Recently, I’ve seen many articles related to body shaming, whether it be fat or skinny. It seems to be a trend in popular culture to voraciously consume magazines whose sole purpose is to keep track of which celebrity has gained or lost weight this week. Although we may like to think that we don’t judge people by their appearances, we do. Preconceived notions based upon a person’s appearance are useful tools in everyday life. We have developed certain heuristics, or “rules of thumb,” which aid us in making quick decisions regarding everyday scenarios. Related to these heuristics are correlations that we use to quickly relate information to preconceived notions we have about that information.
Fat shaming has been a popular past-time in pop culture for a long time. However, lately it seems that we’ve come into what I like to call a curve revolution. With the general acceptance of celebrities like Adele, Melissa McCarthy, and Christina Hendricks; a new form of shaming has come into fashion: skinny shaming. Stereotypes exist on both sides of this battle. Larger people are considered lazy, while super skinny people are sick or druggies. These stereotypes, and almost all stereotypes are consistently inaccurate.
Stereotypes are negative generalizations people make about others. Often, stereotypes are negative, nonconstructive and lead to people paying attention to particular behaviors that are often related to a stereotype, which creates an illusory correlation. Correlations are useful tools, but this particular type often leads to inaccurate snap-judgments of others.
Our brains are programmed to filter through an infinite amount of information in very little time. In order to process this information, and in order to do so quickly, we develop certain heuristics and correlations to help us quickly categorize information so we can make decisions based on information we’ve collected from our environment. Illusory correlations happen when two events seem to exist, when actually there’s no discernible correlation, or when the correlation is weaker than the initial assumption indicated.1 Stereotypes are related to this correlation.
In the long run, stereotypes are not a great tool. They frequently lead snap-judgments and prejudice. Unfortunately, even the most educated and seemingly neutral people still tend to hold common stereotypes in mind. Its inescapable, but we can choose to read into peoples’ character, rather than their characteristics. Not all fat people are lazy, and sometimes skinny people are just skinny.
1. Goldstein, E. Bruce. “Reasoning and Decision Making.” Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. 3rd ed. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.