Bon Bon Fatty Girl: A Qualitative Study of Weight Bias in Singapore
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Bon Bon Fatty Girl: A Qualitative Study of Weight Bias in Singapore Patti Lou Watkins (based on a thesis by Maho Isono) Oregon State University. Media Messages Advertisements Products Partners (HWP) TV & Movies Music Videos Books Newspapers Cartoons. Personal Relationships Family

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Sources of weight bias

Bon Bon Fatty Girl: A Qualitative Study of Weight Bias in SingaporePatti Lou Watkins(based on a thesis by Maho Isono) Oregon State University

Sources of weight bias

Media Messages Singapore



Partners (HWP)

TV & Movies

Music Videos




Personal Relationships




Other Relatives





Sources of Weight Bias


Southeast Asia Singapore

Smallest country

Densely populated

4.68 million people

British Rule 1945

Independence 1965

Rapid economic development

Top 20 wealthiest nations in 2007

Continued economic growth expected


Singapore Singapore

  • Demographics

    • Chinese = 75.2%

    • Malay = 13.6%

    • Indians = 8.8%

    • Eurasians = 2.4%

  • Language

    • National language is Malay

    • Official languages are English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil

    • English is primary language of education, government, etc.

Singapore s progress
Singapore’s “Progress” Singapore

  • Once a poor country, body fat was celebrated

  • Now a wealthy country, body fat is abhorred

  • Desire for thinness related to preference for English language (Wang et al., 1999)

  • “Not more than a few decades ago, the concept of beauty was a lady who would be, by today’s anorexic standards, an overweight woman averaging more than 70 kgs. These days, women weighing more than 40 kgs may be considered too big” (Fung, 2004).

Singapore s slimming centers products
Singapore’s Slimming Centers & Products Singapore

Chinese Caterpillar Fungus And Glossy Ganoderma


F-Cell - Reducing LotionA lotion with a reducing, lipolytic and stimulating action. Grapefruit and pineapple extracts, together with caffeine's stimulating effect, help reduce fat deposits.

Singapore experiences an increase in eating disorders
Singapore Experiences an Increase in Eating Disorders Singapore

  • Two cases reports published in 1982

    • Kua, Lee, & Chee, 1982; Ong, Tsoi, & Cheah, 1982

  • Eating Disorders Clinic established in 1995

  • Six-fold rise in documented cases between 1994 & 2002

    • Ung, 2005

  • Most clinical presentations of eating disorders were females (91.3%) who were teenagers at time of onset

    • Lee et al., 2005

  • Prevalence of females at risk for eating disorders is 7.4%

    • Ho et al., 2006

Investigation of factors related to eating disorders in singapore
Investigation of Factors Related to SingaporeEating Disorders in Singapore

  • Ethnographic study

    • Provides an “insider’s perspective”

  • Researcher lived in Singapore

    • Three months

  • Recruited participants through the Institute of Mental Health

    • Eating Disorders Clinic

  • Qualitative Interviews

    • 60-90 minutes

Investigation of factors related to eating disorders in singapore1
Investigation of Factors Related to SingaporeEating Disorders in Singapore

  • Informant Characteristics

    • Target Group (n = 16)

      • 95% female

      • Average age = 20 years; Range = 15-26 years

      • 81% of Chinese descent

      • Diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or eating disorder non-specified type

    • Control Group (n = 8)

      • Similar demographic characteristics

      • No diagnosed eating disorders

    • Additional informants included teachers and parents who were in a position to reflect on reports of weight bias

Results Singapore

  • Both groups reported similar experiences…

    • Sources

      • Family

      • Friends & Partners

      • School Personnel

      • Strangers (least often reported)

    • Forms

      • Teasing

      • Advice

      • Casual Remarks

      • Outright Censure

    • Remarks elicited distress

    • Remarks accepted passively

      • Weight biased remarks perceived as normal in Singaporean society

      • Weight biased remarks perceived as deserved

    • Remarks elicited eating disordered behavior

Weight bias by strangers
Weight Bias by Strangers Singapore

  • At the public swimming pool…

    • Target informant recalled “frightening” event from primary school

    • Upon weighing self, a man in line behind her exclaimed, “Your weight is so heavy! You need to slim down!”

Family friends
Family & Friends Singapore



“You are getting bigger! You are getting rounder now!”

Partners Singapore

“He did not say that I must lose weight, but I remember that he told me that girls should be below 50 kg. I think part of me started dieting because of him.”


Treated for anorexia and bulimia nervosa

Multiple sources of weight bias
Multiple Sources of Weight Bias Singapore

“I met so many people who teased me about my body. I hate my childhood because of it.”

School personnel
School Personnel Singapore

The Mandatory School Weigh-In

“You are stupid, clumsy, and fat!”

“You are so fat and lazy! You are doing nothing to help yourself!”

Why don t recipients of weight biased remarks assert themselves
Why don’t recipients of weight-biased remarks assert themselves?!

  • Such remarks are “normative”

  • Such remarks are “deserved”

“My cousin teased me about my body in a very funny way. I had no choice except laughing even though I was upset.”

“I thought it was my fault for being teased. Something was wrong with me.”

The trim fit program
The Trim & Fit Program themselves?!

  • Government-mandated school “health-promotion” program for all children deemed to be overweight (primary-secondary school)

    • Began in 1992

    • Rationale: obesity rates in children increased from 5.4% in 1980 to 15.1% in 1991

    • Overweight children segregated from “normal” weight children

    • Restrictive dieting & regimented exercise

    • Schools rewarded for decreasing percentage of overweight children

    • TAF deemed a “success” in that childhood obesity rates declined to 10% in 2004 and to 9.5% in 2006.

  • However…

Study revealed weight bias towards taf participants
Study Revealed Weight Bias Towards TAF Participants themselves?!

“It was humiliating because it singled out obese students. I was told by my instructor that ‘You would look better if you cut that weight.’”

“Students did not want to be involved in the Trim and Fit Program. It was very embarrassing. It affected my bulimia because it made me very body conscious.”

Study revealed weight bias towards taf participants1
Study Revealed Weight Bias Towards TAF Participants themselves?!

“The staff told me, ‘if you lose all that weight, you will be very pretty. If you don’t lose weight, you cannot wear any kinds of clothes.’ I did not feel good at all.”

“TAF hurt me.”

Study revealed weight bias towards taf participants2
Study Revealed Weight Bias Towards TAF Participants themselves?!

“It was very painful for me to see. Kids would cry. They don’t know how active a student is. Kids might be born with a bigger figure than others.”

“Girls are made to feel in a way it’s a sin to be fat. Fat girls are rounded up to do sit ups and so on before school starts, at recess, and after school. She is dieting and skips meals to try to stay out of the TAF program.”

TAF Student’s Mother


Trim fit program follow up
Trim & Fit Program themselves?!Follow-Up

  • Discontinued in March 2007

    • Due to reports of stigmatization and emotional harm caused by the program!


Conclusions themselves?!

  • Weight bias may be more harmful than weight itself

  • Forced and stigmatizing “health promotion” programs may be counterproductive and unethical

  • Einstein’s definition of insanity…

    • Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

      • Credit Sandy Szwarc, Junkfood Science


Contact information
Contact Information themselves?!

  • Dr. Patti Watkins

    Women Studies Program

    200 Gilkey Hall

    Oregon State University

    Corvallis, OR 97330-6208

    (541) 737-6135