In fact, chances are you do it too. And it’s not just thin people stereotyping overweight women, or vice-versa, it’s women of all weights. A new study found that whether you’re thin or plus-sized, you’ve internalized certain assumptions about women based on their weight. For example, while thin women stereotyped plus-sized women as “sloppy”, plus-size respondents also judged other plus-size women as “sloppy,” and skinny types pegged their thin peers as “mean,” just as overweight women did.
Glamour magazine polled more than 1,800 women ages 18 to 40, with guidance from Rebecca Puhl, PH.D., director of research and weight stigma initiatives at Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Respondents were asked to imagine a woman whom they had never met and knew nothing about except that she was “overweight” or “thin”; they then had to choose from pairs of words, like ambitious or lazy, to describe her. They could select neither, but fewer than half did, which is a telling statistic, according to Puhl. “Weight,” she says, “is one of the last acceptable prejudices.”
Here are the shocking results:
Heavy women are pegged as…
“lazy” 11 times as often as thin women; “sloppy” nine times; “undisciplined” seven times; “slow” six times as often.
While thin women are seen as…
“conceited” or “superficial” about eight times as often as heavy women; “vain” or “self-centered” four times as often; and “bitchy,” “mean,” or “controlling” more than twice as often.
Even the “good” labels are unfair.
An overweight woman may be five times as likely to be perceived as “giving” as a skinny one. “But it just fits into the stereotype that thin women are not that way,” explains Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D. “It’s still putting women in a box based on their body size.”
It’s not pretty for anyone – heavy or thin! Overweight women in the survey said weight stereotypes actually hurt them in the workplace. “I used to get hired very easily when I was thinner. Now if I get called in for an interview, I never hear back. They assume I’m going to be lazy and not get the job done,” said one woman.
But being pegged as conceited and bitchy is just as hard on self-esteem as lazy and sloppy. Slim women in Glamour’s survey said they’re hurt by weight prejudice, too, especially when it comes to their social life and making friends. “Women automatically give me the stink eye,” said one woman. “So I’ll back off because I sense they don’t like me, which only strengthens their idea that I’m mean! It’s a vicious cycle.”
“There’s a real envy and anger” toward thin women, acknowledges Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., a Cincinnati psychologist who specializes in weight and body image. “They’re [seen as] the ones who are going to get all the goodies in life. It sets up a dynamic that often turns really mean, and that can affect someone’s self-esteem and body image, and her relationships with other women.”
Bottom line: Think twice before you judge another woman based on her weight – no matter how thin or heavy she is.
Photo Courtesy Glamour Magazine