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.

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    Weight Stereotyping: The Secret Way People Are Judging You Based on Your Body

    It’s based on your body type, and it’s rampant. In an exclusive Glamour survey, women reveal how harsh the weight stereotyping is–and what you can do about being unfairly sized up.

    by Shaun Dreisbach

    How Women Label One Another Our survey showed that these stereotypes—of heavier women and thinner—are common. Below, the models bust the myths.

    • “People assume I am self-centered and superficial. In reality, I volunteer at a homeless shelter every other week. As for being bitchy, I’m actually the biggest goofball!” —Laura Jansen, 24, who’s 5’11” and 125 pounds

    • “Lazy? I get up every day at 5:30 A.M. and am constantly on the go! My size does not define who I am.” —Danielle Line, 34, who’s 5’10” and 202 pounds

    “Sloppy.” “Lazy.” “Slow.” Franki Northern-King gets the message loud and clear, and constantly. “I’ve been called all those things—and let’s not forget stinky,’“ says the 32-year-old business-management student from Huntington, West Virginia. “At 5’3” and 250 pounds, I’m reminded of my weight 50 times a day by store clerks, coworkers, family, boyfriends, you name it,” says Northern-King, who goes to school full-time and works 20 hours a week to earn tuition money. “I feel like people have forgotten how to see the human being.”

    Shocking? Maybe. But the judging wouldn’t surprise Elise Maggioncalda, 24, who works at a neuroscience lab in Charleston, South Carolina. She’s experienced it too, even though she’s eight inches taller and 120 pounds lighter. “I’m really aware of being stereotyped as an uptight, controlling, unwomanly, bitchy person,” she says, “and all kinds of people do it, from waitresses commenting on my order to shoppers at the supermarket. I’m not walking around with a scowl on my face, but it’s completely obvious they’re hating on me.”

    Discrimination against heavier people is well documented—and, sadly, rising: a full 66 percent in the past decade, according to a Yale University study. But could this kind of bias extend to women of all sizes? And are people looking at your body and making assumptions about your life—and your personality?

    To find out, Glamour commissioned an exclusive poll of more than 1,800 women ages 18 to 40, designed with guidance from Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D., director of research and weight stigma initiatives at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. We asked respondents 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—a telling statistic, according to Puhl. “Weight,” she says, “is one of the last acceptable prejudices.”

    And not only is this bias acceptable, the results of our survey show—it’s out of control.

    Skinny Witch vs. Chubby Fairy

    What our poll shows about the assumptions women hold

    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.”

    From left: Everett Collection. Walt Disney Pictures/Everett Collection

    Let’s start with our study’s findings: As you’ll see in the box at right, respondents were six times more likely to label an anonymous overweight woman as “slow” than they were to use that word for a thin woman—and about 10 times more likely to assume she was “sloppy” or “lazy.” Slim women, in contrast, were eight times as likely to be seen as “conceited,” four times as likely to be viewed as “vain,” and twice as likely to be presumed “bitchy.” Perhaps most striking, women of all weights hold these stereotypes: Plus-size respondents judged other plus-size women as “sloppy,” and skinny types pegged their thin peers as “mean.” In other words, no matter what size you are personally, you’ve internalized these assumptions.

    The overwhelming conclusion? All women are now judged by their size. “Fat stereotyping has been well documented,” says Puhl, “but this is the first survey I’ve seen to put hard numbers to the idea that skinny women—and women of all shapes and sizes—are unjustly characterized.” It’s a sentiment we heard from reader after reader. “I’ve been judged for being too thin and too fat,” says Nikki Nemeyer, 41, a nurse in West Melbourne, Florida, who at 5’10” has swung between 115 and 235 pounds. “You’re either a self-centered bitch who is starving herself, or a slob with no willpower who’s eating everything in sight.”

    The price of stereotypes

    Many women struggle against these prejudices every day. “I stopped going to clubs with friends because men would say the cruelest things right to my face: Oh, God! How would you like to take a ride on that?’“ says Ryan O’Hanlon, 32, of Parker, Colorado, who is 6’0” and 245 pounds. “And in general, people assume that I’m really lazy. Here’s the thing: My weight is due to a serious thyroid condition, and I live on 1,200 calories a day. If that’s not disciplined, I don’t know what is.” Heather Melms, who is 5’2” and 240 pounds, says she, too, is fed up with presumptuous people. “In college I was president of Alpha Omicron Pi, which was known as the fat sorority,’“ says the 23-year-old, now a graduate student at New York University. “Everyone judged us as lazy, but we were one of the most active groups on campus. I won’t let my weight define me. I run three miles a day!”

    And heavier women pay a considerable price for these stereotypes. Researchers at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., found that the heavier a woman is, the lower her salary. Overweight women they studied earned as much as $5,826 less than their normal-weight peers—that is, if they got the job at all. “Studies have shown that employers would rather hire a less qualified thin person than a more qualified overweight one,” says Puhl, “because they apply the sloppy-lazy-slow stereotypes to the way she’d do her job.” O’Hanlon believes that’s happened to her: “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,” she says. “I try extra hard to look put together, but it’s occurred enough times that there’s no question it’s about my weight and not my skills.”

    Slender women surveyed by Glamour say they’re hurt by weight prejudice in subtler ways. Kristin Young, 29, believes her reed-slim size—5’5” and 120 pounds—is one reason it’s harder for her to make friends. “Women automatically give me the stink eye,” says the kindergarten teacher from North Carolina. “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.” Patricia Ricci, a 25-year-old in Silver Spring, Maryland, agrees. “I’ve heard many times, When I first met you, I thought you were a totally cold snob,’“ says the 5’0”, 108-pound lawyer. “That’s not my personality at all! They form this harsh impression of me that is very hard to get past.”

    “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.” Today, people feel free to express that meanness out loud (“She’s a bitch!”), notes Adrienne Ressler, a body-image specialist for Philadelphia’s Renfrew Center Foundation, which promotes the treatment of eating disorders, “because they secretly believe, in a twisted sort of way, that it’s a compliment. Still, it’s taking attributes like being controlling, self-centered, and vain—because they must be overconcerned with appearance to maintain a size 2!—and baselessly pinning them on the person. Bitch’ is about the worst thing you can call a woman,” she continues. “It’s all an attack.”

    The snark pit

    So who’s doing the judging? Almost every last one of us, it turns out. “I know I’ve done it,” admits Ashley Gold, 25, a 5’4”, 124-pound grad student in St. Louis. “A friend commented about someone’s amazing body,’ and I chimed in with That bitch!’ It’s sad and not OK, but it’s almost an automatic response: See a woman, judge her body. It’s a habit deeply ingrained in us.”

    She’s right. Stereotypes of thin women as villainous go back centuries to the wicked witches of fairy tales. Case in point: Imagine Sleeping Beauty’s scrawny, skinny-fingered witch Maleficent next to Cinderella’s plump and kind Fairy Godmother. OK, that’s Disney. But even in Renaissance and baroque works, “artists like Agnolo Bronzino and Jacques Callot depicted Envy as a thin hag, often with wild, snaky locks,” notes Ellen Prokop, Ph.D., a photo archivist at the Frick Art Reference Library in New York City.

    And these days the body-acceptance movement has inadvertently added another negative spin. Think about it: If “real women have curves,” as one popular mantra asserts, then a woman without curves is by extension unreal, not to be trusted. “Not only is a skinny woman assumed to be tight with her calories and, therefore, tight with her emotions,” says Amy Farrell, Ph.D., a professor of women’s and gender studies at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and author of Fat Shame, “she’s also 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.’“

    Historically, culture has been kinder to curvy women. For much of the past 700 years at least, a “robust” female figure “connoted health, wealth, sensuality, and fecundity,” explains Prokop. But starting about 100 years ago, when food became more plentiful in this country and Americans began chasing thinness as a sign of wealth, extra weight became linked with inferiority. So while plus-size women may still be considered warm (hence their frequent casting as cheerful, supportive rom-com sidekicks), they are also seen as ineffective. “Today the ideas that overweight women are lazy, dirty, ill-kempt, and unprofessional are stronger than ever,” says Farrell. “The so-called war on obesity has only intensified them.”

    Let’s change the game

    How do we stop all this weight stereotyping? First, challenge the way people judge you. If someone presumes to know your personality based on the way you look, have a ready comeback. (Ressler suggests: “I wonder why you’d make that assumption about me. You don’t even know me.”) And question the way you judge others. “If you see a thin woman and your mind leaps to stuck-up,“ Ressler advises, “take that original thought and exaggerate it as far as possible: Oh, I bet she eats only three spinach leaves a day and spends all her time on the treadmill, staring at herself in the mirror, and is mean to kittens….’ Do you see how silly that is? The most extreme thing is just as untrue as the original thought.”

    Finally, hit pause the next time you find yourself sizing someone up. Every time you stop weight-judging in its tracks, you help the world see women for who they really are. Northern-King, who’s been called lazy even though she’s putting herself through school, is all for that. “No woman of any size matches on the inside what she appears to be on the outside,” she says. “And if even one girl sees things differently after reading this story, I’ll be happy.”


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