Too fat to work
Abby OReilly // 9 June 2008
Fat is synonymous with lazy. While we all want to live in an egalitarian world where body shape, size and appearance does not matter, unfortunately if you’re considered nothing more than a pie-face who’s been beaten by the ugly stick then life will be harder. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but people are unfortunately discriminated against on the basis of their looks, especially their weight. This is nothing new, but I think when it impinges on a woman’s ability to fulfil her professional potential then it is worth discussion. You can toil away in the office for 24-hours drinking nothing but water and motivated by determination and ambition, but when that promotion comes up don’t be surprised when it goes to the size-8 beauty sat on the desk beside you. Of course, it’s not her fault, but that of employers, who more often than not devalue a woman’s talents and ability owing to the fact she doesn’t look they way a successful women is allegedly supposed to look (perhaps some interviewers don’t realise that those carefully-coiffured, emaculate looking women sporting the latest in office-fashion in glossy magazines are not actually ladies working in the city, but fashion models. Duh!).
A fat woman can be talented, diligent and conscientious. A thin woman can be talented, diligent and conscientious. And those women occupying an anatomical position somewhere between the two can be talented, diligent and conscientious. So what’s the problem? Why is a fat woman unemployable, a pretty woman an airhead? Why is a woman’s size and appearance always seen as directly proportional to her potential?
This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. For those of you familiar with some of my writing you’ll know I’m open about the fact I’m considerably more than a little slip of a girl. I am overweight, and so I feel qualified to write about the discrimination us fatties are subjected to from personal experience. For over a year I have been almost certain that the reason why I struggle to get employment has been largely owing to my weight. I’ve dismissed these concerns, certain I was being paranoid and worried I was excusing my own inadequacies by concentrating on the one factor that would probably distinguish me from the vast majority of fellow candidates: my appearance. But, I have found my spate of fruitless face-to-face interviews hard to explain. I’ve sailed through phone interviews, spoken with enthusiastic employers who very much look forward to meeting me, my CV is always commended and I have a wealth of qualifications and writing experience spanning many years, yet when I roll into that interview room, bouncing with confidence, something changes. On occasion I’ve seen the faces of unsuspecting interviewers visibly drop as they see me, as if they can’t reconcile in their small minds how my professional credentials – testament to hard-work and commitment – are completely contradicted by the way that I look. Still I’ve smiled, tried my best, expressed gratitude when I’ve been thanked for my attendance just a short time after I have sat down, and returned home to have the “unfortunately, we had a lot of excellent candidates and your application has been unsuccessful ” e-mail waiting for me in my inbox. I have persevered, unable to dismiss my suspicion that my weight is preventing me from climbing a career ladder, while at the same time not wanting to admit to myself that something so superficial can be totally negating everything I have always worked for. Could my body really be working against me so destructively?
An article published today confirmed my fears: that, yes, if you are fat you are prevented from achieving professional success. It’s not enough that you have to suffer insensitive taunts from those who consider you transgressive; that every-day the media subjects you to unrealistic images of the female form in order to foster a sense of inadequacy, since you fail to adhere to the rules of self-perfection. Now you are also denied a job. You’re not supposed to wear bikinis. You’re not supposed to show your bingo wings, or muffin-tops, or draw attention to your collection of chins. You’re not supposed to have health-care (it’s your own fault you’re fat, fat-head!), and forget having children. What sort of sprog, forced to slush around in a gut filled with fat and gristle for nine-months, are you going to squeeze out anyway? So, all things considered my love, why would you even think you should have a job, anyway? Sorry, get on your bike (literally)! Is it wrong that this attitude makes me absolutely furious? The report cites the results of a number of research projects, demonstrating the extent to which overweight women in particular are an anathema in the work place:
The bulk of research has also shown that the bias tends to be felt most by overweight white women, who are battling both the glass ceiling and the stigma of being heavy. A 2004 study by Cornell University Associate Professor John Cawley found that when the average white woman puts on an additional 64 pounds, her wages drop 9%. (Some studies have shown that overweight white women are evaluated more harshly than overweight African American women and that African Americans tend to be more accepting of large body types, according to Roehling.) In 2004, Charles Baum, of Middle Tennessee State University, also reported in the journal Health Economics that obesity could lower a woman’s annual earnings by as much as 6.2% and a man’s by as much as 2.3%.
While being over-weight is, in our image-conscious society, unacceptable, why is it that an overweight woman is considered significantly more disgusting than an overweight man? Does this emanate from the stereotypical assumption that a woman is preoccupied with the superficial, and as such is more aware of the fact she is physically repulsive than a rotund man, who, working on this principle, apparently has no eyes to view his portly paunch in the mirror? Fatness is less forgiving in women because we are supposed to be more sensitive to expectations about how we should behave and how we should look, and if we’re not pretty tiny things then the general consensus seems to be that we should rightly expect criticism. If it wasn’t enough that, as women, we are still subject to the basest sort of discrimination in the workplace owing to our sex, not only are we told now that we can’t do the job because we have tits, but that if we want to have the chance of being told that we can’t do the job we have to look a specific, perfect way.
I’ve spent a lot of time in London. I’ve been in bars populated by fat, male city types dressed in all their high-flying finery while downing a glass of red or white between pints, and yet fat female city types are harder to come by. Why? Because if a woman is carrying a bit of excess weight then she’s not going to be given the job in the first place! How frustrating is it that regardless of what we do, there’s always some way to keep us down.
So how about everyone else? Have you found that your weight has had a detrimental affect on your career? Have you been the victim of unfair discrimination? Or do you think that these concerns are unfounded? It would be interesting to hear about your experiences.