Discrimination against weight isn't as visible as discrimination against gender, race or sexual preference. That doesn't mean it isn't any less destructive than other forms of discrimination. American culture is prevalent with "fat jokes," the expense of which is often unaccounted for. A common response is that weight is a lifestyle choice and can be shed with a certain amount of determination. The reality, however, is much less optimistic. Losing weight to fit the mold of an ideal body image isn't an easy task for everyone. Weight discrimination isn't protected at a federal level either, leaving the possibility of losing out on a sought-after position because of body type.
State and Federal Protections
As of 2013, weight discrimination is only protected in a few cities and one state -- Michigan. While over 32 percent of Americans are clinically obese, the federal government doesn't provide protection for them. Obesity is often considered a disease and may be protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act in some cases. Because weight is viewed as a lifestyle choice by many companies and courts, it is unlikely to be considered for protection along with physical disabilities.
Reasons for Discriminating
Discrimination against weight is often justified as a safety measure. Some companies argue that weight is a hazard in the workplace such as in law enforcement, or in public areas such as airlines. Discrimination can be image-based, with employers prejudging potential and current employees based on their looks and how they feel it represents the company. Some restaurants, such as Hooters, also enforce a decidedly thin image for their employees.
Weight Discrimination and Women
Women are more at risk for weight discrimination than men. According to Forbes, heavy and very heavy women earn between $9,000 and $19,000 less respectively than women who are "average." What's more, a women's weight may make it harder for her to be promoted into an executive-level position. A study by Mark and Patricia Roehling of Michigan State University and Hope College, found that 45 percent to 61 percent of male CEOs in top American companies are considered overweight, while only 5 percent to 22 percent of female CEOs were found overweight.
Ways Overweight Individuals are Discriminated Against
People who are overweight are perceived as weak-willed, sloppy or lazy. Discrimination often begins in school, with the individual receiving taunts from other school children about her weight. These overweight individuals tend to be rejected more often by other children, teased more and even given poorer evaluations by teachers. Weight discrimination continues at a medical level, where studies show physicians view overweight individuals with a negative attitude. In their work lives, these individuals are discriminated against by being hired less, working less in positions that require customer interaction and are less likely to be accepted and liked by their coworkers.
- USA Today: Weight Discrimination Can be as Common as Racial Bias
- ProCon: Obesity
- Benefit News: Morbid Obesity Protected Under ADA
- All Business: Navigating the Issues of Weight Discrimination in Employment
- Forbes: Thin is In for Executive Women: How Weight Discrimination Contributes to the Glass Ceiling
- Academia: Lookism and Weight Discrimination: Ethnic and Cultural Awareness
Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.