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Associative Stigma

“They Might Be Wondering Why I Didn’t Set My Sights Higher”: Associative Stigma in Sexual and Romantic Relationships with Fat Partners - Flora Oswald, Lena Orlova, Devinder Khera, Kari A. Walton, Alex Lopes, & Cory L. Pedersen


Fatness and fat people are pervasively stigmatized in Western cultures, with significant negative implications for fat people’s well-being. Negative evaluations of those in sexual and romantic relationships with fat people (i.e. associative stigma) may have harmful implications for shared relational well-being. Here, we examined whether non-fat (i.e. thin) sexual and romantic relationship partners of fat people experience associative stigma. First, we conducted a mixed-methods study with thin partners of fat people to elucidate their experiences of associative stigmatization and impacts on relational and sexual well-being. Many participants reported experiencing associative stigma, which, in tandem with relationship stigma, predicted lower relationship satisfaction but not sexual satisfaction. The most commonly reported experiences of associative stigma included others’ assumptions that the fat partner is inferior, weight-based microaggressions, and negative attention in public. In a second, experimental study, we randomly assigned a second sample of participants to read one of 16 vignettes about mixed-weight (one fat and one thin partner; experimental condition) or same-weight (both thin; control) couples. Stimulus couples varied by target (thin partner) gender (male vs. female), relationship orientation (same-gender vs. other-gender), and relationship type (sexual vs. romantic). We found mixed support for our hypotheses that thin partners of fat people, relative to thin people in same-weight relationships, would be stigmatized. We conclude by calling for greater attention to the potential for associative stigma to influence sexual and romantic relationship outcomes.

Article published in the Journal of Sex Research,

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