Knowing Your Place

What Lies Beneath

(c) Lexn Ger

Earlier this year a study was carried out on women and their first impressions of other women. It turns out that the first thing women notice about other women is how fat they are (closely followed by how much make up, dress sense, hair style …
the usual suspects). The report was carried out by a hidden-brace specialist, so it pays to be cautious about the validity and reliability of the research methods (although it did include 2000 women aged between 18 and 45). The findings do, however, reflect the argument made in a previous post Fat is a Relational Issue about the tight bond between body weight and judgement.

This bond is further illustrated in the on-line message board attached to the newspaper report. Like so many of these online message boards, the comments combine a mix of insight and thoughtfulness with contempt, bitterness and anger (usually less of the former and more of the latter). But whether we like it or not, they provide an avenue via which people can speak their mind. And speak their mind they do, as illustrated in the following selected comments – comments generated by the link between weight and women’s perceptions of other women:

– I’m a busy wife, mother and successful businesswoman, so I don’t have an awful lot of time to waste on mediocre people. I don’t mean that to sound harsh – I’m sure lots of
busy people will agree with me. So judging other women by appearances when I first meet them is quite useful. I must admit a woman’s size is
the first thing I notice (fat women are usually quite weak and crafty, in my experience).

– I know of a gaggle of nasty, catty women who seem to take pride in their self-created misery and chosen mediocrity, and pleasure in ripping apart anyone who is happy and
pleased with themself and their life.

– I have a ‘friend’ who is tall and slim and every time we meet her eyes are drawn to my stomach and thighs (which are neither tall or slim :)). But then my eyes are drawn to her skin and neck which are not ageing well. Whereas my skin is actually okay 🙂 SO hell yes – guilty as charged and not afraid to admit it.

– A friend in HR confided that they recently rejected a qualified woman applicant due to her attractive appearance. It was decided that her presence would upset the other female employees. There is no sisterhood unless you’re very young or elderly and no longer pose a threat. Men have it so much easier!

– Women look at thighs and hips first. If you wear shorts, they will always look at the area right above your knees to check out the width of your thighs. And they hate it when it turns out to be narrow. With jeans, they look at the upper thigh and hips to see if the material is stuffed or if you are thin and there is room to breathe. Then they go for the jewellery and check out your earrings as they pass. The face is the last thing they look at. You could be 90 years old and still they do this.

Is it difficult to say whether or not such comments are representative of the general population, but it’s fair to say that they represent some of the population*. These people take advantage of online anonymity and state what they really think, warts and all. It sometimes makes for disturbing reading, but it does help blow away some of the glib and optimistic takes on interpersonal relations. It’s also interesting to see how the ‘discussion’ was much less focussed on the issue of weight and more on the importance of relative appearances among women. It suggests once again that weight is just the most convenient measure of worth among a number of candidates.

One needs to exercise some caution here as it is easy to fall into the trap of equating bitchiness with women. Men are incredibly bitchy, just not about the same things. But those things tend to be size-related also – size of pay packet, size of car, house, amount of prestige (but not necessarily penis size – not on display you see). It’s a shame that bitchiness/gossiping has become associated with women, as it detracts from a more in-depth exploration of the phenomenon. One more thing for this site to do then…

* the comments were purportedly from women, but one can never be sure about online genders.

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By Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.