New research published in Psychological Science has found that people view Asian-Americans who are overweight to be more “American,” making them less prone to racial discrimination.
In the study, images of people from various races, and of different body shapes, were shown to the participants. They were then quizzed about the subjects’ nationalities.
The findings revealed that generally, White and Black subjects were also largely perceived to be more American than both Asian and Latino subjects so their weight really had no effect on how “American” they were perceived.
According to the researchers, weight also did not affect the perception on “Americanness” of the Latino subjects but because they were simply assumed to be from other countries with populations who can also be overweight.
As for the Asian-American subjects, however, being overweight made them more likely to be viewed as American, and less likely to be perceived as an illegal immigrant.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, researcher Caitlin Handron explains that such perception may have been caused by the stereotypes of Asians as being thin.
“Our work suggests that the reason being overweight affects perceptions of American identity for Asian Americans is that there are strong stereotypes of Asians as thin,” Handron was quoted as saying.
“This means that any deviation from that stereotype could weaken the association people may hold between Asian Americans and foreignness.”
Handron pointed out that what they found highlighted how Asian-Americans and Latino Americans are still largely seen as foreigners in the U.S.
She added that the findings also indicate how narrow people’s perceptions are of what an American looks like. She also believes that how Asians are portrayed in media contributed to such perceptions.
On how such mindset can be improved, Handron offers one solution: For media to cast communities of color in more diverse, less stereotypical roles.
“I hope this work supports the push for ideas of Americanness to be more inclusive and accurate,” she said.
“This can happen both at the individual level, with people questioning some of their own assumptions and beliefs, as well as the structural level, with changes in representation in positions of power and in the media.”
In a separate study in 2011 co-authored by Sapna Cheryan, one of the researchers of the newer study, Asian Americans eat more American dishes when their “Americanness” is challenged, in a way affirming their racial identity via the food that they eat.
“Food is more than sustenance,” Cheryan was quoted as saying. “It is used by people to signal who they are.”