Tuesday, August 12, 2008

As if you needed an update, size-ism is alive and well...even in scientific journals who should know better.

Apparently the stereotype of "unpopular overweight girl" is based on something...or so says the New York Times.

Girls who rated themselves 4s or lower (in a survey assessing high school aged girls' perceptions of their social status) gained more weight in the 2 years following the survey--on average about 11 pounds more--than girls who rated themselves 5s or higher.

My question (in addition to my obvious observation that this is firstly a weird study and secondly doesn't sound like it would provide really reliable data that you could do a lot with; it's too open to [mis]interpretation) is...is this cause, or effect?
Are young women who feel unpopular likely to eat more (the stereotypical lonely fat girl subsituting food for social relationships, because food is never catty or rejecting unlike, say, a fair number of high school students) or are these young women heavier to begin with (meaning the 'cascade' has perhaps already begun playing out) meaning they have established poor eating habits/have a heavier body habitus naturally, which makes them feel less socially desirable?

And this is measuring perceived social standing, remember; a girl could be relatively popular and still feel like a loser, or for that matter could be--I'm sorry, I can't think of a PC term, so I'm just going to say a bit of a reject--and still have high self-esteem and feel like she's as well-regarded as the captain of the cheer squad. This doesn't measure social standing as much as self-esteem, I would argue, and by positing this as a question of social desirability I think the researchers...their names are mentioned in the Times article...are making a bit of a mistake. For instance, they suggest offering social skills courses to "at-risk" (of becoming overweight, I guess? As if it were some debilitating disease, as opposed to true morbid obesity which is harmful, and eating disorders, which spring IN FACT from associating overweightness with being a loser, reject, etc....) girls. Why not offer self-esteem seminars instead? For everyone?

This feeds into the harmful assumption that fat=unhappy=socially undesirable. Do we really need cracked scientific theory to falsely substantiate the belief society already holds so dear? This, boys and girls, is why scientists need solid grounding in the humanities, or at least a little social theory--so they can realize their own biases and prevent them from clouding their judgement and coloring their conclusions...or at least acknowledge that the bias is there.

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