The Judgment of Weight

There are two things I will not board a plane without: a new magazine purchased at the airport and a purse filled with snacks.

The snacks are self-explanatory in a day and age where one can get stuck on a three or four-hour flight with little more than six peanuts being offered to you! I have this deep fear of being hungry and not being able to do anything about it.  So snacks are a must for this girl.  And a magazine?  Well, it’s just a guilty pleasure to pass time reading something I normally wouldn’t take the time to do at home.

Last week on my home from Tampa, I was riveted to the Glamour article “The Secret Way People Are Judging You.”  In this article they revealed the results of a poll of more than 1,800 women revealing what they thought about women of various weights.

From Glamour’s “Skinny Witch vs. Chubby Fairy”

Heavy women were pegged as…

skinny witch vs chubby fairy

All women--skinny or overweight--are being judged with characteristics based only on their size!

  • “lazy” 11 times as often as thin women;
  • “sloppy” nine times;
  • “undisciplined” seven times;
  • “slow” six times as often.

While thin women were seen as…

  • “conceited” or “superficial” about eight times as often as heavy women;
  • “vain” or “self-centered” four times as often;
  • “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.

Absorbing the Results of our Weight Stereotyping

I unfortunately can’t say I was entirely shocked by these results.  We live in a world where we make decisions about people within 20 seconds so it can’t surprise us that it’s most likely dependent upon external factors. I was surprised though that women of all weights hold these stereotypes. In other words, the judgments aren’t just one group toward another, but “Plus-size respondents judged other plus-size women as ‘sloppy,’ and skinny types pegged their thin peers as ‘mean.'” We know the judgments are unfair about us but it doesn’t stop us from putting those labels on someone else! What is that?

I was also moved by the various interviews of women who have felt those judgments.  There has been quite a bit of research done in what is being called “fat studies” where we see the impact that extra weight (and/or the shame and ostracism of that extra weight) has on someone’s ability to be hired, healthy, or seen as attractive. One study showed that overweight women have a harder time getting hired and that when they do, they earn as much as $5,826 less than their normal-weight peers. Painful and completely unfair!

And similarly, this article is one of the first for highlighting the scorn that skinny women face, too.  Amy Farrell, PhD., a professor of women’s and gender studies, and author of Fat Shame highlighted that skinny women are often “pushed away as someone who is not sharing in the same struggles as the rest of us. People look at her and say, ‘You’re not friend material; you’re alien.'” As someone who studies female friendship– that jumped off the page to me! That we think their weight is any way connected to the type of friend they can be? *sigh*

Again, Friendships Can Be Part of the Solution

At the end of the article I was left with this mixed feeling.

On the one hand, I just felt sick.  Feeling the depth of our judgmental culture and wondering if there was really anything that could change us to be more accepting of each other was initially overwhelming.

But on the other hand, I felt slightly hopeful.  Hopeful because we’re doing it to ourselves.  And if we’re the ones doing it to each other, then it seems like we could own that and start choosing to do it differently?

Personal growth isn’t about becoming someone different as much as it’s about seeing ourselves as we are and starting to catch ourselves earlier in our judgments. So I can’t just tell myself to stop judging, but I can tell myself that it matters to me to catch myself doing it and give myself the choice to create new brain patterns.

I may not be able to stop my first judgment from popping into my head– assuming that she’s stuck-up, vain, insecure, or superficial– but I can sure own that and choose to follow it up with a stronger thought.  I can remind myself that I know what it feels like to be judged by people who don’t know me.  I can remind myself of all my friends who have different body types and appearances who don’t fit the stereotypes.  I can remind myself that no one benefits from being judged. And that in actuality, research has proven that few of us are good judges. I can step down from the soap box created by my insecurities.

We don’t have the luxury in this world of all feeling overly loved.  Few of us report having all the love and acceptance we need!  We could all do with more friends, more people who cheer us on, more people who accept us as we are, more people who want to get to know us past our appearances.  As women who value friends, we should be leading this charge!

We can choose after our judgments to refuse to believe them.  Instead, we can silently whisper, “I accept you just as you are. I can’t wait to see the beautiful person you are,” and trust that a little more love in this world will go a long way.


6/4/2012: A follow up blog: Vulnerability, Weight, Nudity & Judgment



This entry was posted in Difficulty & Challenges, Judging Others, Our Mistakes, Personal Growth/Spirituality, Research, Social Causes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Judgment of Weight

  1. Ken Jansen says:

    Similar, but different, labels get put on men too. No chubby guys get labeled as the ‘trophy’ husband. No matter how nice. It would be interesting to see how an athletic man was labeled versus a chubby guy. Hmmm… I would have Loves BBQ and Butter Chicken on me for sure. 🙂

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Ken– I love that you wrote in as a guy! Thank you! You’re so right, of course. It seems that most issues we women face are also make issues but seem to be talked about even less? The good news is that there are plenty of brilliant women out there who would be wise enough to choose a “Loves BBQ and Butter Chicken” guy! 🙂

    • LouisatheLast says:

      It can work the other way around, too. I find myself not approaching thin or athletic-looking men much on the dating site I belong to, partly out of fear of rejection (I’m heavy, myself, and wary of flirting “out of my league”) but also partly because I do have a more positive character judgment of guys who carry a little extra weight. I have a tendency to judge gym-fit guys as vain and superficial, even though I know that’s usually not the case. Something I need to work on, I know.

      But let’s also be honest- guys do not have it as tough as women do when it comes to judgments made about their bodies. Take a look at Hollywood- would women with the attractiveness level of Seth Rogen (okay, admittedly, he is exactly my type and I’d totally date him), Rob Schneider, Kevin James, Adam Sandler, etc, be seen as A-level stars? Be cast as romantic leads, or anything but objects of ridicule? There are a very few heavy women with any level of fame, and usually they are cast as jokes.

  2. Marilyn Wann says:

    What a lovely, compassionate, heroic essay! Thank you for your willingness to see the extent of weight-based stereotypes (and yes, prejudice) in our society! I’m a longtime fat activist and participant in fat studies community. I know people in my communities will be glad to read your essay. The closing refrain is brilliant, and so applicable for all sorts of prejudices. Well done!

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Marilyn– thank you so much for all the work you do as an activist and participant! Kudos to you! It means a lot that you wrote a comment– thank you for your kind and encouraging words. I am hopeful that we can learn to see past yet another prejudice!

  3. Julie says:

    Great article…and great point that women are very tough on each other. I’m a personal trainer and boy do I see and hear it all the time. I try to respectively suggest for the women to “change their language” in order to “change their perspective”. Some just look at me like I have 3 heads….others get it, but don’t seem eager to change. I also think it was cool of Ken to post the guy’s perspective. I will shamefully admit that when I was younger, when it came to guys, I was all about the looks. Now that I’m in my 40’s, that goodness I know better!

  4. Robin Hastings says:

    Have you given thought to the biological need for (men) to choose a mate that is heavily laden with fat so that she can have the calories to feed the child when born? I am thinking that this is coming from the innate nature of humans, animals, invertebrates as well as vertebrates, hot versus cold blooded, etc. But at some point, probably after WWII when everyone moved to the cities that “Mad Men” advertisers started selling products to women at home, raising the kids, to be beautiful when the husband arrived home, and give him his ice-cold martini. When it changed to be women judging women I do not know. I DO know that there was an article in the Wall Street Journal a few years back that stated men judge each other on the street as to whether they should give way to the guy walking toward them. If he thinks the male walking toward him (in a pack of males or with the wife) is inferior to him, he will not yield way and give a bit of a ‘hip check’ to the inferior male. There are a LOT of judging going on, from mothers in grocery stores teaching their children about ‘kitty cat scat’ (as cats are BAD as they eat birds) to fathers telling their sons that only GM makes the best cars, to American products are way superior to those made overseas (then why are we encouraged to get new washers after 9 years go by?). I think you’ve found the tip of the iceberg and there is more to be seen, but a lot of folks don’t want to have it (their mannerisms and judgements) brought to light.

    • InstantD92 says:

      This happens to women too! I am a very petite woman under 5′, and I am constantly “hip checked” by people passing by on the sidewalk – both men and women. People are cruel to others they think are “beneath them,” whether it’s conscious or not.

  5. I don’t see personal growth as becoming someone different, I see it as becoming a better human being. Very thoughtful commentary.

  6. Tora says:

    I loved your article. I run a weight control business with my biz partner – she used to be 30kg/70lbs overweight and I was 20kg/45lbs underweight with an eating disorder. It has been a fascinating journey to discuss at great lengths our previous issues, and to realise that they are exactly the same…we just dealt with them by eating – or not eating – food. Glad I found your blog!

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Tora– you and your partner sound like a fabulous combo for teaching. Blessings on you both as you keep sharing what you’ve learned!

  7. And isn’t it all about people being happy with themselves??? So sad that such quick judgements are made. Thanks for sharing. Let’s bring on the happy, people!!!

  8. Pat Mallon says:

    Is there a relationship of age versus these views? I have found as I get older, I listen more and am better able to find value in others regardless of appearance much more so than when I was younger. I am certainly glad my predispositions have changed

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Pat– that is what I love and look forward to the most as I keep getting aging– there does seem to be a wisdom, acceptance, and peace that grows with the years! IN the survey it was ages 18-40. I’m so glad your predispositions have changed too! May it happen for more of us!

  9. Kim says:

    I do find that now I’m heavier, I have less females interested in friendship. It saddens me that even as a Christian, this attitude is even found at Church.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Kim– So sorry to hear that judgment! Saddens me too…. I hope for you a circle of friends that don’t judge you by such a factor, people who know your value adn feel lucky to have you as a friend!

  10. Pingback: Vulnerability, Weight, Nudity, and Judgment | Shasta's Friendship Blog

  11. Pingback: Top 10 Friendship Articles of 2012 | Shasta's Friendship Blog

  12. alice says:

    Hi Shasta, I really like your blog, the idea itself and your great posts. Writing from the other side of the “divide”, being a naturally thin person, so many times I’ve been in situations, in studies or at work, when women I didn’t know were hostile to me. At some point, they admitted to me that it was because I was thin and it made them feel bad about themselves.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Alice– thanks for writing and sharing your own experience. It’s always more powerful of a point when some of us can raise our hands and put people/stories to the statistics. I’m sorry you ever felt the judgment and hope you use it as fuel in your own life to not judge others.

  13. Brendalee says:

    I just came across this website, and it’s so good!
    I see your comment, and agree with you — it bothers me that people label you on your looks. Just because I’m a little bigger doesn’t mean there aren’t good things on me that you’ll be missing.
    p.s. The ‘chubby guys’ rock!!!!

  14. Pingback: The Log In My Own Eye (a.k.a. I’m Still Judgmental!) | Shasta's Friendship Blog