Monday, February 6, 2012

Fat Fears: Hiring Bias

Fat people have many fears that they have to face every day.  I know that some of mine are things like wondering when I go to a new place (whether it is a public place or a private home) whether I will be able to find seating that is both comfortable for me and that I am not terrified of breaking by sitting on it, or fearing tripping and falling because between my size and nerve damage that I have in my knees from a freak accident in my 20's it is nearly impossible for me to get up on my own. 

One fear that I am currently having to face is the fear of weight bias in the workplace.  You see, I am being laid off from the job that I have held for the past six years.  It is a job that has had its ups and downs, both personally and industry-wise, but that I have enjoyed overall.  I will be sad to go, and hope that it is only a temporary thing though I cannot count on that.  This means that I will be looking for a new job, which brings the whole thing back to hiring biases. 

It is against the law to exhibit an observable bias toward those of different races, religions, genders, and even sexual orientation (in most places).  It is not, however, against the law to exhibit an observable bias toward those who are fat.  If anything, popular sentiment encourages such biases by supporting the false stereotypes that fat people are, by nature, lazy and unintelligent slobs who have no drive to accomplish anything of note. 

I happen to have an excellent resume.  I have amazing skills in a variety of skill sets.  I have almost 30 years of actual work experience under my belt.  My organizational abilities and professional interpersonal abilities are unmatched.  I am startlingly fast at learning new skills and procedures.  If I weighed 130 pounds, I would expect that I would be able to land a top-paying position in my field with only moderate effort even in the current job market.  But I do not weigh 130 pounds, I weigh 360 pounds and I fully expect that there will be interviewers who will not be able to see past that weight to the skilled and competent person behind it. 

It is ridiculous in this day and age that anyone should have to fear going to interviews because of how they look.  No one should have to fear that something that has nothing to do with how they work or their ability to complete a job with the highest quality possible while getting along with co-workers in a pleasant manner will ever have bearing on whether they are hired or not.  Currently, you legally do not have to worry about the color of your skin having any bearing on whether you get a job (I know, it is still a practical fear as there are those who either ignore or skirt the law, but at least there IS a law!), you legally do not have to worry about your religion barring you from being hired, or your national origins (I suddenly have visions of the old photographs showing signs that said, "Irish need not apply.") keeping you unemployed.

I wish that I could say that my weight will not have any bearing on what jobs I am seriously considered for and what jobs will pass me by.  But we are realists here, though we try to be optimistic realists most of the time, and we all know that no matter how good my resume is, no matter how amazing my skill sets, no matter how well I ace that phone interview, the moment that I walk into a room with an interviewer there is a high likelihood that their opinion of my abilities will drop severely when they see my weight.  If they are basically a good person they may not be consciously aware of it, but it will still be there.

We, as humans, make judgements based on external appearances all of the time.  It isn't a good thing to do in most cases, but we do it anyway.  We are conditioned to do so from childhood, and society encourages it in both blatant and subtle ways.  You are, of course, free to disagree with my assessment on that, but before you do I challenge you to consciously monitor your thoughts and reactions for a week.  Whether you are walking down a street, watching a television show, or just hanging out with your friends, I challenge you to be aware of your thoughts and reactions when you look at people.  Notice how often your thoughts focus on assumptions and stereotypes when you see someone new.  Is that guy with the tattoos really dangerous?  Or do you just assume that from what you've seen in the media?  Is that girl with the short skirt and low-cut top really a slut?  Or does society feed that stereotype with its forced perceptions?  Is that fat girl really lazy?  Or are you just assuming that because that is what you have been told over and over by people who have a vested interest in promoting that thought?

Anyway, I hope that I am proven wrong.  I hope that I get a job worthy of my skills and my abilities.  I hope that I get a job that challenges me to learn new things on a regular basis, and where I am appreciated as a valuable member of a team as well as a unique person.  Though, I'm not sure those kinds of jobs even exist anymore no matter WHAT size you are, but if they do, I hope that I manage to get one and that my fear of hiring bias ends up being an imaginary windmill that disappears as I attempt to tilt against it with my lance and charger.

I hope that eventually it disappears for everyone, and that we all look forward to the day when our only concerns regarding looking for work relate to what is available and what we qualify for.  That would be ideal.  I hope that day is not too far off and that I someday get to see it.  But who knows?


  1. While reading this, I had the thought that if you printed this out and handed it to your interviewer before the interview actually began, it might very possibly make the difference you are looking for. Best of luck in the job search!

  2. Crossing fingers for you!! Good luck on your job hunt :)

  3. While I'm not disagreeing with your general statement, I do play devils advocate on things! It's my only real joy in life.

    There are plenty of people out there who likely have similar or matching job experience and skills who are out there looking for work. And it is also entirely possible that the weight of one versus another could play a role in who gets the job if you are both applying for the same job.

    But as much as you don't want to be discriminated against because of your weight, at the same time, is it right to hire YOU because you're heavy, but not someone else of a more average size, if only because the hiring committee doesn't want to seem biased?

    Two applicants of the same job abilities, one is black, one is white. If the black person isn't hired, is it racial discrimination? Doesn't that mean, if the black person is hired because he is black, but not necessarily for any other reason to pick him over the white applicant, that the white applicant is being racially profiled in reverse?

    And again, hear me when I say that there isn't anything in your statements that I disagree with - I face it in my own job because of my gender - but I worry about discrimination going the opposite way.

    I'd rather be hired because I'm good, than because I'm a girl and my employer doesn't want me crying 'discrimination!'. I'd rather be hired because I'm good, than because of my race and my employer doesn't want me crying discrimination. I'd rather be hired because I'm good, than any possibility that my employer is doing it just so they don't feel bad about themselves, or worry about me bringing a discrimination lawsuit against them.

    However, I do think that there should be a clause in the law (it's only in some jurisdictions, not all), that doesn't allow exclusion of a job based on weight unless a certain weight limit is required by the job (ie: flight attendants need to be a certain weight (in relation to their height), if only because of how insanely skinny those stupid aisles are!).

    But as we all know, putting it into law doesn't stop it from happening. There will always be a reason that someone they don't like, whether it's due to race or weight or whatever, isn't hired. Whether or not that reason is VALID or not however, is hard to determine.

    You can get fired from a job not because you did anything wrong, but because your boss perceives you as doing something wrong, or something that isn't what he or she wants. Or any other number of acceptable reasons why you may get laid off, covering a reason that you shouldn't get laid off.

    But again on the flip side... what if the reason you're getting laid off is valid, but now they can't do it because of worry of litigation? Or instead, they fire Sue Skinny because they don't want to offend, or Wally White, or Morty Man or any other 'less discriminated than you' representative?

    Just food for thought.

    1. While I appreciate that you are playing Devil's Advocate, Jenn, I think that you are arguing against something that is nowhere in my post.

      I did not ever say that I think I should be hired just because I'm fat. I think that I should be hired because I'm damned good at what I do. What I did say, however, is that my skills should not be discounted or lessened in someone's mind just because I'm fat and without any tangible proof that they I am less skilled than I say that I am.

      I don't care if someone gets hired instead of me because they will do a better job (well, I don't care other than the fact that I need a job! *grin*). That's what competition in the marketplace is about. What I care about is that it is a very real problem that fat people are routinely discriminated against in the workplace and I would like to have a level playing field.

      There is a difference between asking for the same standards to be applied to everyone and asking for preferential treatment. The argument that you are using is the same one that has been applied to every group that currently has equal rights as mandated by law. We are not "Animal Farm", we are not "all equal, but some are more equal than others". Humanity has evolved, it is time to move on even further and to get to the point where we judge based on action rather than appearance. We hold ourselves back by continuing to link appearance with ability in our minds.

      Thank you for reading, and for politely and sincerely expressing your opinion.


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