Perceived Interpersonal Mistreatment Among Obese Americans: Do Race, Class, and Gender Matter?




Objective: We examine the extent to which body weight affects three types of perceived interpersonal mistreatment, and evaluate whether these patterns vary by race, social class, and gender in a large sample of American men and women.

Methods and Procedures: We use data from the first wave (1995) of the Midlife Development in the United States (N = 3,511), a survey of persons aged 25–74, to contrast underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese I, and obese II/III persons’ reports of three types of perceived interpersonal mistreatment: disrespectful treatment; harassment/teasing; and being treated as if one has a character flaw. We assess whether these relationships are contingent upon one's gender, race, and occupational status. We control for possible confounding influences, including physical and mental health.

Results: In the total sample, obese I and obese II/III persons report significantly higher levels of all three types of perceived mistreatment (compared to normal weight persons), even when demographic, socioeconomic status, and health characteristics are controlled. Among black men, however, obese II/III persons report significantly lower levels of all three types of perceived mistreatment, compared to their normal weight peers. Among both men and women, obese professional workers report significantly more perceived interpersonal mistreatment, compared to obese persons of lower socioeconomic status.

Discussion: These findings reveal the ways that intersecting social identities may shape obese Americans’ perceptions of stigmatizing interpersonal encounters.