People Think Fat Bodies Are Friendlier

by Gina Jones 2

To say that society has an ingrained hatred of fat bodies might be an understatement. There are plenty of studies to back that up, too — from reactions to fat folks in the workplace to weight discrimination in doctors offices. One story we haven't yet heard from comes from Refinery29: A survey conducted by the site discovered that people find fat bodies friendlier than their thin counterparts.

Kelsey Miller, who led the survey for Refinery29 as part of their 67 Percent Project, showed 12 photos of different types of female bodies in different states of undress and different situations to 1,000 people. While the negative attributions to fat bodies and positivity towards thinness may have been expected, the other findings were more shocking: The findings suggest that while many people would hate to be fat themselves, they also want to be surrounded by fat people.

Throughout the survey, plus size bodies were generally labelled negatively. When showed images of fat bodies, survey participants identified them as lazy, embarrassing, sloppy, and unhealthy. Slim bodies were praised as aspirational and beautiful. Surprisingly, though, most visibly thin bodies also received labels like mean, bully, and annoying, while fat women were labeled as intelligent and kind.

Bustle spoke to Refinery29 features writer and fat positive activist Kelsey Miller, who conducted the survey via email. She said her inspiration was to confront people's biases against different types of bodies but in particular, fat bodies.

"There's always been this vague notion that body acceptance is a great, positive thing — up to a point. People don't actually say that, because really, it's about bias," Miller says. "And no one wants to talk about their bias; most of us can barely acknowledge it within ourselves. But it's very real. Having worked at a major women's website for years I can tell you that there is an undeniable and dramatic difference between the way people respond to a photo of, say, Ashley Graham and the way they respond to a photo of Tess Holliday."

Gary Gershoff/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

When asked about the contrasting way fat bodies are seen — simultaneously friendly and warm, while disgusting and unhealthy — Miller says the results were shocking. "There were three women who got more negative word associations than any other. Users called them sloppy, ugly, embarrassing, etc. But at the end, when we asked users which women they'd choose to be friends with, these three women were also the top three," She says.

Miller speculates on the worrying reality these results represent: "Evidently, we want to be friends with people we look down on," she continues. "That was pretty horrifying. It's something to think about."

"I think this result indicates something about the way we feel alternately threatened or safe, by other people's appearances," Miller says. "A lot of these results seemed to indicate that people are disdainful of plus women, and therefore not threatened. Alternately, the words they used to describe thin women indicated both admiration and intimidation."

Miller hopes the survey will show others is the biases we all harbor, even if we think we have none. She says "looking away" from the issue doesn't solve anything, and further comments, "We don't want to be judgmental and we don't want to have inherent prejudice, but we do."

Images: Getty; Courtesy Of Refinery29