Size Discrimination Is a Big Fat Problem

Let’s talk about size discrimination. Did you know there’s research showing that overweight workers are likely to receive lower pay than their similarly qualified, thinner colleagues, or be denied job opportunities altogether? Indeed, some would say that size discrimination is not only common, but one of the most tolerated forms of bias in the U.S.  

Such discrimination can be attributed largely to "unfounded negative stereotypes about the overweight," according to an article by two attorneys from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a professor who teaches the psychology of prejudice. These stereotypes include viewing people who are overweight as lazy, sloppy and incompetent, with no self-control in any area of their lives, Camille A. Monahan, Tanya L. Goldman and Debra Oswald wrote in the Spring 2014 issue of The ABA Journal of Labor and Employment Law[1]

Their article describes a study in which participants were asked to rate job candidates based on a resume and a photo. The resumes were the same in terms of strength and quality, but the image attached to one of them was manipulated to make the applicant look fat. The study participants gave the applicants who appeared obese worse ratings and suggested lower starting salaries than they did for the thinner applicants.  

The author of another article on the subject said a widely-held view in the U.S. is that individuals are the cause of their own weight problems, but this "simplistic ideology" doesn’t take into account the "fact that not all humans are shaped the same way." Jake Blumgart, writing for the Pacific Standard[2], said: "A lot of people are just big; a lot of people are just fat. But the diversity of human forms, or the influence of the fast food industry, make no difference to an employer who just doesn’t like fat people." 

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance has worked to change attitudes, end fat-shaming and spur legislative efforts to protect obese people from discrimination, either by including them in the Americans with Disabilities Act’s definition of disability or in standalone legislation. Advances have been incremental at best as far as gaining a foothold in the American consciousness. As Blumgart wrote in his article, however, a shift in attitudes can ultimately lead to alterations in employment policies, statutes and case law.

    [1] 29 ABA Journal Lab. & Emp. Law 537

    [2] "You Don’t Have a Right to be Obese at Work," Pacific Standard (April 8, 2014)


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