Are Most People in Denial About Their Weight?
As I was walking through the gym the other day, I caught a glimpse of an overweight woman across the room. But then I did a double take, and then another. The woman was me — I had seen my own reflection in a distant mirror and, for a split second, hadn’t recognized myself.
This moment of mistaken identity was disconcerting, but it wasn’t all that unusual. Many of us are surprised by our size when reflected in the mirror or a store window — it’s like thinking that a recording of your own voice sounds off. And while psychologists have worried for years that media images of superslim starlets would put the nation’s collective self-esteem at risk, it turns out that something altogether different has happened. As the population becomes fatter, study after study shows that instead of feeling bad about ourselves, we have entered a collective state of denial about how big we’re actually getting.
A team of researchers led by a group from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently asked 3,622 young men and women in Mexico to estimate their body size based on categories ranging from very underweight to obese. People in the normal weight range selected the correct category about 80 percent of the time, but 58 percent of overweight students incorrectly described themselves as normal weight. Among the obese, 75 percent placed themselves in the overweight category, and only 10 percent accurately described their body size. (Notably, a sizable minority who were at a healthy weight described themselves as being underweight.)