The Big FAT Truth

Life is fair, if you are lucky enough to be thin

The impression we make by our physical appearance may or may not be by choice. People observe some physical characteristic and then, either knowingly or not, associate personality traits with the ones they can see.

Neon hair and facial piercings commonly convey non-conformity. Those who wear glasses are associated with the characteristic of intelligence. There are other blatant aspects of appearance though that are not cosmetic and cannot be so easily changed.

Height, skin color, and gender are accepted as unchangeable aspects of a person’s physical appearance, and, as such, society has deemed it unacceptable to attribute personality traits based on these features. Unfortunately, body weight is not included on this list.

Body weight seems to be the last physical aspect against which our society and laws deem it permissible to be discriminatory.

Currently, there is no federal law making it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of weight. Only one state, Michigan, has laws against this.

These laws, or rather lack thereof, do not strictly concern occupations where size could affect performance. This means that it is entirely legal in any state besides Michigan for employers to deny an applicant because they don’t like fat people.

If body weight was indicative of job performance, I suppose that I could not fault an employer for doing what is in the company’s best interest. However, a recent study out of Michigan State University found that, contrary to social stigmas, overweight workers were not lazier, more emotionally unstable or harder to get along with than their “normal weight” colleagues.

“Previous research has demonstrated that many employers hold negative stereotypes about obese workers, and those beliefs contribute to discrimination against overweight workers at virtually every stage of the employment process, from hiring to promotion to firing,” said Mark Roehling, the scholar who headed the research.

With the past year serving as an exception, I had been obese my entire life. As I began to lose weight, I noticed changes in the way I was treated by others. The minor things are the ones that I have noticed the most, like more passing smiles on the sidewalk and more doors being held open for me. I have to wonder though, why I am suddenly now more deserving of social niceties.

I can say from experience, that with every pound I lost, I was treated with more kindness and respect from people I did not know.

What I have come to think is that the maintenance of social stigmas regarding weight has to do with the idea of fault. Most people would agree that losing weight is difficult and some may even recognize that there may be a genetic predisposition to obesity. Many of these same people would still find a person “at fault” for being above the ideal weight.

This then leads to a line of thought that since a person is at fault, or they “choose” to be overweight, then it is acceptable to judge them for a choice because it is something that they could control or change.

I can say definitively that no one wants or chooses to be obese. No one would ever choose to be treated with less dignity, respect and love by their fellow human beings on a daily basis.

Losing weight is one of the hardest things a person can do and is therefore not something one can readily or simply change. It is unfair that negative stigmas are still associated with body weight. Personal attitudes toward body weight being allowed to affect one’s right to fair treatment however, is far, far beyond unfair.

The legality of discrimination based on weight is uncivilized, uneducated, uncompassionate and unjust.