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Overweight thought to cannot win – The smothering weight-based stigma in sports

Even though engaging in sports considered to be the stepping stone for a better life, with excess weight on, the process is often blocked by the surrounding social climate. Based on their weight, the majority of overweight are regarded as un-athletic and hence excluded from sports in group situations and combative arts. Very commonly, the judgment goes beyond questioning their physical condition, as far as to questioning their natural talent to win medals at all.

Several studies investigated the relationship between this weight-based stigma and physical efficiency. Losekam et al. (2010) reported that teasing people based on their weight is detrimental and is associated with less physical activity, with the affected opting not to participate in sport activities even when they’re invited to. The phenomenon of fat-hating is present even in strength and power-based sports like grappling arts or weight lifting, despite the fact of how many successful athletes rose to Olympic gold medalist and/or international champions. By historical records, it is evident that people with overweight can participate in various sports of their wish and reach the highest level of competence.

The stigma is specifically derogatory in the context of martial arts, where students go to the club to get help in growing stronger. Resulting from these abuses experienced in sport related situations, most people with extra weight on fall out of the club, fulfilling the coach’s false judgment on their lower capabilities, and left without support to reach their goals.

The reasons for the tendency to think that any body fat would render a person incompetent in sports involves our mental image of what is healthy or sporty. The pictures circulating in the media are of professional athletes, and there are very few instances we would see an average naked body on a poster. Accordingly, the implication of what is ‘normal’, is incorrectly associated with those ideal bodies of professional athletes that are the outcome of several years of work dedicated to their body specifically, and not representative even within their own sports.


Losekam, S., Goetzky, B., Kraeling, S., Rief, W., & Hilbert, A. (2010). Physical activity in normal-weight and overweight youth: associations with weight teasing and self-efficacy. Obesity Facts3(4), 239-244.

Lox, C. L., Ginis, K. A. M., & Petruzzello, S. J. (2014). The psychology of exercise: Integrating theory and practice: Holcomb Hathaway.

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