Male Jurors More Likely to Find Overweight Women Guilty
5:30 pm, January 10th | by Colette McIntyre
Fellow curvy ladies, you may want to put all your mischievous “Criminal Minds”-inspired plans to commit murder and stuff to rest and continue to toe the line: researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a study that found male jury members were more likely to be biased against an obese female defendant. It’s things like this that make me wish that every court was Judge Judy’s court.
The study involved a pool of 471 pretend jurors of varying body types and several defendants being charged in hypothetical check fraud cases. The cases were all identical except when it came to the defendant’s gender and weight; for their defendant, jurors were presented with one of four images: an obese man, a thin man, an obese woman, or a thin woman. After being read a vignette describing the case, jury members were asked to rate the defendant’s guilt on a five-point scale. Male participants were more likely to have a weight and gender bias such that when the defendant was female, male jurors were “significantly more likely” to find her guilty if she was obese than if she was thin. There were no differences in perceptions of guilt when the jurors were female or when the male jurors were assessing the guilt of the male defendants; it was only when male jurors were asked to rule on female defendants’ cases that the bias arose.
In addition, the study’s thinner male participants frequently asserted that the obese female defendant was “aware” of her crime and would be a “repeat offender” — because one time they were at a CiCi’s Pizza Buffet and had seen an obese woman return to the scene of a BMI crime not once, but thrice , taking the last of the buffalo wings and basically a whole cup of ranch dressing, we assume? GUILTY, CASE CLOSED.
Slate’s Katy Waldman offers an analysis of the weight bias that’s a bit more thought out (and less reliant on CiCi’s Pizza analogies):
Perhaps we (especially we lean men) associate heavier women (but not heavier men) with impaired impulse control, since obviously all female people (but not all male people) want desperately to be thin and are only not so when they can’t regulate their Cinnabon cravings. Perhaps we lean men imagine that a nebulous fog of guilt surrounds all fat women, because fat — whether or not it is in fact unhealthy — is morally wrong.
A commenter on Slate’s website posits that the issue at hand is socioeconomic — that male jurors are more likely to correlate obese women with lower socioeconomic class and obese men as socioeconomically “neutral”, but I don’t know how that is supposed to be any better. Why are we willing to interpret obesity in a man as either the sign of a bon vivant or a sign of nothing at all, while an obese woman is a symbol of “letting oneself go”? It seems that society is heavily invested in disciplining or punishing fat women, whether it be by shouting “fat bitch” across the street, bullying them in gossip press headlines, undermining their sexuality, or, even dismissing them as criminals.