Just last week, I wrote a piece about how despite the growing numbers of women in higher education, overweight women are less likely to finish college. Now, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and covered by Time shows that for women, weight can also play a major role in women’s professional success. According to the study, women who are “very thin” earn a shocking $22,000 more than the “average weight counterparts.” And not only were women of average weight affected by this disturbing finding, overweight women were punished even more severely.
When broken down, the study showed that weight matters far more for women than it does for men. It also shows that while “very thin” women benefit the most (“thin” women earn $7,000 more than average women, $15,000 less than “very thin” women), that they are penalized the most harshly for the first few pounds of weight gain. Indeed, once women reached an average weight, the study found that negative effects related to weight gain eased. The researchers hypothesized that this was because women had already “violated” the norm of feminine body image.
According to the researchers, “Our results suggest that both German and American societies reward women who conform to the improbably thin female standard perpetuated by the media and mete out the stiffest punishments for the initial ‘rebellion’ from this standard.”
Depressed already? I certainly am. The researchers suggest that “it may be possible and competitively advantageous for employers to try and recognize — and then reduce — the role that weight plays in their employment decisions.” But this may be easier said than done, especially since, thanks to the wage gap, women already earn significantly less than men.
But this study also reveals just how precarious our ideals of beauty are. Even though “very thin” (according to this horribly skewed scale, “normal”) women are rewarded for conforming to a limited vision of what women’s bodies should be, they are also under just as much, if not more, scrutiny than other women. In other words, women just can’t seem to win, even if all they eat are the “healthy salads made with local, organic products” that Forbes blogger Lisa Quast cheerfully says she’ll prepare at the end of her piece on these depressing new findings.
Photo from Pinksherbet's Flickr photostream.