Obese People Don’t See Themselves as Fat

By Gerry Pugliese


Many obese people don’t see themselves as fat and in fact, they think they’re healthy – or so says a new study.

Talk about being a “glass is half full” type of person. I wish I was like that!

The problem is this positive attitude doesn’t dispel the fact that obese people are at a heightened risk of death, i.e. heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, etc.Published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, scientists gauged body awareness of 2,056 men and women already participating in a study, surveying the individuals on their body perception.

Researchers asked participants to look at pictures and choose their ideal body size. People who picked figures that were the same or larger than their actual body size were classified as “misperceiving” their body size, but these people were also more likely to be happier.

However, worry warts who acknowledge they’re fat and out of shape tend to be less happy. I’m willing to guess that only exacerbates the problem. For you Shaun of the Dead fans, that means “to make things worse.”

Important factors were considered. Scientists found people with higher incomes and better education were no more likely to perceive their body weight accurately, than less educated people, or those with lower incomes.

And here’s the problem with that. Those who misperceived their size, saw their health risks as the same as people who more accurately identified their body size; which is a problem. Obese people are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, and the list goes on and on.

All this reminds me of the scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral – no I don’t like girly movies, I saw it in a film class in college – where the overweight, smoking, drinking, jovial guy drops dead from a heart attack after boozing, eating, and dancing at the wedding reception.

I think this is a personality thing. If you’re happy go lucky and have a fun social network, you spend less time being introspective and worrying about all the nitty-gritty. I’m a miserable, cynical, depressed mess, so I spend a ton of time worrying about my health, but one of my happier and – as coincidence may have it – overweight friends enjoys life more and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Well, the not so small stuff.

Image credit: The Sneeze


  1. Lysa

    It is full denial. I remember my aunt who is 5 ft 5 and weighs 350 lbs and she never ever admit to have a weight problem. She always call herself full figure, sexy, curvy & voluptuous. She even accuse people who voice their concerns towards her. She told them they should just mind their own business and stop being jealous. What an attitude. All she did nowadays is cave in the house and she has 3 fridges to keep all her foods & snacks. She guards them heavily like a dragon guarding pots of gold.

  2. Lestamore

    So, if your ideal body size is bigger, then you are misperceiving your body size? What about aesthetics? I am not skinny myself, but entirely besides that, I am much more physically attracted to people on the big side than the smaller. When I decided to lose weight for my health, I had to go through a lot of indecision based on the fact that aesthetically, I was really happy fat. I was worried that getting thin would make me feel ugly and boring. In the end, I decided that the health impact was more important, and after 35 lb down, I don’t feel ugly, but I still think fat girls are cuter than regular sized.

  3. sprice76

    Wow, who said anything about self-esteem? Just because a person dislikes something about themselves doesn’t mean they have no self-esteem. On the contrary, many see it as a sign that it’s time to make a change.

  4. TristanD73

    That’s totally me when I was 187 lbs (and more at times) at 5’4″. When you’re younger, say below age 45, I thought I was healthy at that weight. In my world, it’s a family/cultural phenomenon. If you’re pudgy and “carry it well” then you’re healthy–only sick people can’t eat, so EAT!

    Then I was pushing 50 and out of breath, having joint problems, stomach problems, couldn’t get off the floor when I played with my dog without grabbing onto something, couldn’t keep up with my dog on our walks. Couldn’t dance anymore without pulling a muscle. Still, for years, this idea persisted that I was “healthy”. It’s a sticky idea and to this day, I look at myself thin and there’s this little inkling in my head that I am not healthy because I am no longer fat. I have to deal with it everyday because it’s so ingrained from childhood.

  5. Melanie | Dietriffic

    Hi Musajen,
    Mike’s article was based on these results, Gerry’s from here.

  6. musajen

    Didn’t you already cover this story a couple weeks ago? Nice to know you read your own site…

  7. Naomi

    Hey it’s nice that they are happy..
    Because it’s hard to get out of this obesity depression.
    i know i m already suffered from this kind of depression.
    Good things to learn from them.
    Keep it up guys..:)

  8. ArrowSmith

    Hey look if they’re happy and cheerful despite cutting off 20-30 years of lifespan, who’s to begrudge them?

  9. ArrowSmith

    Yeah I think that’s the thing for a lot of us – losing the vanity weight.

  10. O.

    There is no magic formula to it, it is just the raw hard facts I know from life experience.

    When I was in high one of our cheerleaders was paralyzed in a skiing accident. She looked so ashamed when she returned to school in her wheelchair. She stopped coloring her hair, she stopped wearing her contact lenses. Eventually she got her self asteem back but it probably wasn’t easy.

    And as for myself, I have psoriasis. It is under control now but when I was first diagnosed most of my hair fell out and it took almost 3 years for it to grow back. Now it’s about 4 inches below my shoulder but I spent a whole year with little growth and nearly bald.

    But see we are so caught up with how weight affects physical appearence we don’t think that much about accidents and illnesses that can do the same thing and is beyond our control.

    You say you don’t like your body….. what would you do if you had alopecia? You have to dig in deep and get some self asteem.

  11. sprice76

    Wow, I wish I could be so comfortable with my body! I’m 5’5′ and 135 lbs. I had a baby almost a year ago and got back to my pre-pregnancy weight, but my body is so different now and I can’t stand it. I look fine in clothes but underneath, yuck. At least that’s what I think when I look at it in the mirror. I’ve got so much flab, especially on my stomach and thighs, and just nothing is the same.

    Then there’s my sister who is my height and 100lbs heavier than me. She’s been trying to lose weight but she’s having a hard time, is getting frustrated and said it’s making her uncomfortable with her body, and she’s never felt uncomfortable about it before. I mean, really, at 100 lbs overweight? I mean, kudos to her for self-acceptance, I just can’t imagine…

  12. Spectra

    I’m all for loving yourself at any size, but you also have to be realistic. When I was fat, I didn’t think I was enormous (and I truthfully wasn’t…I was a size 14/16, 165 lbs) and I really liked my body for the most part. I just thought it would be better if I lost a couple of pounds or grew a couple of inches. When I gained 30 more pounds in college in the span of 3 months, all of a sudden I DID see myself as fat and out-of-shape. I decided I needed to get healthy and lose the weight. And truthfully, once I was back to about 160 lbs, I no longer felt fat anymore. But since I had the tools to lose more weight, I thought “Hey, why not be thin?” Once I got to about 130, my doctor told me that I was fine, but if I wanted to shed some vanity pounds, that would be ok. I think a lot of people see their extra pounds as “vanity weight”…not harmful to their health, but just kind of annoying to deal with.

  13. O.

    Nowadays I could wear a 1x shirt. But last month I bought 3 different shirts at 2 different stores all from the misses department.

    I know how big I am, and I know how big I am NOT.

    I can’t speak for all people who need to loose weight. But that’s what it comes down to, is knowing where you are and what you need to work on and not let somebody else ( who’s likely got a boat load of issues themselves) dictate the status of your body.

    And men seem to use the word “fat” anytime they can’t crush a woman with their bare hands.

    I remember someone on this site literally said that Serena Williams was “fat” even though her body is all muscle! Huh?

    I heard someone call Khloe Kardashian “fat”. Huh?

    She may be somewhere around 6 feet tall. She may not have as “classic” a face as Kim and Kourtney. But fat??????

  14. O.

    Even worse are people who “overblow” a slight weight weight gain in other people. I’m going to be candid here….it’s usually guys against their girlfriends/wives.

    When I was in college I was dating a guy then he moved to another college so I only saw him in the summer. I had gained 1 dress size( from 10 to 12) the exact pounds I don’t know but he was not pleased.

    The funny thing was I was working at Macy’s during that time in a misses(that’s regular size womens clothing) department. But my department was next to the womens ( that’s plus size) department and sometimes I cleaned that department if no one else was around.

    One day I picked up a size 1x shirt to put it on a rack and I stoped and held it in front of me and looked in a mirror. It was huge on me. But I thought “WHY AM I LETTING THIS GUY MAKE ME FEEL LIKE I AM 300 POUNDS!”

    But back then (late 90’s) there wasn’t any internet dating, or I would have droped him like a hot potato!