Plus-Size People Reveal How They're Discriminated Against at Work
It seems the gender pay gap comes with an added weight limit.
Photo: Peter Cavanagh / Alamy Stock Photo
With the rise of #bodypositivity scoring dozens of bloggers deals and careers in fat fashion, the attitude that fat people – in particular, fat women – are automatically unworthy is beginning to leave our collective mindsets. Beyond aesthetics, however, the fight continues.
According to a new report from LinkedIn, fat discrimination leads to lower wages for plus-size people in the UK. A survey of 4,000 adults in full or part-time employment showed that "obese" workers are paid an average of £1,940 less than their colleagues per year, while overweight women are receiving an average £8,919 less than their male counterparts. It seems the gender pay gap now comes with an added weight limit.
The study also found that over half of plus-size workers (53 percent) have felt left out of their team because of their weight, with women feeling more uncomfortable in the workplace than men. Thirty-eight percent of women say their weight has been detrimental to confidence in work, comparable to 26 percent of men. Not only are fat people losing out on the same money as their peers in their workplace, they're being made to feel uncomfortable and unable too.
Following the revealing study, plus-size blogger Stephanie Yeboah took to a guest blog to explain how fat bias may not even be a conscious decision by employers. "Unconscious bias is when we 'automatically' classify people according to things such as social status, educational level, weight, age and colour, and automatically presume certain traits and make assumptions subconsciously of anyone we put in those groups," Yeboah explains.
But speaking to those who have been discriminated against in the workplace for being fat, it seems this bias can in some cases be more wilful.
Carys, a 23-year-old who used to work at a high street lingerie chain, tells me her plus-size friend recently opened up a case against their former manager for fat discrimination. "Our manager discriminated against her [specifically] due to her size, saying things like, 'Fat people are lazy.' She didn't want to give plus-size girls the job due to this belief."
Because fat discrimination isn't illegal in the UK, the case against this employer is ongoing. Until discrimination law changes to include weight, cases like this are under a strain to be linked to a valid "legal claim" to be brought to justice.
Poppy, a 25-year-old who works in the legal sector, has found opportunities and pleasantries opened up to her after she lost weight in the same job. "The difference in how I've been treated before and after has really shocked me," she lamented. "I felt that I was being treated a little differently before because of my size, but I didn't know it for sure until I lost weight."
"I found it difficult to progress. I felt like I had to work five times harder than other people because they assumed I [was] lazy," she adds. "I was passed over for work for smaller, more attractive colleagues who were less able, [and] not invited to client meetings."
Now, Poppy is treated better in her workplace, invited to meet with clients and included in a way she wasn’t before. Not because the discrimination is gone, but because she lost the weight that was used as a bias against her.
Weight bias is often laughed away with the advice: "Why don't you just lose the weight then?" – which is as privileged as it is insulting. Between mental health, chronic illnesses and a perfectly valid lack of want, there's a laundry list of reasons why weight loss may not be possible for some. Beyond that, though, weight loss shouldn’t be pushed as the answer to a rising fat bias. Plus-size people shouldn't need to lose weight to be registered as acceptable members of society.
Twenty-four-year-old Melinda, who works in the creative industry, finds "pervasive fatphobia in even the most 'liberal' of workplaces".
Relating to her own experiences, she tells me: "Being the only plus-size person working in your office is extremely detrimental to mental health – especially when working in an environment that often means you work within identity politics on a daily basis, as you do when working in the media. From feeling uncomfortable about eating too 'unhealthily' in front of your colleagues, to a well-meaning but misguided conversation about general health and fitness, workplace dynamics actively ostracise fat people in even the smallest of ways."
While we can sit back and congratulate ourselves on including fat women in editorials and ad campaigns, this image of success isn't actually affording the majority of plus-size people any prosperity. At its core, fat activism wants to change the rights for fat people in the law and in society to create safer environments and level playing fields. Body positivity is important as part of a larger political vision, but visibility can only get us so far.