Is Body Size Discrimination Really a Thing?

Yes, absolutely.

Fat bodies are stigmatized and discriminated against daily. It happens when Brendan Fraser puts on a fat suit to play a role instead of just hiring a fat actor and then they call the movie The Whale (I know it was a reference to Moby Dick, but I also don’t think it was a coincidence). It happens when a fat person steps foot into a clothing store, bathroom, airplane, or doctors’ office. While one third of the population is “overweight” and the average clothing size of an adult woman is size 16, it is rare that these body sizes are catered to. It may seem like some of these problems are minor inconveniences, I assure you that they are not. Don’t take it from me, check out some of these great books and podcasts that I have listed on my resources page.

One unfortunate part about body size discrimination is that in most cases there are no anti-discrimination laws to protect fat people. According to an article published in 2020, Michigan is the only state that has an anti-weight discrimination law. Some cities have added weight, height, and personal appearance protection terminology to legislation including Madison, WI, Santa Cruz, CA, San Francisco, CA, Washington, DC, Urbana, IL, and Binghamton, NY. While so few places offer protection, the article also highlights the increase in prevalence of weight/height discrimination since the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Unsurprisingly, this also coincides with the peak in the rise of a moral panic called, “the obesity epidemic.”

How does weight discrimination effect people in the workplace?

Because there are few anti-discrimination laws, employers can hire, fire, pay, promote, and demote people based on their weight or height. An article published in 2023 explains that employers have both explicit and implicit bias, negative attitudes, and stereotypes toward “overweight” people. These attitudes can harm people in a wide range of body sizes. Although not surprising, these biases especially hurt women. Fat people and especially “overweight” women are less likely to be hired, promoted, or paid a fair wage.

This affects everyone, not just fat or “overweight” people. According to this 2017 article, there have been several lawsuits filed by women in thin bodies who have been fired for gaining a few pounds. Workers like a Hooters waitress who was told to lose weight in 30 days or lose her job. Or like the cocktail waitresses at the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa who were prohibited to gain more than seven percent of their starting weight (that would be ten pounds for a 150-pound woman) and encouraged to engage in eating disorder behaviors prior to company weigh-ins.

Should I lose weight to avoid discrimination?

You can try, and most people have. The problem with that approach is that contrary to conventional wisdom, we do not have control over our weight in the long term. If you are a client that has worked with me, you have likely heard of the 5 different theories on weight regulation that make it incredibly difficult, if not impossible to lose weight and keep it off in the long term. The other problem with attempting weight loss is the dieting and semi-starvation that is required to lose weight (even just for a short period of time) can poorly effect a persons self-esteem, perception, problem solving, and emotion regulation. AKA all of the things that you need to combat discrimination. Not to mention the amount of time, energy, brain space, and resources that get depleted during a diet.

So What Should I do?

Well, if you have money and time and have been discriminated against, you could try to file a lawsuit. Your lawyer might find a convincing way to win that case, but probably not since there are few anti-discrimination laws.

You can also advocate for your rights as a human living inside a body, of which the appearance you have little to no control over, and write a letter to policymakers. Here is a sample letter that was created by an expert in the field. If that feels overwhelming, Dove has been kind enough to do some work! Check out this link and sign the petition

As always, if talking about issues related to weight, shape, and eating elicit strong feelings, feel free to reach out and set up an individual session to discuss.