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Shasta Nelson, M.Div.

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The Judgment of Weight

Posted: 06/06/2012 11:47 am

Last week on a long airplane ride I was riveted to the Glamour article "The Secret Way People Are Judging You." The article exposed the results of a poll from 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...

  • "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, Ph.D., 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?

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 about someone from popping into my head -- assuming that she's stuck-up, vain, insecure, or superficial -- but I can sure to 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 soapbox 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.

This article was originally posted at Shasta's Friendship Blog where she writes weekly about two subjects that can't be separated: healthy relationships and personal growth.

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