My mission is to love people "from the inside out" and inspire others to do the same.

Size Prejudice Is Alive and Well, Part 1

In March, 2011, The New York Times published an essay called For Obese People, Prejudice in Plain Sight, which explores a couple of areas where people of size still face discrimination or at least stigma, specifically: the workplace and the doctor's office (yes, of all places, the doctor's office). I'll talk about the workplace in this post and tackle the doctor's office in Part 2.

One of the biggest revelations to me from this essay was that there is one place in this country that bans discrimination based on weight. That place is the state of Michigan. Well...Ron (see "About This Blog," left) lived his entire life in Michigan. During the time I knew him, he worked for a major airline, and I've always been grateful to that airline for not discriminating against him. Well, now I know they couldn't have done so without breaking the law. Really, it makes me wonder if that law was the only reason he had a job. Well, I don't mean that exactly. I know he had great skills and was a good employee. I just can't help but wonder whether he would have been unemployed if that law didn't exist. (And if he'd been unemployed, would we have ever met? It's not like membership in an online dating site, which is how we met, is something you spring for when you're struggling to afford gas and food.)

As the essay points out, "no federal legislation protects the civil rights of fat workers." That means that any company in America-sans-Michigan could refuse to hire a candidate or make employment decisions about an employee based on weight--with that as the stated reason, even--and it'd be perfectly legal.

One argument I hear sometimes is: Shouldn't an employer be able to refuse to hire an overweight person since they'll have to pay more for that person's health insurance? I have a few responses to that: First, one of the things I've learned is that size (whether gauged visually or in number of pounds) is not a foolproof indicator of a person's health. It'd be easy to think that if someone falls outside the parameters of a given height and weight chart or has a certain Body Mass Index that they're not only overweight but patently unhealthy. Well, I heard once that height and weight charts were originally developed by the insurance industry, who were looking for ways to exclude people from coverage. (I'll have to research that and do a post about it sometime.) Plus, it appears the experts don't even agree on where the line should be drawn for what is "obese," much less for the precise point at which a person's weight becomes a true health issue. Second, people who are or appear perfectly healthy can contract serious illnesses at any time. So it's not like a company can know that person A would be any more expensive to insure than person B, regardless of weight. And third, do we really think that a way to improve people's health is to deny them a job? I think not. Clearly...we need a better way.

I think what bothers me the most about size prejudice in the workplace is the apparent implication in the minds of many that an overweight or obese person is somehow less competent. Unless the very nature of the work requires a certain level of fitness, a person's weight has no real bearing on their ability to do the job. It's high time we realized that in this country.
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