A recent poll of more than 1800 women ages 18 to 40 by Glamour magazine suggests something that most women probably already know — women instinctively judge each other pretty harshly when it comes to their weight. The study asked the female participants to imagine a woman they had never met and who was described solely as “overweight” or “thin”. Then, they gave the women a choice of two words, such as ambitious or lazy — plus the option to choose “neither” — to describe that imaginary woman. Significantly, the results of the study demonstrated negative views of both overweight and thin women, with each type receiving its own common criticisms.
Women View Both Overweight and Thin Women Negatively
The study participants commonly chose the words “lazy”, “sloppy” and “slow” to describe the imaginary overweight woman. The thin woman was “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’.” Fewer than half of the study participants chose the option of “neither” when asked to choose between the two words that described the imaginary thin and overweight women.
The Weight of the Women Surveyed Didn’t Affect Their Answers
One might expect that women would not hold negative views of other women in their same weight class. One would be wrong. Overweight women described the imaginary overweight woman using the same negative terms employed by thin women. Thin women were equally unkind to the imaginary thin woman. The magazine’s takeaway from the study was that women still stereotype each other based on weight, with the same negative stereotypes being employed regardless of the weight of the viewer.
These stereotypes can often have an economic impact, as discrimination based on weight can affect how a woman views another woman’s performance in the workplace. In this regard, the heavier women are more negatively affected, with a study by researchers at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., finding that the heavier a woman is, the lower her salary.
Thin women tend to be hit harder on the social front, with other women presuming that they are bitchy, vain or snobby, and therefore, not “friend material”.
Are Women Their Own Worst Enemies?
As a man who has had his own struggles with weight — up until about 4 years ago when I started eating healthier and working out, I was 70 lbs overweight — I know that negative stereotypes about fat people are not held solely by women. However, from a guy’s point of view, I am mystified by women’s tendencies to “eat their own.” When I was fat, I didn’t have these kind of knee-jerk negative reactions to my fellow overweight men. I knew that I wasn’t lazy and sloppy, and I didn’t assume that other fat guys were. Having once been fat, I still don’t make assumptions about men based on their weight now that I’m thin. I certainly didn’t (and still don’t) hold any negative views of thin men.
I can only assume that because of the increased emphasis on a woman’s appearance versus a man’s — as demonstrated by the disparity in cosmetic and hair care product consumption between the genders — women develop a heightened sensitivity, and therefore heightened self-criticism, about their own appearance which they sub-consciously project onto other women. What, other than self-loathing, can explain overweight and thin women having such a negative view of women in their own weight class?
While I’m sure that there are many women who blame men for their poor body image issues, from a guy’s point of view you ladies are doing this to yourselves. Just look at covers of women’s magazines the next time you’re in the checkout isle and count the number of cover stories about women’s weight issues. Now look at the covers of any the two or three men’s magazines (not including fitness or skin mags). How many of those address either men’s or women’s weight?
I’m not saying that men aren’t critical of each other’s weight, or of women’s weight for that matter. Of course, for men the entirety of that criticism is directed at the overweight. You don’t see men ripping on other men, or women, because they’re thin. Also, men tend to openly poke fun (sometimes in a mean-spirited way, but often not) at other men’s obesity. We’re not afraid of other men bursting into tears if we make a fat joke at their expense. Among male friends, this is usually the not-so-subtle way we suggest that a friend change his lifestyle, and we’re often very supportive if a male friend asks for help shedding a few (dozen) pounds.
I don’t see that same kind of camaraderie among women friends. A woman’s weight is not a subject to be discussed unless the woman herself raises it, and even then caution must be exercised. There’s no such thing as “good-natured ribbing” about a female friend’s weight. Again, I think this largely has to do with the amount of a woman’s self-esteem that is tied up in her physical appearance, versus that of a man. I suggest that most of this emphasis on weight is self-imposed (or imposed by other women). There are plenty of guys out there who like women of different shapes and sizes (just look at the number of porno sites aimed at “chubby chasers”). Stop saying that men demand you be thin. It could be that only the men you are interested in demand this. That says more about you than it does men.
You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby
Despite the advances women have made in terms of both education (women college students now outnumber men) and the workplace, women still have a long way to go in terms of their body issues. Until they stop drawing negative assumptions about both overweight and thin women, how can they hope to present a united front when it comes to issues that affect all of them? Unfortunately, I think this depends on women accepting and being comfortable with their own bodies, which doesn’t seem likely any time soon. The men are not to blame for this.