Weight bias in employment – and society in general

While doing research for my MBA (Computing), I stumbled across the below article on weight bias in employment, and found it fascinating. In summary, the research showed that obese people, in particularly fat women, experience significant discrimination in workplace settings, and from society in general. Obese women are less likely to earn higher salaries, and their partners, if they are able to attract one, are less likely to be highly paid.  However, rather than poverty contributing to obesity – through factors such as access to nutritious foods, education on healthy eating practices, and access to safe exercise programs – the paper puts forward the notion that obesity causes poverty – if you are fat, you are less likely to be earning a high salary.

http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~rothblum/doc_pdf/weight/WeightBiasinEmployment.pdf

My employment experiences have generally been very positive ones; I’ve chosen workplace cultures that value intellect over attractiveness and reward excellence in output rather than in application of makeup. While dressing smartly, I rarely wear makeup and don’t even own a pair of high heeled shoes. They don’t make them in a size 11D 🙂

Lately though the educational institution where I work is becoming ‘corporatised’ – with suits becoming more de rigeur. Slowly, our values are changing – with more weight (pun intended) being placed on image and presentation. So, although losing weight is a great health goal, should career advancement also be a motivator? Or am I just selling out to a culture that conflates being fat with being stupid and lazy? Clearly I’m neither – holding two degrees, well on my way to a third – and holding a significant workload both on the job and through extra-curricular activities.

What’s the best strategy for someone like me – that is, highly intelligent, well educated, but obese – and likely to remain so – even with significant weight loss – for the foreseeable future? As I see it, my options are;

  1. Accept the status quo but continue to invest in my career
  2. Accept the status quo but not invest in my career – as I may not get a return on that investment
  3. Lose weight (motivated for health reasons and personal drive)
  4. Lose weight (to look good, meet societal expectations and advance my career)

It’s a fascinating area. One of the concepts that’s been playing on my mind recently is around societal contribution. As an educated, gainfully employed member of society I contribute taxes, donate to charities and am generally a “good” citizen.

However as an obese citizen I’m denied many opportunities afforded others; social inclusion is more difficult, there are barriers to attracting a partner and starting a family, I’m taken less seriously in some professional situations and getting competent medical care is harder (viz the case when I presented with pneumonia and the first question from the GP was ‘how much do you weigh?’).

So why should I contribute as much to society when society doesn’t value me as much as the “hot chick”?