological implications of beauty and African American women. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 1(2), 125-137.

The author looked at the US criteria for beauty which is typically based upon White, middle- class standards, and their impact on African American women. Throughout history, African American women’s body images, which often do not fit the mold of the white standards of beauty, have been portrayed negatively in the United States. The author stresses the importance for mental health professionals to understand how the negative impact these portrayals may have on the body image and self-esteem of African American women. Specific suggestions for therapy as well as community intervention are discussed.

Hansson, L.M., Karnehed, N., Tynelius, P., & Rasmussen, F. (2009). Prejudice against obesity among 10-year-olds: a nationwide population-based study. Acta Paediatrica, 98, 1176-1182.

This research study investigated the role of socioeconomic status in10 year old children’s prejudice against various body sizes. The researchers found that children were more likely to report prejudice against obesity and thinness than against average body weight. Also, children with a high socioeconomic status were more likely to be prejudiced against obesity compared with children with low socioeconomic status. Implications of the findings and directions for further research are discussed.

Hassel, T.D., Amici, C.J., Thurston, N.S., &Gorsuch, R.L. (2001). Client weight as a barrier to non-biased clinical judgment. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 20(2), 145-161.

This study examined Christian and Non-Christian mental health professionals’ attitudes toward overweight clients. Results found that mental health professionals had a tendency to attribute more pathologies and negative characteristics to overweight clients than to average-weight clients. There was no difference found in the mental health professionals’ attitudes if they were Christian or Non-Christian. Strategies for helping to remove biases from psychotherapy are discussed from a Christian perspective.

Hebl, M. R., & Kleck, R. E. (2000). The social consequences of physical disability. In T. F. Heatherton, R. E. Kleck, M. R. Hebl & J. G. Hull (Eds.), The social psychology of stigma (pp. 419-435). New York: Guilford.

The authors address the stigma of physical disability, including both overt and more subtle responses of the nondisabled. The chapter provides an excellent review of the social psychological literature on this topic.

Karris, L. (1977). Prejudice against obese renters. Journal of Social Psychology, 101(1), 159-160.

This study tested the prejudice of landlords toward overweight prospective tenants. Results found that almost half of the landlords would not rent to the obese prospective tenants, but all would rent to the average weight prospective tenants. The landlords who refused to rent used tactics such as raising the rent or saying the property was “practically rented already.” These results suggest discrimination toward obese prospective tenants.

Katz, S. (2003). Physical appearance: The importance of being beautiful. In J.M. Henslin (Ed.), Down to Earth Sociology: Introductory Readings (12th Ed.). New York, NY, US: Free Press.

The author examines social stratification based upon levels of attractiveness. People both judge and are judged by people as a result of appearances, and this creates a social hierarchy. The halo/horns effects, viewing someone attractive as having particularly good traits and someone unattractive as having particularly bad traits, respectively, are described and demonstrated. Implications of this social stratification are discussed for various stages throughout the lifespan.

King, E.B., Shapiro, J.R., Hebl, M.R., Singletary, S.L., & Turner, S. (2006). The stigma of obesity in customer service: A mechanism for remediation and bottom-line consequences of interpersonal discrimination. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(3), 579-593.

These studies attempted to extend the justification-suppression model (JSM) of prejudice to include present-day subtle forms of discrimination in customer service situations. Results showed that overweight shoppers were the targets of more discrimination than average weight shoppers. The three studies together showed that JSM can include subtle forms of discrimination, demonstrated the importance of studying covert discrimination, and provided suggestions for reducing subtle discriminatory attitudes and behaviors.

Lillis, J., Luoma, J. B., Levin, M. E., & Hayes, S. C. (2010). Measuring weight self-stigma: The weight self-stigma questionnaire. Obesity, 18(5), 971-976. doi:10.1038/oby.2009.353

This study describes the 12-item weight self-stigma questionnaire (WSSQ), designed for use with  populations of overweight individuals. The authors suggest that this measure could be used to identify individuals who may benefit from a stigma reduction intervention as well as for evaluating programs designed to reduce stigma.

Mok, T.A. (1998). Asian Americans and standards of attractiveness: What’s in the eye of the beholder? Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 4(1), 1-18.

This article examines the standards of beauty found in the US and the effects of the primarily White standards on Asian Americans. Emphasis is placed on acculturation and ethnic identity as factors that may affect reactions to these standards of beauty. The authors discuss the little research done on this topic and provide directions and suggestions for further study.

Nothwehr, F. (2004). Attitudes and behaviors related to weight control in two diverse populations. Preventative Medicine: An International Journal Devoted to Practice and Theory, 39(4), 674-680.

Previous research has shown that African-American women are concerned about their weight, but often have a more difficult time losing weight than Caucasian women. This report uses survey research to examine the differences between urban African-American and rural Caucasian women’s attitudes toward weight and effectiveness in weight loss attempts. Results showed that rural women had more social support, higher levels of self-efficacy, and higher expectations to succeed. This study helped to better understand differences between African-American and Caucasian women, although much more research needs to be done in this area.

O’Brien, K.S., Latner, J.D., Halberstadt, J., Hunter, J.A., Halberstadt, J., Anderson, J., & Caputi, P. (2008). Do antifat attitudes predict antifat behaviors? Journal of Obesity, 16, s87-s92.

This study found strong evidence of employment-related discrimination against obese individuals. Authors had100 university students make job candidate suitability ratings of mock resumes for a managerial position. The researchers found that participants rated obese job candidates has having less leadership potential an less likely to succeed. Finally, the authors found that currently used measures of antifat attitudes do not predict antifat discrimination. Limitations and implications for further research are discussed.

Palayiwa, A., Sheeran, P., & Thompson, A. (2010). "Words will never hurt me!": Implementation intentions regulate attention to stigmatizing comments about appearance. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 29(5), 575-598. doi:10.1521/jscp.2010.29.5.575

This study compared the efficacy of two strategies for regulating attention to stigmatizing comments: ignoring the comments and the use of a preformed if-then response. Findings indicated that the if-then plan was superior and led to improved test performance.  In addition, participants who used if-then plans, particularly those with low body satisfaction,  were less distressed by the comments.

Pearl, R. L., Puhl, R. M., & Brownell, K. D. (2012). Positive media portrayals of obese persons: Impact on attitudes and image preferences. Health Psychology, doi:10.1037/a0027189

Presents findings indicating that more positive media portrayals of obese individuals may help reduce weight stigma and its associated negative health outcomes.

Poran, M.A. (2002). Denying diversity: Perceptions of beauty and social comparison processes among Latina, Black, and White women. Sex Roles, 47(1-2), 65-81.

This study examines different cultural values of beauty for Latina, Black, and White women as well as the comparisons, such as denial of personal disadvantages, that each group engaged in. Results showed that there were differences between the groups’ images of their bodies and their relationships with cultural standards of beauty. The study also found differences in the groups’ tendencies to deny personal disadvantages. This study adds to the body of knowledge about how beauty and racial identity interact for the groups of women involved in the study.

Puhl, R.M., Andreyeva, T., & Brownell, K.D. (2008). Perceptions of weight discrimination: prevalence and comparison to race and gender discrimination in America. International Journal of Obesity, 32, 992-1000.

This study investigated experiences of weight and height discrimination among adults and compared their prevalence and patterns with discrimination experiences based on race and gender. The authors found that the prevalence of weight and height discrimination ranged from 5 percent of men to 10 percent of women but these figures hide the risk of weight discrimination among heavier individuals. The authors concluded that weight and height discrimination is prevalent in American society and both discrimination and interpersonal mistreatment due to weight and height are common and were even more prevalent than racial or gender discrimination.

Puhl, R. M., Moss-Racusin, C. A., Schwartz, M. B., & Brownell, K. D. (2008). Weight stigmatization and bias reduction: Perspectives of overweight and obese adults. Health Education Research, 23, 347-358.

Investigators had a sample of overweight and obese individuals describe their subjective experiences of weight bias by utilizing qualitative methods. Participants completed an online battery about experiences of weight stigmatization, their perceptions of common weight-based stereotypes, their feelings about being overweight and ways that stigma can be reduced. The participants indicated that education was the most promising direction for future stigma reduction efforts. Results show that individuals who are overweight experience weight bias across many domains and greater effort is needed to target stigmatizing encounters in close relationships.

Rhode, D. L. (2010). The beauty bias: The injustice of appearance in life and law. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Written by Stanford professor of law and former director of the Stanford  Institute for Research on Women and Gender, this book explores social, biological, market, and media influences on appearance-related bias.  

Riniolo, T. C., Johnson, K. C., Sherman, T. R., Misso, J. A. (2006). Hot or not: Do professors perceived as physically attractive receive higher student evaluations? The Journal of General Psychology, 133, 19-35.

The influence of perceived physical attractiveness on student evaluations of college professors is examined in this study by collecting naturally occurring data obtained from a website. The data indicate that professors perceived as attractive receive higher student evaluations compared to nonattractive faculty members. Limitations and further implications are discussed.

Roehling, M.V., Roehling, P.V., & Pichler, S. (2007). The relationship between body weight and perceived weight-related employment discrimination: The role of sex and race. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 71(2), 300-318.

The authors used survey data to find evidence for weight discrimination in the workplace. Results showed that overweight respondents and women were more likely than normal to sense work related discrimination and report weight as the reason for it. Implications are discussed for a number of different audiences, including companies and organizations, law makers, employees who consider themselves overweight, and career counselors.

Schafer, M. H., & Ferraro, K. F. (2011). The stigma of obesity: Does perceived weight discrimination affect identity and physical health? Social Psychology Quarterly, 74(1), 76-97. doi:10.1177/0190272511398197

Longitudinal data from a national survey indicate that perceived weight discrimination increased the health risks of obesity and negatively affects self-rated health. Findings also suggest that weight-based stigma shapes weight perceptions, which mediate the relationship between perceived discrimination and health.

Schneider, D. J. (2004). The psychology of stereotyping. New York: Guilford.

The author provides comprehensive reviews of appearance-related stereotypes, including facial cues, body type, height, and weight. He also reviews the research on the stigma of mental illness.

Schwartz, J.M. & Abramowtiz, S.I. (1978). Effects of female client physical attractiveness on clinical judgment. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, & Practice, 15(3), 251-257.

This study examined the effects of women clients’ physical attractiveness on male therapists’ clinical judgments. Results did not find a large pattern of prejudice toward the less attractive women. They did find that therapists rated less attractive women as more likely to end therapy early and received less relationship building responses than the attractive women. The hypothesis that attractiveness would create more negative effects for severe presenting problems was not supported however.

Vartanian, L. R., & Shaprow, J. G. (2008). Effects of weight stigma on exercise motivation and behavior: A preliminary investigation among college-aged females. Journal of Health Psychology, 13, 131-138.

Weight stigma, exercise motivation and exercise behavior were all investigated in this study. One hundred female undergraduates complete measures of experiences with weight stigma, body dissatisfaction and self-esteem. Experiences with stigma were positively correlated with BMI and body dissatisfaction. Also, stigma experiences were related to increased desire to avoid exercise. The author concludes that weight stigma can decrease physical activity levels.

Wallace, S. A., Townsend, T. G., Glasgow, Y. M., & Ojie, M. J. (2011). Gold diggers, video vixens, and jezebels: Stereotype images and substance use among urban African American girls. Journal of Womens Health, 20(9), 1315-1324. doi:10.1089/jwh.2010.2223

This study investigated the effect of negative stereotype attitudes and endorsement of Western standards of beauty (colorism) on the substance use behavior of low-income urban African American girls.  Findings indicated that girls who accepted an African American standard of beauty reported lower levels of substance use than those who endorsed colorism.  In addition, in a subset of cases, racial socialization buffered the negative relationship of colorism to substance use behavior. The authors make recommendations for interventions to reduce substance use among adolescent females.

Yoo, J.J. & Johnson, K.P. (2007). Effects of appearance-related testing on ethnically diverse adolescent girls. Adolescence, 46(166), 353-380.

This study investigated whether White and African American adolescents responded differently to experiences of teasing depending upon the content of the tease or ethnicity. Results showed that all adolescents found teasing negative, although African Americans indicated that there are times when it could be positive. Participants noted that after an experience of teasing they made attempts to modify their appearance.

Web Resources

The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination

This is the official website for the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination. Here you will find a host of resources about issues of weight, including information, statistics, resources on discrimination, health related issues, and links to other information available online.

The San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s Compliance Guidelines to Prohibit Weight and Height Discrimination

This is the San Francisco Human Rights commission’s Compliance Guidelines to Prohibit Weight and Height Discrimination. It is a good example of the steps one city has taken to ensure that people who do not fit the mold of “average” body type will not be discriminated against. It attempts to define height, weight, and reasonable accommodations. It then gives specifics for housing and employment.

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