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Discrimination Against Extra Pounds in Business

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What a great blog by BOSS61: "Extra Pounds Undermine Perception of Business Acumen?"


He's riffing on a recent Wall Street Journal article which says they do -- and that no CEO of a top Fortune 500 is overweight.

Here's that link too:


So: BOSS61 asks, is that fact or fiction?

My response:


You might enjoy the Fatloser.com program (free) with Steve Siebold: he addresses this issue with great and unusual frankness. But: he's one of the few. (Also addresses that other obesity "taboo topic" . . .)

In my personal experience -- I get a lot more respect in the business/professional realm at 140 size 6-8 than I ever did at 230 size 18-20. People want the business/professional leader upon whom they are relying to be self-disciplined and that may be reasonable. And now I look more self-disciplined. Unfair? Maybe not. I AM more self-disciplined than I was (although it's an ongoing struggle!!)

I blogged on this topic once and offended a lot of people . . . and I won't be blogging on the other obesity taboo topic!!

There's so much "shame and blame" attached to being overweight . . . and it's "so unfair" to discriminate against those who are overweight . . . that we don't talk about this: except to say, people should not discriminate against the obese. And they should not.

For a long time, I tried to persuade myself that "not caring" about my weight was a kind of signal that I was a serious and committed and non-frivolous professional type!! But it doesn't work that way.

Because (sad reality): many many people do discriminate against the overweight business/professional person. Assume that if they aren't controlling their own food intake, they won't control their time lines to get the work done and delivered efficiently, effectively and economically. Even people who are not necessarily the slimmest themselves may discriminate . . . .

One of the biggest motivators for me in keeping my weight off? Yeah. Acceptance that obesity discrimination is particularly active in the business/professional arena where self-discipline is most highly valued does help me to stay lean, because I know staying lean helps me to appear more self-disciplined. Fair? Maybe not. But it does. And it also, then, in turn helps me feel more self-confident: I know that I'm being perceived to be more self-disciplined when I'm lean. (Plus: on a more frivolous note, my business clothes keep on fitting!!).

I hesitate to blog on this topic for fear of seeming "self congratulatory" or indifferent to discrimination against others. I am neither. Maintaining weight loss is a huge battle for me. But I can myself resist discriminating against others who aren't dealing with the obesity issue AND recognize, pragmatically, that the reality of discrimination against the obese in business/professional circles can be another motivator helping me maintain.
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  • KANOE10
    Great blog. I think discrimination is a reality. Yet I work with many overweight educational people who resent me losing weight. However, I do feel like I am treated wtih more respect now that i am thin. It could also be as others have said, I am more self confident .

    I am sorry about the discrimination..and am sure it exists.
    1884 days ago
    There definitely is a very real type of discrimination that occurs when you're carrying a lot of extra weight. I felt it when I was 240+ pounds and don't feel that it's an issue now that I'm a healthy size. Like some of the others have said, I think being heavy also affects your own self-esteem, which can spill over into your career. Although in many ways, I'm still the same person I was when I was heavy, I'm definitely a much more confident version of myself and I think that is reflected positively in the work I do.
    1886 days ago
    Interesting topic - I equate weight control with self-control - overweight is one thing, but obesity another... I often wonder if I'd vote for an obese president...
    1888 days ago
  • NANCY-
    Ah judgmental societal perceptions, of course it affects how a person is treated. Not only weight, but age and the way you dress has impact. Wish it wasn't so.

    Currently, I would still make a lovely model for a Renoir painting and have interesting character facial lines. However that job is non-existent today.

    What does help is to take care of ourselves as we would like our of our environment to be. Neat clean and presentable. It seems that is what makes everything more acceptable.

    1888 days ago
    What you write is completely appropriate, nay, needful. This is reality. Muting the issue does no one a favor.

    Obesity is indeed an obstacle, a disadvantage, a tension in one's dealings with people. Some feeling hurt about this open discussion is likely, but emotions do not change the cold facts.

    Spark is a great place to digest painful truths; we know our friends understand the turmoil inside, we know they truly care, and we know they have the tools and support to give aid while we follow you ....into .......a size Medium business attire ! (Or whatever is healthy BMI size)
    1888 days ago
    More power to you, however & wherever one gets your motivation. Discrimination and stigma are very real forces out there.

    Another HUGE force is our own self-perception: for instance when we are thinner we may feel that others perceive us with greater respect which may well be true, however in addition our perceptions are undoubtedly influenced by our own improved self-respect we've earned through our efforts to maintain a healthy and well lifestyle.

    1888 days ago
    Just makes me glad I'm retired.

    As a social worker I sure knew a lot of hard working, effective workers who weren't very effective at taking care of themselves. I used to be one of them.
    1888 days ago
    I see the discrimination in my own government agency...to a point. Two of the branch chiefs have so much going for them that their weight does not seem to be an issue. However, when I look at the director's office, only cute, young, skinny women who can carry off the short skirt and CFM shoes look need apply.
    1888 days ago
    I work in the healthcare industry, and I certainly have seen the discrimination. After all, aren't we supposed to be on the front lines of battling obesity and being overweight? I will have to agree with you that the discrimination that happens in my industry helps me stick to a healthy weight (as well as continuing to fit in my cute clothes!).

    However, when I was hired, I was 140 pounds overweight, so I'm grateful that I was hired based on my skills and qualifications and not what I looked like. However, I get a lot more respect now that I'm a slimmer woman.
    1888 days ago
    I work for a major arts organization and I have a very responsible job, yet I've always felt I lacked credibility amongst my colleagues. At 185 pounds, I'm about 40 pounds overweight, and I do feel it makes a big difference in the way I'm viewed. This is a self-defeating circular problem, because feeling I lack credibility makes me feel a lack of confidence in certain situations. I guess the only way to find out if this is true is to lose those 40 pounds!

    You said "Staying lean helps me to appear more self-disciplined." I think I have to cop to that view of others, if I'm being absolutely honest. When I am hiring someone, there are many factors, of course, and I'm partial to good eye contact and a really nice smile. The fact is that that the smile and warmth are usually attached to a slim body. The limp handshake and lack of confidence often come with an overweight body. Not always, of course!!!
    1888 days ago
    Another very interesting blog. I wasn't particularly aware of discrimination against me when I weighted 220 pounds at the Internal Revenue Service. I did feel that the IRS discriminated against older employees, but there was nothing I could do about my age. I lost weight as an older employee, but it didn't help my career any. As a manager I had overweight employees. Some were excellent, some were not. I hope I didn't pay any attention to their weight. It may be more of an issue in private businesses than in government work. Keep blogging. I love to think.
    1888 days ago
    I'm so glad you two met! You both write some of my favorite blogs to follow!

    Maybe I'm clueless. Maybe I've lived in places where extra weight is considered beautiful. (That part is true.) But I've never felt discriminated against due to my weight. It never seemed to make any difference in my ability to be heard, listened to, respected, given more responsibility, given more authority.

    My personality, now, that's a different matter.

    1888 days ago
  • BOSS61
    Today I learned (among other more humbling things) that they apparently have watermelon in Canada. And here all along I thought the diet consisted of seal blubber, boiled lichen on a fir tree skewer, and the occasional grizzly bear steak. There apparently is no end to what we Ugly Americans may learn if we but pay attention!

    Thank so so very much for the blog shout-out (and for the clarity of your private message!). On the points you raise:

    1. The likelihood of weight discrimination in the workplace may be industry-specific. Certainly its there in the "hospitality" industry - seen overweight weight-staff upscale restaurants and hotels lately? It's probably also pretty obvious where the professional expertise one offers relates directly to how in-shape one is (thinking here doctors, physical therapists, dieticians, personal trainers, personal organizers maybe). I am an environmental scientist (degree and professional practice in the arcane field of hydrogeology). My skill in locating high-yielding water wells, figuring out whether a property is contaminated, dealing with regulatory compliance issues, etc.) probably does not depend on my waistline - so discrimination SHOULD happen less in my field.

    2. People do discriminate just as much in the workplace as they do on the dance floor. Overweight people are less liked, less respected and less desirable as business partners just as much as they are less desirable as other partners. The degree of success I have achieved in business (we exist after 14 years, recession or no) is in spite of being obese. It boggles the mind to consider what might have been if this had not been the case.

    3. As my weight has come off here on Spark (60ish pounds over a year), business has improved despite the continuing recession which I have come to call "the new reality." Coincidence? Obama gets the credit? Law of averages? How about less discrimination by picky buyers, who consciously or otherwise, weight weight when weighing contracting decisions.

    Now you and I can be Sparky pariahs together, huh?

    1888 days ago
    A thought provoking blog. I followed the original links and there’s a lot of relevant information there.

    Growing up when racial and gender discrimination were tolerated and even legal, I’m very aware of more subjective and less visible forms.

    It’s especially sad that the discrimination is being done by those with weight issues of their own. With 2/3 of adults overweight or obese perhaps this isn’t surprising. Slimmer people are a minority.

    Then the article states, “it's difficult to say how much of the perceived bias stems from their physical weight and how much from their own projected insecurity.”

    People reach their “aha moment” for many different reasons – vanity, a medical test, family reasons or even slower race times (yeah, me). So if being perceived as more capable in business is what motivates a lifestyle change, that seems as good a reason as any to me.
    1888 days ago
    I am 5'4, 54 years old and hold two masters degrees in Marketing and Business Management. I used to weigh 283 and am down to 180's somewhere. I felt a SIGNIFICANT amount of discrimination and I can attribute some of it to my weight, some to my age and some to being female.

    I am still overweight and the rest of the factors I can't change. However I have a job that recognizes my experience, and I am no longer self-conscious about being the fat old lady in the group.
    1888 days ago
    It is, unfortunately, a reality. I took the time of response tests and discovered my own tendencies went in the opposite direction. I favored heavy people over thin! It is really revealing to take some of these tests, because they uncover prejudices we may not even know we possess, and yet... the evidence is there.

    The sad OTHER reality is that as a rebel in my heart, it doesn't motivate me to keep it off to know that the discrimination is a reality.
    1888 days ago
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