Home The "Study" Guide Study Finds That Obesity Affects Job Prospects & Promotions For Women

Study Finds That Obesity Affects Job Prospects & Promotions For Women

by Erika Nicole Kendall

This was dropped off on the BGG2WL FB page this morning… and I’m a teeny weeny bit shocked. Just a tad:

The study, led by The University of Manchester and Monash University, Melbourne, and published in the International Journal of Obesity, examined whether a recently developed measure of anti-fat prejudice, the universal measure of bias (UMB), predicted actual obesity job discrimination. The researchers also assessed whether people’s insecurity with their own bodies (body image) and conservative personalities such as, authoritarianism, and social dominance orientation were related to obesity discrimination, as they are related to homophobia and racism.

Psychologist and lead researcher Dr Kerry O’Brien said the nature of the study was initially concealed from the participants to avoid biased results, and simply advertised as a study on whether some people are better at personnel selection than others.

“Participants viewed a series of resumes that had a small photo of the job applicant attached, and were asked to make ratings of the applicants suitability, starting salary, and employability,” said Dr O’Brien. “We used pictures of women pre- and post-bariatric surgery, and varied whether participants saw either a resume, amongst many, that had a picture of an obese female (BMI 38-41) attached, or the same female but in a normal weight range (BMI 22-24) following bariatric surgery.

“We found that strong obesity discrimination was displayed across all job selection criteria, such as starting salary, leadership potential, and likelihood of selecting an obese candidate for the job.”

The higher a participant’s score on the measure of anti-fat prejudice, the more likely they were to discriminate against obese candidates, while those with a more authoritarian personality also displayed discrimination.

Dr O’Brien and co-authors Dr Janet Latner, from the University of Hawaii, and Dr Jackie Hunter, from Otago University, noted that one of the particularly interesting and new findings was that the participants’ ratings of their own physical appearance (body image) and importance of physical appearance were also associated with obesity discrimination.

“The higher participants rated their own physical attractiveness and the importance of physical appearance, the greater the prejudice and discrimination,” said Dr O’Brien. “One interpretation of this finding might be that we feel better about our own bodies if we compare ourselves and discriminate against ‘fat’ people, but we need to test this experimentally.”

The study is the first to show a relationship between explicit self-report measures of obesity prejudice and obesity job discrimination. In addition, the results suggest that a belief in the superiority of some individuals over others is related to the perception that obese individuals deserve fewer privileges and opportunities than non-fat individuals.

Dr O’Brien added: “Our findings show that there is a clear need to address obesity discrimination, particularly against females who tend to bear the brunt of anti-fat prejudice. Prejudice reduction interventions and policies need to be developed. It’s also becoming clear that the reasons for this prejudice appear to be related to our personalities, how we feel about ourselves, with attributions, such as, obese people are lazy, gluttonous etc merely acting as justifications for our prejudice.” [source]

Now, remember… we sort of somewhat kinda had this conversation a few months ago in the Dating While Fat and Feminist post, right? If you didn’t read it, you might want to catch up. The comments section was pretty damn epic.

However, because we’ve discussed the “negative ramifications of weight gain on life prospects” thing before, I’m seeing that a few things are easily interchangeable, here:

1) The article began with the following:

“Obese women are more likely to be discriminated against when applying for jobs and receive lower starting salaries than their non-overweight colleagues, a new study has found.”

I’d like to add one minor phrase to that, though:

“Obese women are more likely to be discriminated against when applying for jobs and receive lower starting salaries than their non-overweight colleagues and any men regardless of their weight, a new study has found.”

As we’ve discussed before, fat men in America? Live long and prosper. Heaven forbid a woman break the social contract of being thin, blond and pretty and still expect to be respected and compensated appropriately for her contributions to any community.

2) Did you catch this?

“[The study’s authors] noted that one of the particularly interesting and new findings was that the participants’ ratings of their own physical appearance (body image) and importance of physical appearance were also associated with obesity discrimination.

“The higher participants rated their own physical attractiveness and the importance of physical appearance, the greater the prejudice and discrimination,” said Dr O’Brien. “One interpretation of this finding might be that we feel better about our own bodies if we compare ourselves and discriminate against ‘fat’ people, but we need to test this experimentally.”

I’ve written about this before, too – lots of people need to feel that fat is the enemy, and fat people are just uncommitted, lazy, slobs in order to keep going. Associating “everything negative about being a human being” with “being fat” makes it easier to work harder to avoid being fat. In all honesty, it’s similar to saying “it’s easier to run faster when you know there’s zombies behind you.”

Realistically, if one of those people who does this – associates negative traits with simply being fat – is your boss, and you’re overweight, it becomes easier to see why or how these kinds of biases affect your ability to be promoted. ‘Of course she can’t do the job… she’s fat.’

3) I had to look up social dominance organization as well as authoritarianism, and sure enough, I’d written about those, too:

SDO was first proposed […] as part of their Social Dominance Theory (SDT). SDO is the key measurable component of SDT that is specific to it.

SDT begins with the empirical observation that surplus-producing social systems have a threefold group-based hierarchy structure: age-based, gender-based and “arbitrary set-based,” which can include race, class, sexual orientation, caste, ethnicity, religious affiliation, etc. Age-based hierarchies invariably give more power to adults and middle-age people than children and younger adults, and gender-based hierarchies invariably grant more power to men than women, but arbitrary-set hierarchies—though quite resilient—are truly arbitrary.

…and authoritarian personality?

Authoritarian personality is a state of mind or attitude characterised by ones belief in absolute obedience or submission to ones own authority, as well as the administration of that belief through the oppression of ones subordinates. It usually applies to individuals who are known or veiwed as having an authoritive, strict, or oppressive personality towards subordinates. [source]

I touched on an aspect of this briefly, a year or so back:

There’s also this thing… the idea that leaving the ranks of the “oppressed” to join the ranks of the “oppressors.” Leaving behind “The Fat Team” to join “The Fit Team,” a lot of these folks simply enjoy being able to have the “power” of finally being able to do the clowning instead of remembering how it felt to be the butt of the joke and stopping it in its tracks. There’s pleasure, for some, in being able to be the bully instead of showing compassion… and that’s what it takes for them. For some people, they just enjoy the chance to “finally be the bully.” I do believe, for these people who demonize fat and enjoy being able to be the bully, it’s simply a matter of prioritizing “being skinny” too highly. It’s mildly creepy to me.

Listen. When the blogger in the “Dating While..” post admitted to wanting to lose weight so she could get a man, I said that I supported her goal, yet I believed she might question the sincerity of someone who’d date a thinner version of herself and not an, ahem, thicker version of herself.

This isn’t even entirely about dating. What if I brought up the salary gap in white collar companies between the thin and the not-thin? What if Crunk was saying that she believed her income was being adversely affected by her weight, so she was going to lose? We’d all be like “Hey, do what you’ve got to do to get that money, but damn if it doesn’t suck that this is the reason why you have to do it.” THEN, this blog post would be all about the things you learn about how people’s perceptions of the overweight affect the salary they offer them, or whether or not they’re offered a salary at all…and if you DO lose weight and find out just how much money you were missing out on, you might be so crushed that you decide to work someplace else, instead.

This isn’t a man-hating diatribe. This is “Hey girl, hey…this is how it is and you might not’ve known that before, but understand that your weight may matter far more to others than it does for you… and, even if you DO change it, it might not yield the desired results.”

Dating is one thing. Employment, though? In this recession? Nobody has time for all that. Money is involved, and very few people have the means to judge a job based on whether or not they’d hire the fatter version of themselves. Too many people put in far too much work, have too many bills, and too many family members depending on their ability to bring home the bacon to say “oh, you wouldn’t hire/promote the fat me? Well f— you then, I quit!” and storm out. It’s just… it’s ideal, but its unrealistic.

I really… really hate corporate America, because your advancement is really at the mercy of whatever benevolent creature is currently employed in HR, and heaven help you if they’re a bias-toting, bigoted moron. It’s tough, and it stinks.

All I can take away from this, is that if you choose to lose weight in order to get that money… please remember how unfair you think these biases are and how wrong you believe it is that something like this can affect a person’s ability to advance in corporate America. As you advance, yourself, always remember to consider the whole person in their totality and not just assume they have any number of issues simply because they’re overweight. And remember, not only is the judgment coming your way because you dared to be fat, it’s coming your way because you dared to be a fat woman. If you’re going to lose weight to be placed higher, just keep in mind that it’s highly unlikely that your weight improved or impacted your ability to do that job any better, and pass that same consideration on to those who come after you.

Just… do what you can to put this foolishness to bed. Please.

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marie August 21, 2012 - 1:04 PM

Well said! People tend to forget really quickly where they have been and how they used to struggle. Compassion is key if we want to reverse this situation, I agree

CurvyCEO August 21, 2012 - 1:58 PM

Ugh. The results of this study are so disheartening. Not entirely surprising, but disheartening.

I am wondering if there is also a reverse version of this phenomenon? Like, a company hiring a person *because* they’re overweight, thinking, “Clearly, this person has no self-esteem and no social/personal life – I can work them like a rented mule!” I have a friend who went through this…everything was fine and dandy when she stayed at the office, night after night, subsisting on takeout and snacks from the vending machine. But as soon as she made her health the first priority – actually taking a lunch break to grab something healthy, leaving on time to make that evening spin class – everything went down hill. Her boss – a female – began to get jealous and complained that my friend wasn’t at her desk at all times. Eventually my friend got fired. Not for losing weight, per se, but it definitely impacted how her boss viewed/treated her. *shrug*

Erika Nicole Kendall August 21, 2012 - 3:02 PM

Holy… see why I’m soooo not here for corporate America? How are you insecure… and you’re the BOSS?

soulsentwined August 21, 2012 - 4:57 PM

I served on a hiring committee in Academia. One of the candidates we interviewed was around the same age as the boss and skinner than the boss. When the boss realized they were the same age she fished for compliments that she looked younger and the other people in the room gave her the compliments! I was already applying for other jobs at that point but it just added to my negative opinion of them. Plus one woman claimed she didn’t feel comfortable working with men (she waited until the guy on the committee was out the room) but I think that was her way of hinting that she knew he was gay and didn’t want to work with a gay person.

nadia May 7, 2013 - 5:24 PM

This can be tricky for black women because I think that other women in society are actually much more comfortable with black women being over a certain size- not because they feel they have low elf-esteem but simply because they start to pose a threat on a sub-conscious level. They become (in the minds of insecure women) sexual competition. It is worse if the woman in question is equally educated, and has the same sort of class consciousness (this will sound weird but I believe it is worse when the black woman has relaxed hair as opposed to narutal as well). Just my humble opinion.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 8, 2013 - 11:07 AM

Now, THIS is interesting. Hmmm…

arieswym August 21, 2012 - 2:07 PM

How does this even work given the large number of Americans that are overweight or obese? shortsighted as all get out here. Sigh.

Erika Nicole Kendall August 21, 2012 - 3:02 PM

Self-loathing and self-pity? I mean, it’s easy to think that, because “weight loss is sooo simple” (something fueled by the diet and fitness industries), if you can’t do it, it must be because of some shortcoming… and since YOU can’t do it because of a personal shortcoming, surely ANYONE ELSE that’s still overweight must have those same personal shortcomings… and instead of being compassionate to that person because of that [incorrect] assumption, we assume they shouldn’t advance.

Also, putting too much stock in “thinness” results in seeing a thin person as more valuable than an, ahem, thick one. Might not even have anything to do with seeing “fatness” as a moral failing.. you just might find thinness more of a value than anything else. 🙁

oliva August 21, 2012 - 7:15 PM

well since i am living this right now . it is no surprise to me i have be unemployed for one whole year as of tomorrow and i submit my resume get the calls pass the test show up for the interview and all of a sudden i am not qualified to do the stupid desk job… never mind my degree or back round but hey….. never mind jobs i do not even really want but still can not attain waiters factory work. sales…. no one wants the fat girl in those places and yes i am morbidly obese and yes i would like to work they are not mutually exclusive

Kanda August 23, 2012 - 10:40 AM

In the eyes of others an obese woman is a sign of weakness. How can she manage this unit or command respects when she can’t manage her own life or weight? I don’t think this applies in all work enivironments. I see this line of thinking amongst larger companies in larger city areas (Manhattan, Los Angeles, and Chicago). Where image (beauty = power) is sometimes put before talent and skill. I find this is less the case in other industries that service in more urban communities or those where looks don’t matter (healthcare, education, publishing, non-profits). I want to reach executive status in my careers and I know a portion of that means continuing my weightloss journey. It may seem unfair to the woman is a smart, talented, and damn good at what she does but is also overweight but this world have never been fair.

starrynight November 21, 2012 - 9:40 AM

I’m not sure why the focus on corporate America. This goes on all over place – Academia, the local grocery shop, whatever and wherever.

kiyah July 2, 2013 - 5:18 PM

The sad part is fat people are really treated unfairly. I have three brothers and even though i was only 20lbs over weight i was constantly taunted at home about losing the weight. No i have lost the weight unfortunately people will talk freely about overweight people. The perception is that they (especially women) are lazy, dirty, and don’t care for themselves. So if that is how they are perceived why would someone respect them as an employee. The perception must be fixed first.

Ashley July 8, 2013 - 4:12 AM

I’m currently going through this now. I can’t find a better job and I do believe employers judge me because of my weight. I am qualified to do the jobs I am applying for, but nothing. I am going to work on losing weight so that I can live the way God intended for me to live. I will always remember my experiences. I’m grateful to website sheds light on some really sad, but often ignored issues.

DivinelyNaptural August 5, 2013 - 6:07 PM

I promise you I have felt this. No matter how nice the resume OR telephone interview.

I once walked into the office of the FAMOUS Spa Owner who is known for her illustrious institute for cosmetic skin care and school. (Who ironically has me as one of her contacts on Linkedin after all this time)

Aced the telephone interview and all… and she wanted to meet me. I was dressed to the NINE I tell ya. 300+ dollar suit on and all for a admin position…. anyway…. as soon as she saw me walk into that spa… her face said it all… I knew I wasn’t getting a call back or the job though she said on the phone she was impressed with my resume and my phone manners.

Don’t know what it was, but our conversation was VERY BRIEF when we met… less than 2 minutes. All of a sudden a woman who was so enthused to meet me never even gave me the time of day after meeting me. It could have been ANYTHING, but I know it was appearance based.

Didn’t want to work for someone who would judge me for my appearance, HOWEVER, I know that people have preconceived notions based on my appearance, whether it is weight or the fact that I am a Black woman. I cannot dwell on this, but can you imagine the opportunities I missed out on because of people judging by appearances?

It is really frustrating… especially in situations like this where it is VERY OBVIOUS.

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