Psychological Aspects of Adult Obesity: Perceptions of Beauty, The Stigma Experienced, and the Toll on Overall Health, a Lecture by Dr. Charlotte Markey, Ph.D., April 2, 2014
Dr. Charlotte Markey is a psychologist who studies social influences on eating-related behaviors (i.e., eating, dieting, body image). Some of her projects include the romantic partners’ role in eating-related behaviors, parents’ influences on their children’s eating-related behaviors and media influences on body image. Dr. Markey’s current research also involves the investigation of young adult heterosexual couples, gay, and lesbian couples and the roles that their relationships and personalities play in influencing their health.
Dr. Markey began her lecture by asking the students to comment on a series of photographs she projected on the screen. Each photograph contained a thin adult and an overweight/obese adult. The purpose of the exercise was to relate and discuss the perceptions that emanated from the images and that were picked up by the students.
Next, Dr. Markey discussed “Standards of Attractiveness” and how they have changed over time. Dr. Markey put up the painting “Olympia” by Manet, and related how, at the time (1863) it was painted, the painting was criticized because the woman depicted was thought to be extremely thin, if not suffering from under nutrition.
Dr. Markey reviewed dieting and its psychological toll on dieters. Dieting can cause more problems than initially accounted because if people who attempt a diet fail, then the repercussions from the failure can lead into a spiral of depression and self guilt. Dr. Markey discussed her insights into the psychology behind dieting and reactions to failure.
The next topic was the differences in perception experienced by obese men compared to obese women. Obese men generate an average of $1000/year more in medical costs than normal weight men, whereas obese women accumulate approximately $3000/year more in medical costs compared to women with a BMI below 30. Another difference is that men feel bias from others towards their obesity starting at a BMI of 35, whereas women experience bias from others at a much lower relative weight, starting at a BMI of 27, which is still in the over weight category. These differences in perception are responsible for the importance each sex places on having an acceptable body weight and image.
At this point in the lecture, Dr. Markey played a 10 min segment of the HBO documentary on Obesity; Available on You tube:
The segment of the documentary Dr. Markey played addressed the stigma experienced by people who are obese. Quite honestly, it was heart breaking to watch and hear the interviews with the obese subjects.
Next, the topic of who’s at fault if one is obese was discussed in class. Is it the obese person’s fault? Is it the environment’s fault? Does the government play a role? Is it the individual’s problem? Or is it a societal problem?
Dr. Markey explained that one reason some people feel it is acceptable to be cruel (as documented in the HBO film) to obese individuals is that these people hold the basic belief that it is the obese person’s personal responsibility for their weight gain, and therefore, that particular individual should be personally blamed for their lifestyle choices leading to obesity. But is it the case that the obese person actually has a real choice to live a lifestyle that leads to obesity? What if the obese person is truly driven by forces (such as a sustained, unrelenting appetite) that they can’t control? If this is the case, is it their personal fault for being obese? This topic is extremely complex and there are many issues involved. To help with the discussion, Dr. Markey concentrated on the short story she assigned: “The Fat Girl,” by Andre Dubus
There was a lengthy class discussion concerning Dubus’ famous short story! Please go to the website above and download the pdf of the story!
Dr. Charlotte Markey also assigned the following articles to read for the class:
Puhl RM, Heuer CA., The stigma of obesity: a review and update. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009 May;17(5):941-64.
Markey PM, Markey CN., Annual variation in Internet keyword searches: Linking dieting interest to obesity and negative health outcomes.
J Health Psychol. 2013 Jul;18(7):875-86
To learn more about Dr. Charlotte Markey’s research, please visit her website at: