Picture this: you’re walking into an interview for a job you are highly qualified for and prepared for. You present yourself well, and perform and respond impressively in the interview. You were the picture-perfect candidate — the only problem was that you didn’t fit their picture-perfect body image.
Within American legislation, to date, it is completely legal for employers to discriminate against appearances and weight, as long as it cannot be categorized under discrimination against a protected group, such as on the basis of gender or race. Michigan is the only state to have made weight discrimination illegal. This kind of discrimination makes it difficult for those who don’t fit societal beauty norms to move up within their companies, or to even be hired for jobs.
Even though 67 percent of the American women are considered plus size, studies show an underrepresentation of plus size CEOs of all genders. This is cause for concern as women already have difficult times breaking through the glass ceiling, and as weight discrimination also creates disproportionate wealth gaps. Other research has shown that within the last decade, discrimination based on weight and appearance has increased by 66 percent, becoming almost as prevalent as racial discrimination in the workforce.
Appearance discrimination isn’t limited to just weight, either. People have been discriminated against because of their hair, tattoos, piercings, and the way they dress.
Due to illogical proxies and societal opinions, people believe that thinner people have more self-control and discipline. Others say that thinner people are nicer to work with and work harder, despite research suggesting otherwise. The first step to fighting this discrimination, is by challenging these ideologies and reshaping the way we attribute attractiveness and appearance to work ethic.
The next step is creating legislation that makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on a basis of weight or appearance. In a 2017 survey conducted by Rebecca Puhl, the director of research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, Puhl said that 78 percent of Americans indicated support of a law, illegalizing appearance discrimination.
The biggest problem one runs in to, however, is proving the discrimination. Without verbal or written acknowledgement and proof, it is hard for one to prove they were discriminated or stigmatized against. The way to avoid this would be to create structured, unbiased hiring and promotion procedures that remove certain perceptions and beliefs from the process.
Until then, we must band together to advocate for the wrongful discrimination of plus size people and those who don’t “fit the norm.” With this, it is equally important that one must say something if they see something. If you observe discrimination, it is always best to report it, either to a superior, a human resource department, or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision. Don’t become a bystander that does nothing. Speak up for the injustice of all. We are stronger together.
And as a reminder, your weight, your body, your image — it doesn’t define you, your beauty, or your work ethic. You do. Be your absolute best and most radiant self.
Alpha Omicron Pi