ABC News recently published the article “Stigma Against Fat People the Last Acceptable Prejudice.” Several elements of this article struck a chord in me, and I wanted to touch on some of them in a blog post. Forgive me for paraphrasing so much of the article…there was so much good research and content.
Earlier this month, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University published a study, indicating that in a courtroom setting, male jurors didn’t administer blind justice to plus-size female defendants. Female jurors displayed no prejudice against obese male defendants, especially lean men, and were much more likely to slap a guilty verdict on an overweight woman. Rebecca Puhl, the co-author of the Yale study, said that “these displays of fat stigma are par for the course.” Prejudice against fat people is pervasive and translates into inequalities across broad areas of life. Puhl continued:
“Thinness has come to symbolize important values in our society; values such as discipline, hard work, ambition, and willpower. If you’re not thin, then you don’t have them”
A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that top-level managers with a high BMI are judged more harshly by peers and seen as less effective than their slimmer colleagues, both in professional and in interpersonal relationships. I can personally attest to the fact that this happens, and I’ve felt held back in my career objectives. People have liked me on paper, but have treated me far less favorably at in-person job interviews than their initial online correspondences would suggest.
As much as HR departments will claim otherwise, weight prejudice in the workplace is real. I’ve experienced it repeatedly through my career. I have been passed over for job offers and promotions. I am applauded for my creativity, not my hard work. Is is just a coincidence that professional opportunities are opening up for me like crazy after losing weight? It’s tough to say.
It’s obvious that weight discrimination doesn’t just exist in the workplace. It happens in our schools and in our families. More than 70% of obese people say that they had been ridiculed about their weight by a family member.
Yet another study by Puhl at Yale found the following results: Fifty percent of doctors found that fat patients were “awkward, ugly, weak-willed, and unlikely to comply with treatment.” 24 percent of nurses said they were repulsed by obese patients. Almost 30% of teachers said that becoming obese was “the worst thing that can happen to someone.” People have few qualms aiming overly cruel comments toward overweight and obese people because there are few consequences. One of the ironies of the treatment of overweight individuals is fat people didn’t get much sympathy, even from others struggling with their own weight.
Fat stigma hasn’t changed much in my lifetime, and every time it becomes a topic of conversation…people get uncomfortable. People want to change the subject. In this sense, weight prejudice is the last acceptable prejudice.
“Overweight people are usually shown in stereotypical ways- engaged in out-of-control eating or bingeing on junk food- and they are often shown as the target of humor or ridicule,” said Puhl. “With the amount of media we all consume, it’s no wonder these stereotypes stick.”Puhl also stated, “There are no federal laws on the books that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of body weight, so on the whole, it remains legal. It sends a message that it’s no big deal.” Public health campaigns which brand obesity as a disease are easily perceived as criticizing individuals, rather than the environmental and social factors that lead to weight gain. People engage in public fat-shaming. She also believes media portrayals of heavy people as fat, lazy and gluttonous do them no favors.
Another article I found in Forbes, titled “The Obesity Police Turn A Solvable Problem Into A Needless War“, also brings up some interesting points. “when it comes to addressing obesity, the most prominent public health activists are intent at making it into a war, rather than a solvable problem.” The reference the following video made by Coca-Cola:
Coca-Cola’s video give scientifically accurate data and is trying to spark dialogue about how obesity is caused by consuming more calories than we burn (including the calories in Coke products). They support programs that advocate healthy living, and make it a point to display calorie counts boldly on their packaging.
However, public health activists are not happy about the campaign. These health activists tend to one-up each other, using inflammatory language and tactics to make the food and beverage industry into the villains, instead of making actually making a difference. For instance, Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest said that if the company was serious about wanting to help fight obesity, it shouldn’t even advertise full-calorie drinks. “They’re trying to pretend they’re part of the solution, instead of part of the problem”. The solution should be to focus on helping those struggling with obesity, and provide resources to those who feel trapped in their predicament, rather than pointing fingers at companies.
So. Where do we go from here? How can we bring up these dialogues and foster meaningful change?
I think the important thing is to talk about obesity, and the ways that people can emerge from the trapped feeling of excess weight. Last week I sent out a tweet and posted in my Beauty and the Bypass Facebook Group, asking for people to share their experiences about weight discrimination.
And what was the response?
Zip. Zilch. Nada.
Nobody is comfortable talking about weight prejudice. People are either too scared to talk about their experiences, or they fear retribution for discussing the experiences they’ve had with weight prejudices in the workplace. Or even weight prejudice in general. I have stayed mostly silent on the subject, even though it’s an issue that infuriates me. Last year when I published my post “Weighty Impressions“, there was fallout from it because I mentioned experiences that I’d had in the workplace (at several different jobs). Employers are scared of getting sued, and employees aren’t really protected by anything legally. It’s a really bad situtation.
Where do we go from here? I think it’s time to talk about it. Ideas?