Discriminating against women because of their weight is a very real problem and it goes all the way to the jury box. A new study at Yale University observed 471 adults in mock court cases for four individuals, of whom they were presented pictures: a skinny man, a skinny woman, an obese man, and an obese women. As reported by Yale, “Male participants rated the obese female defendant guiltier than the lean female defendant, whereas female respondents judged the two female defendants equally regardless of weight.” Skinny male participants were more likely than their heftier brothers to negatively judge an obese female defendant. Yet there was absolutely no difference in how guilty the skinny and obese men were judged.
Natasha Schvey, lead author of the study at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, urged us to see their findings as a comment on “social injustice,” not just sexism. Certainly, this study should prompt questions for all of us about what “fat” signifies — perhaps, poverty and thus criminality?
But it would be glossing over the main crux of the (albeit small) study to ignore this very real example of lookism against women, i.e. bias based on the way someone looks. The sad part of this study, Yale News reports, is that the current findings were consistent with 20 years worth of data that shows “obese females face more weight-related stigma than obese males.” In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if, in our increasingly mediated culture, lookism against fat women only gets worse.