January 16, 2013

Fat Women Just Look Guilty, So Says a New Study

According to CBS Connecticut, Yale University psychologists recently released the findings of a study about obesity and perceptions of guilt. In their study, a group of 471 pretend peer jurors (with varying body sizes themselves) were told of a case of check fraud. Then they were shown one of four images: a large man, a lean man, a large woman, or a lean woman. The person in the image was identified as the defendant in the check fraud case. Then participants rated the “defendant’s” guilt on a five-point bias.

What they found is a bit stunning and absolutely uncomfortable. Men showed a fat bias toward fat women, but the female pretend-jurors had no such bias. The male pretend peers were “significantly more likely” to find the obese female defendants guilty but not the slim ones. And to add salt to an already sensitive wound, the slimmer males would accuse the fat female defendants as repeat offenders who had awareness of their crimes. So not only would fat women be found guilty more, but they would also be judged to be repeat offenders who knowingly completed their crimes. I guess that makes them malicious fat female criminals? That hurt to even write.

As if that were not enough to get anyone’s hackles up, neither the female pretend-jurors nor the male ones had any fat bias toward men. So, the assumption is that if a defendant in a check fraud crime is female, she better be thin or else she will automatically be found guilty by males on a jury. Thin females and all males have a higher chance of acquittal or innocence.

This indicates some very uncomfortable issues. First of all, the clear misogyny and double-standards that still exist in 2013 America. Sure, gender equality has come a long way, but obviously we still have leaps to go before we can truly see each other as equal. The fact that women had any bias attached to them shows just how far we still have to go.

What is more is the fact that only men, and primarily slimmer men, held this bias should also make us all uncomfortable. We should all want to see equality at its finest.

Beyond the gender equality (or really inequality) issue, we also see weight inequality at its worst. Slim women were not the focus of scrutiny. No, only fat women were deemed likely to commit crimes. The fact that women were seen more likely to be an offender is bad enough, but add fat to that and it is a double whammy of double-standards.

I am not sure what makes me more uncomfortable: the fact that it was women or the fact that it was fat women. It is hard enough to be a normal-sized woman in today’s high-tech, instant media of beautiful, perfect-faced, super skinny images of women, but compound that with even a bit of fat or body imperfection, and a woman struggles to feel remotely sexy and beautiful. In a time when Barbie is idolized as female perfection, it’s hard for the rest of womanhood to find comfort in who we are and how we look. Now we have evidence that jurors also take into consideration our body sizes when handing out a verdict.

Women must be healthy and comfortable in who they are. Healthy is the operative word there; we should be neither overweight nor underweight. However, women should not be influenced by others’ perceptions and judgments. We should be healthy because we know that is what is good for us. We should not have to worry about what others think even if we are in trouble with the law. If Lady Liberty is blind, then our body sizes and weight should not influence a jury’s decision. The fact that it might just shows a flaw in the judicial system, and perhaps it also shows the flaws in us as humans. This Yale study illuminates that we still have a long way to go, baby.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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