Exploring stigma of “extreme” weight gain: The terror of fat possible selves in women's responses to hypothetically gaining one hundred pounds

Breanne Fahs, Eric Swank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


As insidious fat-phobia, fat talk, and fat-negative attitudes and behaviors permeate women's narratives about their bodies, fear of fatness and disdain for fat bodies has become a normative part of women's lives. That said, little is known about how women imagine their future selves and future weight gain, or how they would react to hypothetically imagining major weight gain despite the fact that over a third of American women are labeled as “obese” and many of them have gained at least 100 lb. This study analyzed semi-structured interviews with twenty women from a diverse 2014 community sample (mean age: 35.35, SD: 12.01) collected in a large Southwestern U.S. city in order to examine U.S. women's subjective feelings about hypothetically gaining significant weight. Results, centered on five themes, connected hypothetical weight gain to severe fat negativity: 1) Weight blame: Anger and disgust directed toward self; 2) Familiarity of gaining weight; 3) Fear of physical limitations; 4) Loss of “sexiness” and loss of male gaze; and 5) Severely distressed feeling that life is over. Tensions about the meaning of fatness and its physical and emotional implications for women were explored, alongside an analysis of how the hypothetically fat body produced visceral reactions, concerns about health, beliefs that attractiveness and eroticism were in danger, and, for some women, severely phobic reactions about fat bodies. Tensions between weight gain that are seen as “extreme” and mundane are also discussed. Methodological implications for how hypothetical questions can elicit strong emotional content are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalWomen's Studies International Forum
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Body image
  • Emotions
  • Fat phobia
  • Fatness
  • Gender norms
  • Weight gain
  • Women's bodies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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