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'Weight is one of the last acceptable prejudices'

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When it comes to size, women just can't win – with other women. Thin or heavy, a woman will be characterized in a negative way by their peers according to a new study from Glamour magazine.

In a poll designed with the help of Yale researchers, more that 1,800 women – aged 18 to 40 – were asked to imagine either an overweight or thin woman and then choose from pairs of word such as ambitious or lazy to describe her. They could select neither, but fewer than half did.

"Weight," Rebecca Puhl, the director of research and weight stigma initiatives at Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity told the magazine, "is one of the last acceptable prejudices."

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Heavy women were described as "lazy" 11 times more often than thin women, "sloppy" nine times, "undisciplined" seven times and "slow" six times, according to Glamour editor Shaun Dreisbach, who wrote about the findings.

Thin women were seen as "conceited" or "superficial" about eight times more often than heavy women, "vain" or "self-centred" four times as often, and "bitchy," "mean," or "controlling" more than twice as often.

Even positive labels were also loaded with prejudice: An overweight woman was more likely to be seen as "giving" than a skinny one.

What's more, these attitudes were held across the board, irrespective of the respondents own body type.

The overwhelming conclusion? All women are now judged by their size.

"Fat stereotyping has been well documented," Rebecca Puhl told Glamour, "but this is the first survey I've seen to put hard numbers to the idea that skinny women – and women of all shapes and sizes – are unjustly characterized."

Glamour readers chimed in to affirm the findings.

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"I've been judged for being too thin and too fat," nurse Nikki Nemeyer told the magazine. "You're either a self-centred bitch who is starving herself, or a slob with no willpower who's eating everything in sight."

Others recognized their own shortcomings: "I know I've done it," grad student Ashley Gold told Glamour. "A friend commented about someone's 'amazing body,' and I chimed in with 'That bitch!' It's sad and not OK, but it's almost an automatic response: See a woman, judge her body. It's a habit deeply ingrained in us."

Have you found yourself judging a woman based on her figure? Can we all agree to stop?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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