Tag Archives: stigma

Weighty ‘Tudes

An advertisement created by a Georgia children’s hospital. (Image via huffingtonpost.com).

At the Huffington Post, UCLA sociologist Abigail Saguy weighs in on weight-based stigma. Saguy notes that while there are health risks associated with obesity, stigma and bullying directed at overweight individuals may prove just as harmful as excess weight.

In particular,  stigma may exacerbate health concerns by discouraging obese women from receiving routine or preventative health care:

For many women, the place where they feel their dignity most crushed is in the doctor’s office. In fact, scores of studies show that “obese” women are less likely to get Pap smears and other medical screens because they experience the doctor’s office to be a hostile environment. And they are not delusional. Study after study shows that medical professionals—in the United States and abroad—believe that their heavier patients are weak-willed and non-compliant. Other women and men are denied health care coverage because they are “morbidly obese.” When lack of screening contributes to higher rates of cervical cancer among “obese” women, we can say that our attitudes about fatness are literally making us sick.

And, Saguy says, public health campaigns aimed at reducing obesity may be adding to the problem:

Just this month, L.A. County launched a new obesity awareness campaign titled “Choose Less, Weigh Less.” News reports on the initiative included photos of headless torsos with overflowing guts. The efficacy of such programs remains unproven. However, there is growing evidence—including from experiments I have conducted with psychologist David Frederick and UCLA sociology graduate student Kjerstin Gruys—that such messages worsen weight-based stigma. In our experiments, people who read news reports that discuss obesity as a public health crisis were more likely to agree with negative stereotypes of fat people as unlikeable, untrustworthy and less intelligent than thinner people, compared to people not having read such articles.

Such studies suggest that in the fight for improved health, shedding weight-based stigma may be as or more important than shedding pounds.

A Doodle in Context

Google Doodle screenshot via 5tjt

Google Doodle screenshot via 5tjt

The doodle on the Google home page today may have raised a few eyebrows. Featuring a dark-skinned man running over a course of hurdles on a pink track lined with green grass, for some, it conjures up the historically problematic association of African Americans with watermelons. An op-ed in Five Towns Jewish Times contemplates whether the doodle is racist, or if it should be dismissed as an unfortunate coincidence. The piece cites a post by Lisa Wade, sociologist and TSP blogger, to unpack why such images are offensive when placed in historical context:

“African Americans,”  the argument went, “were happy as slaves.  They didn’t need the complicated responsibilities of freedom, they just needed some shade and a cool, delicious treat.”

The pervasive association with watermelons has reinforced the stereotype of African Americans as simple-minded and inferior, thus justifying systems of oppression and inequality. With this problematic history, perhaps Google would do well to reconsider this doodle.

Sportsmanlike Behavior

High School Rugby photo by Phillip Capper via flickr.com

High school rugby photo by Phillip Capper via flickr.com

Based on a year of field-work with 16- to 18- year olds, Mark McCormack, a sociologist at Brunel University (UK), argues that homophobic attitudes are on the decline in British secondary schools. As The Economist explains, McCormack’s new book, The Declining Significance of Homophobia, “describes an atmosphere of affection between male students both gay and straight, who no longer feel they need to act like sport-mad brutes to be accepted by their peers.”

Admittedly, some pupils still use the word “gay” to express disapproval -but they apply it to things like homework, and it is rarely a dig even when directed at people. Among these boys homophobia bore the same stigma as racism.

McCormack points to the media and the Internet as sources of the shift in attitudes:

First, there are many more openly gay performers, politicians and TV characters, which helps to normalise homosexuality. Second, the internet lets lonely provincial teenagers reach beyond their town limits. Social-networking websites encourage frankness about sexual orientation, and YouTube is a fount of videos featuring transgender confessionals and boys coming out to their mothers.

McCormack does not claim that harassment or bullying based on homophobia is no longer an issue, but that the situation has improved. And, he argues, “it is wrong and counter-productive to harp on about the dangers gay teenagers face, if it prevents many from coming out of the closet.”

In related research, our own Kyle Green reported late last year in Contexts‘ Discoveries section on research from Eric Anderson, who tracked high school athletes’ attitudes toward openly gay teammates over time, finding a dramatic drop in homophobia even in contact sports in just 10 years. It appears this trend is bearing out “across the pond.”

We, the Unemployed

Photo by Amanda Tetrault via Creative Commons

Photo by Amanda Tetrault via Creative Commons

Just before the dawn of the New Year, Marketplace Money’s Eve Troeh hoped to find some silver lining, or at least an optimistic take, on one thing so many Americans now share: the job hunt. What she really seemed to find in her American Public Media report, though, was that unemployment remains as alienating an experience as it is a common one. And, as USC sociologist Karen Sternheimer explained, it’s a cruddy thing for anyone to go through, including the so-called highly-educated unemployed.

“One of the biggest measures of class is something called ‘occupational prestige’,” said Sternheimer. “Part of our status is based not just on how much money we have or make, but on kind of what other people think of what we do.” As Troeh went on, “When professionals lose jobs, then, [Sternheimer] says we’re more likely to blame them—even though we all know that layoffs in recent years happened across the board.”

Echoing Joe Soss’s comments in the Star Tribune, as covered in Citings & Sightings a couple of days ago, Sternheimer affirmed, “There’s still a lot of antipathy towards people who don’t have jobs. The myth of the American Dream says that you’ve either succeeded or failed based on your own merit.” More surprisingly, though, Sternheimer tells Marketplace Money that “her research on the Great Depression shows that in tough times, we cling more closely to that dream, that our own hard work determines our fate, rather than blame bigger economic forces.” This can result in a lot of blame for everyone’s “bad times” being placed on the unemployed themselves. And when you are the unemployed, the depression and alienation compound.

Etiquette, in fact, is where the radio story ended: “Etiquette expert Peter Post at the Emily Post Institute says relationships get ruined over a job loss. Even generous offers have to be made carefully.” This is to say, just as talking salary isn’t usually palatable for Americans, talking no salary is touchy, too. For more tips and/or commiseration, be sure to check out the full report, available online at American Public Media.

A Whole Lotta Handcuffs

Photo by Chuck Coker via flickr

Young people have always tended to get into some trouble here and there. What’s shocking, though, is how often young Americans are being arrested–in fact, by the age 23, nearly a third of Americans will have been arrested for a crime other than a moving violation. This stat is reported by the New York Times and comes out of a study by Shawn Bushway, a criminologist at the State University at Albany, and Robert Brame, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Their work analyzed data from the federal government’s National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

Bushway and Brame found that the current arrest ratio (30.2 percent of young adults having been arrested for things other than a minor traffic violation) was a significant increase from 22 percent back in 1965. According to the researchers, this could be a result of an increasingly aggressive and punitive judicial system that has given rise to more drug related offenses and zero-tolerance policies in schools. According to Bushway:

This estimate provides a real sense that the proportion of people who have criminal history records is sizable and perhaps much larger than most people would expect.

Brame says that he hopes the study, which was appeared in the journal Pediatrics, could help alert physicians to signs that their young patients could be at risk. As he said in USA Today, “Arrest is a pretty common experience,” but still, “We know that arrest occurs in a context,” Brame told the Times. “There are other things going on in people’s lives at the time they get arrested, and those things aren’t necessarily good.” If doctors can intervene, he added, “It can have big implications for what happens to these kids after the arrest, whether they become embedded in the criminal justice system or whether they shrug it off and move on.”

Regardless of the study’s intended audience, the fact that nearly a third of young adults has an arrest record is a serious manner, especially in an era in which many employers routinely conduct criminal background checks and youth records that should be sealed are often found to be publicly available on the Internet.