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New Study Shows Asians More Likely to Be Perceived as American if Overweight

Photo by By Gaulsstin

A new study from the University of Washington shows heavier Asian Americans are seen as “more American.”

They may also suffer less prejudice faced by  foreigners than thin Asian Americans.

More than 1,000 college students were shown photos of men and women from different races and of various weight(Asian, black, Latinx, and white). The students were asked to identify the person’s nationality and other traits such as “How likely is this person to have been born outside the U.S.?” and: “How likely is it that this person’s native language is English”?, the News Tribune reports.

This study analyzed the intersectionality of race, what is considered an “American” appearance, and how this influences people’s judgement in the U.S.

“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 researcher Caitlin Handron, a doctoral student at Stanford University who conducted the study while at the UW. “We wanted to see whether ideas of nationality are malleable and how body shape factors into these judgments.”

Being overweight in America is statistically fairly common. According to the news release, some 70 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. Broken down by race, Asian Americans tend to be less obese than other races but Asian immigrants are significantly less likely than native-born Asian Americans.

Researchers found White and Black Americans were perceived as more American than Asian or Latinx Americans, however, weight did not change how White and Black Americans were rated.

“People believed to be from other countries — specifically, countries that are stereotypically thin — are considered more American if they’re heavy,” the news release said.

Heavier set Asian Americans compared to leaner Americans were seen as more American and in the U.S. with legal documentation.

“People in the U.S. often encounter prejudice if they are overweight — they may be mistreated by a customer service person, for example, or a health care provider. Weight can be an obstacle to getting good treatment,” Cheryan said. “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.”

Cheryan also conducted a study in 2011 that showed immigrants in the U.S. eat American foods more to show they belong. She said that notions of who is “American” are powerful and how perceptions reflect broader racial disparities in the U.S.

“The lack of representation of Asian Americans and other people of color in the media and positions of power reinforces associations between American identity and Whiteness,” she said. “This work supports the call to recognize these inaccurate assumptions in order to interrupt the resulting harm being done to these communities.”

What is “American?” What does the average American look like and why? These questions reflect a challenging question that reflects a gray area in the diverse and hierarchical makeup of America.

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