Does Weight Matter in the Workplace?
While perusing my Twitter feed the other day, I came across a ridiculous tweet from Cosmopolitan magazine that got me thinking about weight in the workplace:
— Cosmopolitan (@Cosmopolitan) January 4, 2016
A little background—Ashley Benson is one of the four stars of the hit ABC Family show “Pretty Little Liars”—and believe me, she is nowhere near fat. In fact, she even admits that she’s a size 2 in both the short Cosmo piece and the longer article that it is based on, which appeared in Ocean Drive.
This all begs the question—since when was a size 2 too fat?
Well, Hollywood is a terrible and subjective sort of beast. Benson is not the first young woman in show business to make a comment about someone saying she is too fat. Jennifer Lawrence, for instance, has always been outspoken about her love for food, and she has said on more than one occasion that she is considered a “fat actress.” As with Benson, Lawrence is definitely not fat. She is, however, curvy in that effortless way that makes her a bombshell.
So is Hollywood saying that skinny (i.e. without curves) is perfect and curvy is fat? What about the average woman in the United States, who is 5’ 4” and weighs 166 pounds?
It caused me to take a step back and think about the fact that Ashley Benson’s and Jennifer Lawrence’s workplaces are Hollywood. Their sources of livelihood are their acting chops and their appearances. So, when thought of in that way, wouldn’t being turned down for a part because you are “too fat” be considered workplace discrimination?
Surprisingly, no. There is really only one state in the United States–Michigan–that has any sort of law about weight discrimination in the workplace, and even then, it’s really difficult to prove in a courtroom. In 2013, a large number of cocktail waitresses tried to sue a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey for forcing them to do weigh-ins and lose weight on a regular basis, and they lost. Overweight and obese people–and those are subjective terms, since everyone who isn’t a medical doctor has a different opinion on what constitutes an obese person–are not a protected class. This means that, legally, workplaces can discriminate against obese job applicants and employees.
Think about that for a minute.
While “overweight” people probably can’t be fired from a job they already have–there has to be a reason for firing someone, since unlawful termination is easier to prove than other types of workplace discrimination–there have been studies that have shown that hiring managers are significantly less likely to hire an “overweight” person than a skinny person. In addition, skinny or otherwise attractive employees are more likely to get promoted and receive pay raises, whereas heavier employees are more often passed over or forced to work extra hours to get the same benefits, promotions, or compensation.
When all of this is put together, the conclusion is a dreary one. Yes, weight does matter in the workplace, even if you aren’t an actress or a model. Being considered fat or overweight may keep you from getting a job, and if you already have a job, it may keep you from advancing in your career. You’ll likely have to work harder to earn what you believe you deserve. It’s a troubling world that we live in, where people’s subjective opinions about what others should look like affect their employment opportunities, even when they aren’t famous actresses. Reality, unfortunately, isn’t known for being nice to people.