Fat Politics: Obesity, Health & Getting a Job

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.

Source: Jezebel

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.

And another:

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.” 

Source: AOL

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?

9 thoughts on “Fat Politics: Obesity, Health & Getting a Job”

  • Great post as always!!! Did you see the debate recently… I’m all for equality, and not discriminating, but they way they are thinking of helping “fat” people to feel less judged, is to ban the use of words such as “fat” “obese” etc, as words similar regarding race, mental health problems, etc have been banned. Something should be done, but i’m really not sure banning the use of the word fat and obese is IT.

    • I didn’t see that – but it’s ridiculous. There’s always going to be a negative stigma attached to it regardless of the word used. The thing about weight discrimination is it’s not like gender, or skin colour, where it can’t be helped (to a point, obviously) – improving people’s lives is far more important than changing the words we use to describe them.

  • Great post! I have some experience in this as well. I applied for a job as a PR consultant in a PR agency and was told after a 2 minute interview, that I am not suited for this particular job because I seem to be a homey, comfy person (I can´t find the right expression in English. Something like slow and laid-back in your actions) and that I looked like a motherly type. The HR person said, he could see me as a secretary (I have a masters degree in business, speak four languages, had 4 years of work experience in an international enviroment). They tried really hard not to say directly “You´re too fat”, but came up with a lot of creative alternatives all directly relating to the common stereotypes about overweight people.Looking back I´m glad I did not get the job because that would have probably been a terrible workplace with a bad atmosphere.

    • You’re right to be glad not to work in a place like that – but this is shocking! I’m amazed that people can get away with things like that, but it goes to show how pervasive these sorts of stereotypes are. Unbelievable.

  • I think sometimes, at least for myself, that being overweight makes you less self-confident in situations like job interviews, which are nerve wracking at the best of times. But I do think fat people are discriminated against.

  • I very strongly believe that my failure to get a job in the optical industry was due to my weight. I was top of my class and held down an optician job for 2 years where I got amazing feedback. After I was let go due to downsizing I could not land a job. I had a lot of interviews, a professionally done resume, great references and took interview workshops which I aced. But after 18 months no job. I’ve changed careers. Yes, there is prejudice in the workplace. Huge.

  • I am still looking for my first job for more than a year now. I know my educational background is an asset than most but I can’t seem to even get calls for final offers, always called for initial interviews. It just bums me out that I feel this is because I am obese. 🙁

  • Same song here. I have 30 years of work experience as a program/project manager … Masters degree … certified Professional Project Manager. I get phone calls from my job applications, get told that I sound like I’m ideal for the job … go to a face-to-face (most of the time the look of shock on people’s faces tell me I’m not going to be working here, regardless of how the interview goes), and spend 1-2 hours being interviewed. There’s lots of smiles and compliments over my experience, presentation and value. Then, zero, zilch. No calls, no replies to email inquiries. Dead. Silence. I am a male, 6′ 6″ and weigh 400lbs. I am an imposing figure. I dress sharp (nice suit, shirt and tie) and I always ensure my hygiene is not an issue. But I have now gone almost 4 years without a job. I am getting desperate, even going as far as to consider bariatric surgery. Seeing that I easily got jobs (the pick of many offers) BEFORE I gained all my weight, I know that it is my obesity holding me back.

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