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Exploring the Intersections of Weight, Gender, Race and Sexual Orientation to Understand the Internalization of Weight Bias among Sexual Minority Women

Laura Durso, PhD
Williams Institute at UCLA Law School
Award Year: 2013

Initial Abstract

Weight-based discrimination is a pervasive phenomenon with significant negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of heavier people, including the internalization of weight bias. As lesbian and bisexual women have been shown to weigh more than their heterosexual counterparts, they may be more vulnerable to experiencing such discrimination and to internalizing negative social stereotypes about weight. Conversely, by resisting dominant ideals about weight and shape, sexual minority women may be protected from experiencing the poor health outcomes associated with internalized weight bias. To answer these important questions, additional research is needed to improve the measurement of this construct among sexual minority women. The
present proposal will use a mixed-methods approach to explore the conceptualization of internalized weight bias among sexual minority women of multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds and test the psychometric properties of one frequently-used measure of internalized weight bias, The Weight Bias Internalization Scale (WBIS), in this understudied population. We estimate that the study will successfully recruit three 6-8 person homogeneous groups of women for each ethnic group (n=12 focus groups), with each representing self-identified lesbian and bisexual women from similar ethnic and racial backgrounds (e.g. a Black lesbian and bisexual women’s group). Focus group interviews will develop the construct of internalized weight bias
and explore participants’ experiences of weight-based discrimination alongside other forms of oppression. In addition, interview questions will assess the impact of experiencing weight-based discrimination on health and wellbeing. Based on focus group data gathered in the qualitative phase, additional scale items will be generated and tested to improve the content validity of the WBIS for use with ethnically diverse samples of sexual minority women. For the quantitative phase of the proposal, approximately 400 study participants will be recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk online survey platform (https://www.mturk.com). The internal consistency of the WBIS items will be assessed within each subsample of women (e.g. Black lesbian and
bisexual women), and Pearson product-moment correlations will be calculated to determine the relationship of internalized weight bias to perceived discrimination, internalized racism and internalized homophobia, body image concern, eating behaviors, physical activity, health-related quality of life, and healthcare utilization. Given interest in weight as a target for public health interventions, and the importance of understanding the impact of experiencing weight-based discrimination on the health of heavier people, the proposed project would add significantly to research conducted in this area. First, the study will ensure that existing measurement tools are appropriate for use in populations of sexual minority women. Second, the study will be the first to consider the ways in which perceptions of weight and weight-based discrimination may be impacted by multiple aspects of identity and the negotiation of other types of oppressions.

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