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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Short, fat and ugly: You're under arrest!

They got grubby little fingers
And dirty little minds
They're gonna get you every time
Well, I don't want no short people
Don't want no short people
Don't want no short people
'Round here.

“Short People” By Randy Newman

Today’s New York Times reports that some economists argue that short people are more apt to become criminals. If the poor shrimp is also fat and ugly, look out. He is more likely to fail in school, romance, and business.

You may be skeptical about this latest study, call it junk, point to it as just more evidence that the term social “science” is absurd. Support for this view may be found in the details of these studies. For instance, the economists examined records from the last three centuries to conclude that “shorter men are 20 to 30 percent more likely to end up in prison than their taller counterparts, and that obesity and physical attractiveness are linked to crime.”

Although they found from 19th century prison records that “increased body weight was associated with a lower risk of crime,” the trend has reversed in our time. Now, “being overweight is linked to a higher risk of crime.” According to the Times article, the studies attribute this to the difference in the labor market — from manufacturing which favored strength and endurance, to service jobs which values attractiveness and self-esteem.

It starts in school, where shorter students get lower grades, have more behavior problems (seeking attention?) and participate less in clubs and sports, which leads to fewer social connections. From birth, medicine correlates development with size – height, weight — and nutrition, general physical and mental health, resistance to disease are all pinned to these issues. Poverty has long been associated with physical disabilities.

On the one hand, you may say, “Duh!” You need studies to figure out that socially scorned children become failures in life? On the other hand, you may be appalled by the echo of Social Darwinism in the claim, something that history teaches us is a slippery slope leading to racism, Nazi ideology, and genetic preferencing.

Another study found that Americans are getting shorter and fatter compared with our history and with other industrial nations. Some speculate that our deficient health care system (compared with Europe’s) is the culprit. For others, the blame is placed on — guess what — immigration.

Yes ...
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your fat, Your short, Your ugly,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

[apologies to Emma Lazarus]

Findings that obesity, unattractiveness, and diminutive stature are disadvantages in the labor market should be no surprise. The scholars are quick to admit that they cannot discern a “cause / effect” relation between the two. The same can be said of the link to crime, although it demands no leap of logic to make the jump.

My own experience in my life of crime doesn’t really support the thesis. I cannot generally conclude that my clients have been fatter, uglier, or shorter than the average. Actually, they can more accurately accuse me of those traits. Lately, I have found that obesity has thrived among jurors, prosecutors, and even some defense lawyers.

Will there be a time when the criminal law’s arsenal of social sciences which already include many dubious theories and prejudices adds physical attributes to the available defenses and excuses? Will prisons become fat farms? Perhaps botox, liposuction, and spine stretching should be added to rehabilitation techniques.

Now, that might really help the economy.


  1. Serves 'em right, I say. :)


  2. Thanks, coming from you that is a compliment. But the studies apparently were silent about baldness.