Sizing Up Women’s Attitudes Toward Their Weight, Whether Real Or Ideal

Since men blithely let themselves go to seed, weight is seldom an emotional issue for them. Women are a different story. Though studies show them less likely than men to be overweight, women take weight personally. A new survey commissioned by Ladies’ Home Journal explores their feelings about it. The nuanced findings tend to rebut the simplistic notion that women are passive victims of a culture that exalts skinny fashion models—or, contrarily, that they have come to accept themselves as they are.

One of the questions asked respondents to identify “the last time you felt good about your body.” Nearly half (49 percent) answered, “I feel good about it now.” Another 21 percent said they last felt good about it one to five years ago. The rest of the responses were scattered among 6-10 years (8 percent), 11-15 years (4 percent) and more than 15 years ago (10 percent). Few women (3.5 percent) said they’ve “never” felt good about their bodies. Fat-acceptance seems less potent as a social force than fat-denial. One telling bit of data: 41 percent of women said they have lied about their weight, though it’s a subject ill-suited to lies that will fool anyone.

The poll got another intriguing measure of women’s attitudes by asking, “What clothing size would you have to wear before you consider yourself fat?” The responses averaged out to size 15.7. Thirty-one percent said it would take a size larger than 16 before they’d consider themselves fat; 71 percent now wear a size below what they regard as fat. By the way, women in the survey’s highest income cohort ($75,000-plus) may have internalized the notion that one can never be too rich or too thin. On average, their responses pointed to a stricter size 14.35 as the largest they could wear before considering themselves fat.

Despite the rising incidence of overweight and obesity, a majority of women claim not to have become deserters (or is it desserters?) from the battle of the bulge. When asked whether they have “given up on the hope of being your ideal weight,” just 20.5 percent said they had. There was considerable variation by region, though—ranging from 31 percent in the West to 14 percent in the Northeast and 16.5 percent in the South. Twenty-two percent of women said they’d get surgery that would make them thinner, if they could afford it. Among those in the 35-44 age group, 34 percent said so. It’s probably just as well that the women who could most easily afford such surgery are the least inclined to get it: 15 percent of the $75,000-plus women said they’d do so, vs. 26 percent of the under- $25,000s and 32 percent of the $25,000-49,999s.