Students — thin, fat, or neither — found that their life experiences belied Nobel Prize winner James Watson's theories that the thin are unhappy and more ambitious while the fat have more active sexual lives and are generally more content.
“This guy's full of bullshit. I'm fat, I do have a good sex life, but I'm sure as heck ambitious,” said Cal student Zhaddi, eyes blazing under her black hat.
Tall, thin Adam Windham, the angular man standing next to her, added, “She's my partner, so I'm going to have to support the sex life thing, but she's more ambitious than I am.”
Watson, who won the Nobel for discovering DNA, made his comments last month when he gave a guest lecture at a class in Berkeley.
Sandra, who identified herself as an overweight person and asked that her full name not be used, disagreed with other Watson statements as well. She said that when she was younger she was overweight and promiscuous. But she attributes her sexual activity to self-esteem issues and unhappiness, not to being fatter.
Growing up half Mexican and half white, Sandra, said she's learned that feelings about weight are culturally specific. The white side of her family values the thin supermodel image; the Mexican half of her family appreciates “curvy,” “buxom” more “sensual” women.
But, she added, Watson's research reinforces what popular culture tells Americans. “Look at Ally McBeal, she's thin and miserable and her roommate Renee is buxom, gets all the men, and seems quite pleased with herself,” she said.
Big girls and little women alike chalked Watson's statements up to ignorance and prejudice-against people of all sizes.
“As a country we have a tendency to split fat and thin into good and evil in a lot of ways, fat being evil,”said Judy Lightfoot, a marriage and family therapist specializing in issues surrounding weight and acceptance. “It's just another form of bigotry.”
The thin agreed.
“I think there's discrimination against people who are really thin,” said Iana Rogers, who works at UC Berkeley in the Writer's Project and has to eat constantly to maintain her 115 pounds. “There's this whole backlash against thin people right now because of supermodels. People feel very entitled to say whatever they think about your body.”
In college, Rogers' professor assumed she had an eating disorder. “I found it very disrespectful,” she said, adding that the same professor equated mass with strength and theorized that the media idealizes thinness so women will lose weight and become weaker.
Despite initial hesitation, Watson's credentials convinced some that there must be something to his theories.
“I think it might be true with ambition, because you're so much more active,” said second-year student Vivian Lu. “I do know when I sit still I tend to eat.”
Students racked their brains for a logical justification.
“I have a feeling that if people have a good sex life they are certainly more relaxed and less neurotic,” said Mia Bjork Rimby, a public health student. She clenched her jaw and shook her hands, acting out neurosis as she said, “When you're neurotic you're more ambitious — you get really worked up.”
Others were nonplussed by the Nobel Laureate. “It just means you can be a yahoo no matter how high your IQ is,” said Bettye Travis, president of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.