Self Esteem and Body Image – The Stigma of Being Obese

Self Esteem and Body ImageDid you ever think that the CAUSE of being obese is low self-esteem and poor body image? Most people would say that the cause would be poor self-control and ignorance. I wrote this article to open people’s eyes to the stigma of being over weight, and why it is so difficult to just quit eating and be skinny. I will delve into self-esteem and body image issues and give you some ways to improve your own self-insights.

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General Attitudes Toward Obese People

“Overweight people are presumed lazy, undisciplined, dishonest and unintelligent. More than half of people (61 percent) see no harm in making negative remarks about a person’s weight.” from Psychology Today. Don’t I know it! But although I’m a fat person, this does not describe me at all, nor does it describe any other obese people I know. We are seen as gross, disgusting, filthy, and piggish. We are considered weak, pathetic, and ugly. And people have no qualms about saying so to our faces.

Take the instance in 2014 with the Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries. “Jeffries made his mark by exclusionary marketing, packing the chain’s stores with young, attractive workers and models acting as greeters. That meant refusing to create large-size clothes, limiting the biggest shirt sizes to “large” and pants to size 10. A retail analyst, Robin Lewis, summed up Jeffries’s strategy: he “doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people.” This is from The Guardian

Self Esteem and Body ImageStatistics

“In a recent national survey of overweight sixth graders, 24% of the boys and 30% of the girls experienced daily teasing, bullying or rejection because of their size. The number doubles for overweight high school students with 58% of boys and 63% of girls experiencing daily teasing, bullying or rejection because of their size,” according to JoAnn Stevelos, of the Obesity Action Coalition.

“Obesity, a common and costly health issue that increases risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, affects more than one-third of adults and 17 percent of youth in the United States. By the numbers, 78 million adults and 12 million children are obese—figures many regard as an epidemic.” This is from Obesity Statistics in the United States – National Conference of State Legislatures.

Here are some statistics from Psychology Today:

  • More than half of doctors described their overweight patients as ugly, awkward and non-compliant with treatment.
  • Nearly one-quarter of nurses admitted to feeling repulsed by their obese patients.
  • Nearly 30 percent of teachers said that becoming obese was “the worst thing that can happen to someone.”
  • Defendants in lawsuits who are overweight are more likely to get slapped with a guilty verdict.
  • More than 70 percent of obese people reported being ridiculed about their weight by a family member.
  • Fifty-two percent of obese individuals believe they’ve been discriminated against when seeking employment or a promotion.
  • Children as young as 4 are reluctant to make friends with an overweight child.

Self Esteem and Body ImageChronic Depression

Does depression cause obesity, or does obesity cause depression? It is unclear.

“Our robust genetic analysis concludes that the psychological impact of being obese is likely to cause depression.” says Dr. Jess Tyrrell These results provide vital insight, as Dr. Tyrrell explains, “This is important to help target efforts to reduce depression, which makes it much harder for people to adopt [healthful] lifestyle habits.” This is from Medical News Today.

“Promoting an Unhealthy Lifestyle”

“Gillette is under fire for tweeting a photo of a plus-size blogger to promote its razors. Critics accuse the company of glamorizing an unhealthy condition for profit. The razor maker says it is committed to representing women of all shapes and sizes.” This was reported by CBS News.

I find this hypocritical, as the fashion business promotes an unhealthy lifestyle every day by showing anorexic and bulimic models in most of their fashion lines.

“Many of the world’s most successful supermodels, celebrities, and female movie stars have come forward lately to reveal their struggles with Anorexia, Bulimia, binge eating, and other food-related behavior disorders. Research proves that the thin celebrities our mainstream media often promotes as standards of female beauty can have a very negative and powerful impact on the teenagers of today.” from Center for Discovery.

Self Esteem and Body ImageMy Story

My parents were abusive and neglecting, and would often withhold food from me. So my whole concept of food is messed up. I have always had a subconscious fear of running out of food. I eat everything, because as a child, it was a reasonable assumption that there would not be more food for an extended period.

I was a chubby looking child. My family made fun of me for “being” fat, when in reality I just “looked” fat. I actually wasn’t really overweight. I have really big bones, so I weigh much more than a “normal” person. But of course, that didn’t matter to anyone: teachers, doctors, other kids, and adults alike, and particularly my family saw me as a fat person. And when I looked in the mirror, I always saw a fat person too.

I have fought this my entire life. I have been discriminated against when it comes to applying for jobs. I have been blown off by doctors. I have continued to be ridiculed by my family members. And of course, for years, being my own worst critic, I perpetuated those attitudes with my own negative self talk.

I suffer from chronic depression. Being fat certainly didn’t help, if it wasn’t the cause all together. Being obese and depressed is a double whammy. It’s a snowball effect: I see myself as fat, and I get depressed and I eat to comfort myself (and eat “it all” because of my messed up food issues), I get even fatter. I see myself getting fatter, and I get more depressed, and so I eat even more. It’s a vicious cycle.

By the time I reached my 30s and started resolving my childhood issues, it was already too late for my depression and my obesity. I had yo-yo dieted so much that I destroyed my metabolism, and could no longer lose weight with just exercise and diet. And I had been depressed so long that there was no going back; I’m on anti-depression medications, and will likely be on them the rest of my life.

So that’s it. I am obese, and will likely be that way for the foreseeable future. It took me years, but I am finally able to see myself as a beautiful, vibrant, and vital woman. Clothing has helped me a lot to see myself in this way.

Self Esteem and Body ImageThings We Can Do To Give Ourselves a Better Body Image

  • First of all, get rid of those smaller size clothing items in your closet. I know you have them! EVERY woman, fat or skinny, has that pair of jeans or that dress, that they are going to wear when they lose a few pounds. That’s terrible! Every day, you open your closet, and you see that symbol of failure staring you in the face. Get rid of them. Only keep clothing that fits you, and you will no longer be met with a daily failure message.
  • Remember that size is just an arbitrary number assigned by the fashion industry that even THEY can’t agree on. The variations of size from one store to another should be enough to tell you that a size 10 is not a size 10 everywhere you go. So, stop focusing on your size number and your weight in pounds, These numbers should not define you!
  • Love yourself first and foremost. Take time for yourself. Treat yourself like the beautiful woman you are. Take time to create a self-care regimen, like you would do a skin-care regimen. Keep your hair groomed and styled. Get regular mani-pedis. And above all, do regular check ups with your dentist and doctor.
  • Write a polite but direct letter to your doctor. Often we are intimidated when we speak to our doctors about our health issues. If you write a well-thought-out letter explaining that you want them to look past your weight issues, your doctor is more likely to treat you as “normal” instead of blaming everything on your weight.
  • Look into the Health at Every Size program. This is a system that promotes healthy body image, and teaches you to be healthy no matter what size you are. The program was evaluated in a government-funded academic study, and its data was published in well-respected scientific journals. It’s a great place to start for a person interested in treating themselves as they deserve.

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In Conclusion

When you see an obese person, don’t forget to walk a mile in their shoes before you judge them as lazy, undisciplined, and dirty. Understand that there are serious reasons why they are obese. Realize that the situation is often beyond their control. Be kind.

And if you are an obese person, cut yourself some slack. Forgive yourself for being weak. And treat yourself as the beautiful person that you are.

Please leave your questions and comments below, and thank you for reading!

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  1. Jon

    I think that being obese is just is what it is and although I am pretty skinny people can choose not to be skinny if they want to. Have you ever thought what it would be like to be skinny and do you think that it is a solution to not care if people are skinny or not? You can be skinny and not have self esteem as well.

    • RhondaLeigh

      Hi Jon, yes people of all body types have negative body image issues.  And I think your point is that people can choose not to be skinny, and thereby also choose not to be fat.  I’m here to tell you that it’s not as simple as that.  Some of us have health issues and mental issues that prevent us from making that choice.  I know it’s an emotional issue for everyone, and that sometimes prevents us from talking candidly about it.  But I’m here to say that we do need to open up about it, and let each other know what the issues are.  Thank you for reading and commenting!  RhondaLeigh

  2. Paul

    Dear RhondaLeigh,

    I was shocked and felt bad on the Jeffries’s strategy. The Statistics you shared are very helpful and informative.

    I am unaware there are these many problems and challenges to obese people. While reading your post I remembered my school days in which I make fun of my fat friend and as a group we involved in teasing and bullying. I am really ashamed on my act now and I don’t know how to find him and ask my apologies.

    Thanks for sharing your story. You not only discussed the problems and challenges of obese people but the best part is you have provided with great solutions as well. Although at the moment I am not teasing anyone going forward I will try to help these people.

    Great information, you have really given a lot of value here!

    Best wishes to you, your family and your success, 

    Warm Regards,


    • RhondaLeigh

      Paul, thank you so much for your comments.  I appreciate that you learned a few things from my post.  I think a lot of the reasons why we do things like that as children is because we were raised that way in a society where that kind of behavior was acceptable.  You did not realize it was hurting people at the time, and I am thankful you see that in yourself and have changed.  Thanks for seeing that inside yourself.  Thanks again for reading and commenting!  RhondaLeigh

  3. akshaysaxena

    That’s an awesome post. You have wonderfully defined your experience being fat and out of shape. Even I was out of shape just a year back, I was too skinny and I used to wear big and fat clothing while attending parties and during hanging out. 

    I had almost all sort of complexes that you have mentioned. I just couldn’t eat or exercise more due to asthma problem. Somehow, I get over it. I can very much relate to your post. And, suggestions you have given are simply awesome👍

    Thanksa lot for sharing this useful post. Keep up the good work. 


    • RhondaLeigh

      Hello Akshaysaxena, for reading and commenting.  It seems that obese people don’t have hold the corner on poor body image.  We get so down on ourselves for not being perfect.  It’s a real shame.  I’m really happy though, that some companies are actually getting the idea of promoting healthy body image.  It’s a slow process though, and the only way they will get the picture is for us to promote awareness.  Thanks again for your comments!  RhondaLeigh 

  4. Mary

    Hi Rhonda, 

    I admire you for sharing your story. I can imagine it was not easy for you. 

    People should try more to treat each other nice and not judge by look only. When I see an obese person in my gym, I feel respect, as I know that getting there was much harder for them than for me. 

    My natural way of thinking is that obesity is probably a result of some health issues. I learned from you today that it can come from mental issues as well.

    It’s so sad when you say that the damage is permanent and there is no way out without taking the meds. 

    Be strong. At least you can help others to feel better


    • RhondaLeigh

      Aw Mary, thank you for your sentiments.  Yes, the unfortunate thing is there’s no way out without drastic measures on my part, and because my health issues have snowballed out of control over the years, there’s a few options that are not on the table for me.  But….I want to say that I have overcome a lot, and that my life is absolutely happy now, despite the obstacles I am faced with.  So, thank you for your lovely comments.  I really appreciate what you have said.  RhondaLeigh 

  5. Poppa

    Hi Rhonda …
    A very thought provoking article.
    I can tell you that I completely understand and empathize having been overweight my entirely life.
    I think addiction plays a critical role in obesity.  The big food companies engineer their foods to induce bliss, and consequently, it forms an addiction.  Then we’re bombarded with advertisements for their creations to trigger the addiction.  The deck is stacked against us for sure!
    I agree that positive self-esteem is important.  Our self-esteem should come from who we are, and what we do, not how we look.  

    • RhondaLeigh

      Hey Poppa, thanks for stopping by my website.  Yes, I agree that the food industry is just as much at fault as the fashion industry in trying to make us feel like S@%T about ourselves.  I want to look into the whole concept of “will power” and see if a skinny person has as much poor will power as a fat person. It’s my theory that they don’t.  That could be my next post!  Thanks again for reading and thank you very much for the comment.  RhondaLeigh

  6. Sherry

    The fashion industry and media have perpetuated the negative body image of men and women. It’s really hard in today’s society to accept yourself. But it is very possible! And freeing. Thank you for providing others with support and sharing your personal experience. I too have struggled with body image since a child.  Now 31, I’m finally accepting and loving myself! I pray others find that same peace and freedom. 

    • RhondaLeigh

      Hello Sherry!  Yes, the whole negative body image thing happens to nearly everybody, not just overweight women.  It’s time we stand up and say that we aren’t taking it anymore.  Why should we put up with this?  It’s time we take on the industry and tell them they need to step up.  Thanks for reading my post and thanks for the comments!  RhondaLeigh

  7. Alblue

    Hi Rhonda, thanks for sharing your story. It’s awful when people bully and tease you because of body shape. There are a lot of cases like this in my country, especially in middle and high school. Learn to love yourself is a good choice. Just wondering, is it better if an obese person work hard to cut some pounds (by their own choice), or stay as is? 

    • RhondaLeigh

      Hello Alblue, thanks for reading my post.  It’s always better to lose some pounds if your doctor recommends it and you can do it safely, slowly, and correctly, according to your doctor’s recommendations.  For me, I try to be as healthy as I can, but I don’t beat myself up anymore if I don’t lose weight.  I remember reading that yo-yo dieting can be worse than staying obese in some cases.  So, I would say to answer your question, do whatever your doctor recommends.  Thanks again for your comments and thanks for reading! 

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