The Relationship between Being Overweight and Low Self-Esteem

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The Relationship between Being Overweight and Low Self-Esteem


One of the growing public health issues in the United States is obesity. During the past decade, the incidence of the condition has increased significantly across almost all age groups and social classes. In the US, statistics reveal that about 15% of children are either obese or severely overweight (Paxton 2). The state is not only a risk factor for numerous health problems, but also the one for a number of social and psychological outcomes such as low self-esteem. In addition, obese children are at a higher risk of developing emotional problems that are likely to progress to adulthood. Issues such as weight-related teasing and rejection by peers play a significant role in reducing the child’s self-esteem. Undoubtedly, self-feeling has an impact on multiple aspects that are related to a person’s behavior and health such as levels of anxiety, levels of activity engagement as well as social adjustment. In addition, lower levels of self-esteem have been associated with suicidal thoughts and depression (Paxton 2). The following essay reviews literature regarding the link between being overweight and the level of self-rating. It argues that the relationship under consideration is reciprocal in the sense that excess weight is a contributing factor to low level of self-esteem and vice versa.

The Concept of Being Overweight

Obese people are those weighing above the weight range considered “ideal” in the life insurance weight and height charts (Myers and Rothblum 188). For Chojnacki et al, people having such a condition tend to have more body fat in comparison with optimally healthy fat levels (para. 1). On the other hand, obesity refers to an increase in the percentage of body fat with respect to the lean tissue. The body mass index (BMI) – effects of height on body weight – describes the extent to which an individual is overweight. A score of 25 and above on the BMI scale is an indication of being overweight, with a score of 25-30 indicating pre-obesity and the one above 30 signaling the obesity. There is no doubt that having excess weight is a prevalent public health concern in the United States and across the globe (Myers and Rothblum 190). It is a global epidemic, with estimates indicating at least 2 billion adults being either obese or overweight as of 2013. Chojnacki et al.assert that a healthy body needs minimal fat levels to ensure that the immune, reproductive and hormonal systems function properly (para. 5). However, having excess fat can not only hamper flexibility and movement, but also change body appearance.

Furthermore, the condition under analysis results in serious social and psychological outcomes. A significant proportion of overweight people are victims of disapproval from friends, family, and remarks and sneers made by strangers. According to Chojnacki et al., owing to the fact that fatness is subject to stigmatization, the terms and phrased used to refer to it such as morbidity obese, massive, overweight, hefty, fat and obese are usually derogatory (para. 5). The discrimination against overweight people is based on two main assumptions regarding body weight. First, if individuals having such a problem exercised more and ate less, they would reduce their weight and subsequently, move out of the stigmatized group. The other one states that large body size results in health issues. However, Myers and Rothblum discredit the statement concerning the relation of the health risks and fatness by highlighting inconsistencies associated with the studies examining the relationship between health and body weight (189). In particular, they state that the researches do not consider the income despite the fact that there is a strong relation between it and weight. Moreover, they do not take into account the frequency of dieting and the fact that researchers are not capable of controlling the negative psychological outcomes associated with stress among overweight people. Myers and Rothblum believe that, even if the dominant opinion that obesity is not healthy is accepted, the health risk associated with being overweight cannot be used to justify the stigmatization of overweight individuals (189).

The Concept of Self-Esteem

Hanlon defines self-esteem as the sense of self-acceptance and individual’s understanding of his/her own worth, competence, significance and ability to satisfy one’s aspirations (para. 1). In this regard, it denotes the extent to which a person respects and values oneself, and has pride in his/her achievements. The development of self-esteem commences during childhood, progresses, and solidifies during adolescence, and is usually considered trying and turbulent for most people.

There is a general belief that viewing oneself positively has several benefits (Heatherton and Wyland 219). For instance, individuals with high self-esteem tend to be psychologically healthy and happy whereas those with low self-esteem often exhibit psychological distress and depression. Respectively, people who feel good about themselves demonstrate higher self-esteem when compared to those having negative feelings about themselves. Furthermore, it has been found that individuals with higher levels of self-esteem are better equipped to deal successfully with both challenges and negative feedback (Heatherton and Wyland 219). Despite the fact that extremely high self-esteem has negative outcomes, a significant proportion of individuals having one are evidently happy and productive. On the contrary, those with low self-esteem perceive the world using a negative filter, and exhibit a dislike for themselves, which influences the way they perceive things surrounding them. Substantial empirical evidence indicates a relationship between low self-esteem and alienation, loneliness, shyness, and depression. As a result, self-esteem has an impact on the level to which an individual enjoys life (Heatherton and Wyland 220).

Association between Being Overweight and Low Self-Esteem

After reviewing the concept of being overweight and the one of self-esteem, and how they affect people’s lives, the following section draws upon empirical literature in an attempt to understand the relationship between the two notions. There is a big amount of literature discussing the association between having excess weight and low levels of self-esteem.

Engs discusses the problem in terms of characteristics of addictive behaviors (para. 2). According to the researcher, any person can become compulsively obsessed, dependent or addicted to any behavior, object, substance or activity that results in pleasure (Engs para. 1). Moreover, the scientist has outlined the common characteristics associated with addictive behaviors including person becoming obsessed with a substance, activity or an object that he/she will constantly seek for even at the expense of interpersonal relationships and work (Engs para. 1). An individual with an addictive behavior will compulsively take part in the activity and continually repeat it even when he/she is not interested in it. Among the many characteristics of people with addictive behaviors, one that is the most relevant to the topic of this research is that people with such a condition tend to exhibit low self-esteem and anxiety if they lose control of their environment. In this regard, Engs links being overweight to compulsive eating which is an example of addictive behavior (para. 5). Just like any other form of addictive behavior, an object of compulsion obsesses an individual with compulsive eating, which in this case is food. Compulsive eaters exhibit the urge to eat and will usually do it even when they are not hungry. They are also likely to overeat in secrecy, away from the sight of others, and lose control of the amount of food consumed. For instance, an individual with compulsive eating disorder is likely to eat an entire box of cookies even if he/she intended to eat only one. This behavior usually takes place when a person is bored, anxious, depressed, insecure, angry, or lonely, which are all associated with low self-esteem. The inference one can make from Engs’s observation is that low self-esteem is a risk factor for engaging in compulsive eating, which in turn, results in excess weight (para. 5). Engs (para. 8) has created a profile a compulsive eater, which includes low self-image, feeling of depression, turning anger inwards, perceived lack of control over one’s environment, and obsession with the size of the body (para. 8). All these characteristics are linked to low self-esteem, which implies that it increases the risk of developing compulsive eating behavior leading to excess weight. Thus, low self-esteem can be considered a risk factor for being overweight.

Paxton asserts that childhood obesity does not only result in long-term health implications but also has negative impacts on the development of a child’s motivational, psychological and social wellbeing (7). As the author points out, stereotypical views are a common aspect of the modern day society; as a result, people tend to be obsessed with body appearance (7). Being overweight is related to numerous negative characteristics such as being unattractive, impaired emotionally and morally, displeasing aesthetically, and being dissatisfied with oneself. In addition, people with excess weight exhibit a social identity that is devalued. Negative views associated with being obese diminish one’s self-esteem. Since others do not appreciate people with excess weight, the latter also do not value themselves since they do not meet the internalized social standards of appearance and weight that are acceptable in the society. According to Paxton, overweight children tolerate negative attention directed to them in the form of harsh treatment, rejection and teasing (8). Empirical evidence suggests that such kids are perceived to be the least desirable; they exhibit depression and are more likely to have a poor body image and low self-esteem. In addition, they do not only show low self-esteem but also exhibit significantly higher signs of nervousness, sadness and loneliness. Owing to the fact that peer approval is crucial during adolescence, negative experiences like these are likely to hamper the development of self-esteem. In a research by Paxton (12) involving 378 males and 332 females to study the impacts of and the degree to which having excess weight affects the children’s self-esteem, it has been reported that overweight kids have significantly lower self-esteem when compared to those with the average BMI (12). Paxton also states that obese children allow feelings associated with inadequacy to affect their lives (17). From these findings, an inference is that having excess weight is a risk factor for developing low self-esteem.

Another cross-sectional survey was conducted by Ozmen et al. and involved 2101 10th grade Turkish adolescents aged 15-18 (6). Its aim was to determine the incidence of obesity and being overweight and the impacts of the actual and perceived weight status and body satisfaction on depression and self-esteem (Ozmen et al. 6). The authors have reported that male students from a higher socio-economic class are at risk of being overweight. They have also concluded that being female and having higher socio-economic status is a significant predictor of perceived obesity. The study also states that being female is a significant predictor of body dissatisfaction, and that the latter is associated with depression and low self-esteem. However, only the perceived overweight is associated with the low self-esteem whereas no relation exists between depression and low self-esteem, and actual overweight. The inference from these findings is that being overweight contributes to body dissatisfaction, which in turn, contributes to low self-esteem.

Hosman explores the relationship between childhood obesity and discrimination (para. 10). The researcher hypothesizes that the obese and overweight children are more vulnerable to discrimination than the average child is.

Chojnacki et al. analyze the impacts that female magazine models have on the body image and self-esteem of college women and report that women with average weight have medium to high self-esteem (para. 5). The researchers report that magazine models do not have a direct impact on the females who are confident regarding their size and body shape; however, those unhappy with their body size and shape express interest in wanting to look like the magazine models. The authors conclude that their study provides evidence of a correlation existing between negative body image and self-esteem, and desire to have a body shape and size that is similar to the ones of models one can see in the mass media.


This paper has discussed the concepts of being overweight and self-esteem, and how being overweight is related to low self-esteem. From the discussion, it is evident that a two-sided relationship exists between the two notions. In particular, being overweight is a contributing factor to low self-esteem while having low self-esteem is a risk factor for being overweight. Low self-esteem contributes to being overweight through compulsive eating. Compulsive eaters are characterized by negative self-image, feelings of depression, turning anger inwards, perceived lack of control over one’s environment, and obsession with the size of the body. All these characteristics are linked to low self-esteem. This implies that low self-esteem increases the risk of an individual developing compulsive eating behavior leading to excess weight. Thus, low self-esteem can be considered a risk factor for being overweight. Moreover, overweight people are vulnerable to discrimination, have higher level of body dissatisfaction, and exhibit significantly higher signs of nervousness, sadness and loneliness, which are associated with lower levels of self-esteem.