SEATTLE — A person’s weight makes a significant difference when it comes whether others believe them to be American, particularly for Asian-Americans, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Washington recruited 1,000 college students to participate in a study on how race and weight intersect with perceived national identity.
Participants were shown stock photos of men and women of varying racial groups (black, white, Asian, and Hispanic), at which point they were prompted to make determinations about a given subject’s nationality and traits.
Some pictures were digitally altered to reflect a given subject weighing more than another.
“In the U.S., there is a strong bias associating American identity with whiteness, and this can have negative consequences for people of color in the U.S.,” said co-author Caitlin Handron as to what prompted her to conduct the study. “We wanted to see whether ideas of nationality are malleable and how body shape factors into these judgments.”
The researchers found that Asians who were heftier were not only more likely to be perceived as being born in America, but to also possibly be a naturalized citizen.
The study did not find a similar correlation for black, white, nor Latino individuals.
Co-author Sepna Cheryan called this finding “an unusual possible protective benefit of being heavier for Asian Americans.”
“We found that there was a paradoxical social benefit for Asian Americans, where extra weight allows them to be seen as more American and less likely to face prejudice directed at those assumed to be foreign,” she elaborated.
Cheryan argues that her findings suggest that stereotypes about what it means to be American are rigid and outdated, often centering around whether one has Caucasian heritage.
Previous research conducted by Cheryan found that many immigrants in the U.S. eat an abundance of junk food to fit in.
If nothing else, this study calls into question the defining characteristics of those we consider to be American.
The researchers’ findings were published last week in the journal Psychological Science.