Fat Politics: Obesity, Health & Getting a Job
Yesterday, I read this quote reported to be from Christina Aguilera (it’s since been denied – but bear with me on this), who said she told her record label the following when working on her new album – because apparently, no amount of talent will help you if you’re fat:
I told them during this Lotus recording, “You are working with a fat girl. Know it now and get over it.” They need a reminder sometimes that I don’t belong to them. It’s my body. My body can’t put anyone in jeopardy of not making money anymore-my body is just not on the table that way anymore.
Aguilera is a mum-of-one, and she’s 31 years old – and I’m willing to bet that a hell of a lot of people would still buy her records regardless of her weight. In an ideal world, her weight wouldn’t matter, because she has an amazing voice and a very real talent. But oh, for an ideal world.
The fact that her decision not to lose weight for the promotion of this album is news (because even though these quotes aren’t true, let’s face it – it’s a notable fact to most media outlets that she isn’t a size 0 this time around) says a lot of powerful and depressing things about the pressure that celebrities are under to maintain a certain weight – something that we should all bear in mind when we’re looking at the still-heavily-photoshopped pictures of celebs in magazines. Even they, with all the personal trainers, chefs, stylists, and make-up artists in the world, can’t manage to look good enough to escape the airbrush. There is no – I repeat, no – hope for the rest of us to look like that. So do yourself a favour, and stop trying.
But that’s another issue.
There’s another thing that this story made me think about, and that’s the role that your weight can play in your career. I personally think I lost out on a couple of jobs I was more than qualified to do when I was heavier, because the perception is in our society that fat means a lot of things other than just that you enjoy an extra slice of pizza from time to time. I was lucky, in the end, to get my job because my current employers saw something in me beyond being overweight – but I’d already lost over four stone by that point. Progress had already been made.
I put this out to Facebook, and had some rather interesting responses. Had anyone else felt like they’d missed out on opportunities because of their weight – or did I just have a (pardon the phrase) chip on my shoulder? I popped my email address on there, because I thought it might be wise to give people the opportunity to keep this anonymous, because it’s a tricky topic – and I did have a number of responses. Here’s what one said:
I’ve definitely been discriminated against at my workplace, continually passed over for promotion because I am overweight. Even though I’m more qualified and experienced than the people who now work above me.
I know I’ve missed out on a job before because I was overweight, but I’ve lost a lot of weight and last week I was selecting candidates for a position that reports in to me. It was totally level between the final two candidates (relevant experience, qualifications, personality) but we had to make the decision that the candidate who wasn’t overweight was the better one for the job. I don’t know why and I felt bad about it later on, but it just seemed to make more sense to make that decision.
Firstly, I applaud this person for being so honest. Recognising, and admitting, the reason behind that choice is a bold thing to do, because it’s not a nice thing to have to admit. It’s depressing. But apparently, it’s also not all that uncommon. Case in point:
According to the peer-reviewed BMC Public Health, HR professionals consistently “underestimated the occupational prestige of obese individuals and overestimated it for normal-weight individuals.” The study was compiled by showing pictures of obese individuals to 127 human resource professionals, who were asked to allocate a profession for each person, from high prestige jobs like doctors, to other positions like cashier.
Obese people “were more often disqualified from being hired and less often nominated for a supervisory position, while non-ethnic normal-weight individuals were favored.”
This is in the US, mind – but I don’t think it’s something that only happens on that side of the pond. It’s depressing. It’s wrong. But it does happen.
I’m not really sure what to say about this, if I’m completely honest – because the benefits to losing weight have been so huge for me, personally, that I wouldn’t want to advocate that being morbidly obese is a healthy way to live. And at the end of the day, health is the most important thing.
But how you look shouldn’t be a factor in stopping you from getting a job – especially if you’re only heavy compared to the other interviewee at the table. Especially because you’re more likely to be overweight if you’re from a low-income background – meaning that if you’re poor, you’re more likely to be fat, and if you’re fat, you’re less likely to get a job that will help you to stop being poor. Meaning you’re pretty much trapped.
It seems to me that there are only two things we need do in a situation like this, though. We do need to try to change attitudes about discrimination on all fronts – from gender, to skin colour, to weight – by changing our own attitudes towards the way we look, and moving away from the focus on looks that means this sort of thing happens.
But at the same time, better education on nutrition and exercise for people who don’t necessarily have access to that needs to be available to those who need it, to stop obesity being an issue in the first place. Changing attitudes will take a long time to achieve, because it’s a cultural shift that needs to happen – but improving people’s education and access to wellbeing… That’s something we could start doing right now. There’s a lot that needs to be done, but it’s not impossible.
So… Thoughts, anyone?