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.ย  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.


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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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”?

Ada Lovelace Day – Quinn Norton

Ada Lovelace Day celebrates inspirational women in technology. This post is dedicated to Quinn Norton, a journalist who specialises in covering the fields of body hacking and functional body modification. Unusual choice? You bet! Inspirational? Definitely ๐Ÿ™‚

Body hacking is, like all other forms of volition: the freedom to enact your will upon a system

Quinn embodies (no pun intended) freedom. Her viewpoint is that in our society we often have less control over our own bodies than we do over other objects such as hardware. Medical procedures are tightly regulated and governed not from the perspective of individual freedom, but societal need. She is an advocate of something called functional body modification – implanting devices, taking drugs and having surgery that enhances our abilities.

This has particular importance to me. I have a distance vision of less than 10 inches, am morbidly obese and have a 3 generational family history of premature death due to cardiac failure. My father was one of the first people in Australia to have an implantable defibrillator – a machine which regulated his heartbeat and actively restarted his heart on a number of occasions when it went into nonviable rhythm. Without life there is no technology. I can’t code when I’m dead.

That said, I’m conservative. I won’t get laser eye surgery to restore my vision to 20/20, yet happily underwent gastric banding to reduce obesity. Without Quinn’s view of body modification – that it is an expression of freedom – it would have taken me a lot longer to reach this decision and take a positive step. Would I take Provigil to make myself more alert? I’m not sure, but thanks to Quinn Nortonย  now I think about body enhancement in a different way and am more open to freeing my body from the constraints that have been imposed upon it by nature.

Using technology to alter the body is nothing new. Surgery has been around for over 100 years. However for the most part it has been mechanical – amputation via hacksaw, bloodletting and debridement via scalpel, relocation of joints with brute force. Technology has only entered mainstream medicine in the last 40-50 years – with lasers for surgery, neurosurgery via telescope, better monitoring through machines. It is a matter of time before the body and technology will merge, perhaps in unexpected ways. Will the next generation be part man, part machine? Will becoming part machine be an evolutionary requirement due to the pace of change – the sheer amount of information that has to be absorbed to be productive? How will social status be changed by the ability to enhance bodies? Thin people are better than fat people!

What it means to be female is also changing. As a female, I can control reproduction and choose to have a baby – only when I want to. If I don’t want children, I can still use my body for the benefit of others and act as a surrogate for a friend or colleague who can’t carry to term – an expression not just of freedom but of altruism. Functional body modification also brings with it new challenges – such as the ability to subscribe to changing societal norms – enormous perky breasts that seem to defy gravity, faces that never sag and bums that never droop.

Quinn Norton is a pioneer – using her own body as a platform with which to experiment, push boundaries and continually question what it means to be human.

Watch Quinn Norton’s presentation on Body Hacking

HDTV working using GadgetGeek USB tuner and BlazeDTV

In a follow up to my earlier post on HDTV, I’m pleased to report that HDTV is now working. My previous attempts to get this working resulted in the conclusion that my antenna was, politely, end of life (or in other words a heap of rubbish). So, I popped in to see the guys at Hi Gain Antennas, and brought some photos with me.

They confirmed my suspicions – the antenna was old, unable to pick up the frequency range required to receive digital broadcast signal, and was positioned too low to be effective (my house in on the downside of a hill). So, a new setup was installed which has two antennas (so that the signals can be combined to get good signal strength), which is positioned higher on the roof and affixed with guidewires. This goes into an amplifier which further boosts the signal.

Part two of the installation involved re-cabling the existing TV points with shielded coaxial cable. The old cable was not shielded, and is subject to electrical interference. While the blokes were there, I also got them add another point in my bedroom. They also provided some fly leads for me which was a great bonus.

To get HDTV working on the computer, I needed a HDTV tuner. Because my computer is a laptop (and let’s face it, laptops are going to outsell desktop models very shortly), I didn’t want to put in a tuner card. The alternative is a USB HDTV tuner, and I was able to get a Gadget Geek USB DTV model from Dick Smith for under $100 which is quite reasonable. Allegedly the USB models are not as fast at processing as the cards, but so far so good – and I only really got it to prove whether or not I could get HDTV on the computer anyway.

This comes with Blaze HDTV software to allow you to record your programs. I set Blaze to scan for channels – and voila! All the digital channels available came through – and now I have HDTV on my computer ๐Ÿ™‚

My Linux platform (Fedora 9) doesn’t recognise the USB HDTV tuner, so I can’t run MythTV as planned – but I suppose now I have at least one reason to boot into Windows ๐Ÿ™‚