Perhaps the most chilling words of the Hunger Games saga were, “And may the odds be ever in your favor…”. It was intended to inspire the chosen who knew that except for one they would soon all be dead. In a similar way larger people have long known their own game of life comes badly stacked against them. Now a newly released study adds scientific proof to what people of size have instinctively understood all along.
A March 21, 2015 Los Angeles Times article describes research by UCLA psychology professors in which they tricked subjects by telling them they would smell samples of various scents while viewing a series of pictures. The subjects were further tricked by being told the study related to appetite, nothing more. The secret was that the “scent samples” actually had no scent at all; each scent the participants reported was purely their unguarded reaction a particular image.
Along with pictures of “neutral” objects like a hammer, a desk or a doorknob, participants were shown a random mix of pictures of slim, heavy and very heavy people. Separate “before” and “after” pictures of the same person heavy and slim were also shown.
The results were that much more unpleasant scents were reported when seeing heavier people. The researchers concluded the study reveals a deeply rooted level of implicit bias against the larger person. Put another way, it reflects a subconscious, negative predisposition about people of size. An additional and truly disturbing finding was that heavier subjects reported among the worst scents when viewing images of larger persons.
The study authors noted that earlier studies had already established that heavier people produce a more consciously negative reaction than any of the twelve other most discriminated against groups (i.e., the homeless, the mentally ill, gays & lesbians, etc.). While willful prejudice can be addressed directly, the implicit bias revealed by this study is more difficult to counter. Doing that first requires turning the implicit bias into an explicit, consciously recognized one. Imagine if just a fraction of the marketing genius used to sell beer or pick-up trucks was given to public service ads to end size discrimination. The changes would be dramatic.
The unique contribution of this latest research is that the depth and scope of size discrimination may be more widespread and deeply rooted than widely recognized. People of size know it’s not news to them.