Gender Typicality, Pressure to Conform to Gender Norms, and Anti-Fat and Appearance Stereotypes in Girls

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Archives of Sexual Behavior




This mixed-methods study investigated the relation among gender identity (i.e., self-perceived gender similarity to girls and boys; self-perceived parental and peer pressure to conform to gender norms) and stereotyping about weight (i.e., anti-fat stereotypes), weight change, and appearance in 83 girls ages 6–9 (Mage = 7.60 years, SD = .85; 65% White, 16% Mixed/Other, 11% Black, 8% Latina) in the U.S. Stereotypes about weight change were assessed with open-ended responses (i.e., qualitatively), and the rest of the constructs were assessed with closed-ended responses (i.e., quantitatively). There was a positive association between pressure from parents to conform to gender norms and appearance stereotypes, and between pressure from peers and negative stereotypes about the fat and thin figures. Girls who were more gender typical, or more similar to girls, were more likely to endorse appearance stereotypes. There was no significant relation among stereotypes about weight change and gender identity. Many girls deemed the fat figure as unattractive, physically restrained, unhealthy, and likely to be bullied and believed that the fat figure should change back to look like a thinner figure. Most girls were aware that exercising, eating healthy, and dietary restriction can lead to weight loss and that food consumption and lack of exercise can lead to weight gain. Findings suggest that certain aspects of weight (anti-fat) and appearance stereotypes are closely linked to gender identity in girls, whereas other aspects of weight stereotypes (e.g., stereotypes about weight change) are so pervasive that they are common in most girls, regardless of their gender identity.

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