Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Only thin candidates need apply

The lovely Lynne Miles of The F-Word has been blogging recently about the true cost of being fat. Our Lynne is an occasional member of Weight Watchers, and receives emails from them. She was horrified when the following popped into her inbox:

"The worst thing was when I went for a job interview, knowing full well I had all the skills needed. But I never got the job."

Susan believed she was turned down for the job on the basis that she was overweight. Proof of this came six months later when she applied for the same job again - this time much slimmer - and got the job.

"It was embarrassing," she says. "I had the same skills, did the tests in the same way and got the same results. The only difference was I was 3st lighter."

Although the idea of losing weight if one is unhealthily overweight isn't a bad idea, this story is being used as a motivational tool to help fatties lose weight, rather than as a demonstration of how employers discriminate against people who don't look the part. It's pretty fucked up that anybody could read the above and not be outraged.

Lynne thinks that this sort of discrimination affects women more than it affects men and I sort-of agree. I do think that men are almost certainly discriminated against for being fat. However, I suspect that the level of obesity men have to achieve before receiving the same level of discrimination is probably significantly higher.

If an interviewer saw a candidate of either gender who was morbidly obese, I can absolutely understand them being put off by that. Somebody who is so hugely fat they don't walk so much as waddle and get out of breath climbing a flight of stairs is unlikely to be a healthy employee. It's pretty much impossible to be that fat without having either physiological or psychological problems and whilst it's unfair, it's understandable that employers might not be keen for that reason.

Beyond that, it's just mindless discrimination. And as Lynne points out, as physical appearance is considered more important for women than for men, women are bound to be more affected by it. Employing someone who's a size 6 instead of someone who's a size 26 is kind of understandable. Employing someone who's a size 6 over someone who's a size 16 is outrageous. No man who was heavily built and/or slightly overweight would suffer such discrimination unless he was going for a job as a Speedo model, but women live with it constantly. If you don't believe me, take a walk around the City and see if you can spot a female suit who's above a size 12. How "too fat" is defined for women is considerably more exclusive than how it is defined for men, and thus a far greater number of women suffer discrimination. Not that I would think it were any more acceptable if it happened to men too, but if it happened to men too people would probably make a fuss about it.

I actually got chatting about this with someone a while back who told me that he had once employed an enormously fat woman precisely because of her size. She had many great qualities but what really clinched the job for her was that he felt that any woman who could achieve the impressive CV that she had and to go through life in such an image-obsessed society as a functional, confident human being whilst being that fat, had proved herself to be a very strong and determined individual.

I agree. Although the human capacity to endure is far greater than anybody ever imagines until they're actually going through something, I can't envisage going through life as a very fat woman without ending up with rock bottom self esteem. However much you believe that being physically attractive isn't that important and that other people's opinions don't matter, how one is perceived by others is important and does affect one's self image. Even Lynne, who is a bit fat but in no way unattractive, tells me that she receives random abuse from people in the street on average about once a week. I don't even understand why anyone would do that. Why yell abuse at someone who's done nothing wrong other than to be a few pounds heavier than you think they should be? People suck.

Perhaps one of the reasons that "fattism" isn't treated with the outrage it so richly deserves is that the women who suffer from it are too ashamed to speak out. We are taught that fat women are barely deserving of existence. Of course there are notable exceptions in the form of high profile fatties such as Jo Brand and Dawn French, but as a whole, fat women are not exactly flavour of the month. I've said it before and I'll say it again: physical appearance is considered by far the most important trait for a woman, and so if a woman doesn't conform to a certain standard, her worth as a human being is massively diminished. It takes an incredibly self-assured fatty to make a fuss about discrimination, rather than simply to shuffle away and tuck into a low fat yoghurt. Susie Orbach springs to mind.

Most women don't appreciate the extent to which attractiveness-based discrimination happens because most women go through life at pretty much the same level of attractiveness all the time. Susan knows what it's like to be both fat and thin, she knows how much more accepted she is with her slimmer physique, and yet she is using her experience not to speak out about how appalling the treatment of fat people is but to speak out about how you too can be a size 10 to please all of those unmitigated arsewipes who won't employ you if you're carrying a few extra pounds. If you manage to lose weight and keep it off, good for you. But you shouldn't have to do so in order to be valued as a human being. You shouldn't have to do so in order to get a job. Fattism should not be accepted.

Part of the problem is that people think that losing weight is easy and that anybody who's a bit porky just needs to lay off the pies a bit and get some exercise. Usually the people you hear saying that are the sort of people who stay slim no matter how many pies they eat. If it really were that simple, do you think anybody would be overweight? Nobody chooses to be overweight. Hell, if it were easy to control one's size, few women would be above a size 8. It's illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of race for example, but not on the grounds of fat. If it were possible for black people to bleach their skin white, would people consider it acceptable to shout racial slurs at them in the street because "they could change if they wanted to" or to discriminate against them in the workplace because they "obviously lack self-respect"?

In my not-so-humble opinion, it's time people accepted a few things:

  • Some people find it easier to stay slim than others
  • Being slightly overweight isn't likely to affect one's health significantly
  • Being fat doesn't make a person sub-human
  • Women don't exist just to look pretty
  • Being fuckable isn't an important criterion for a job interview candidate
  • You can't discriminate against discrimination. It all sucks, whether it's to do with a person's gender, sexuality, the colour of their skin or their waist measurement
  • 1 comment:

    littlem said...

    I'm shocked no one has commented on the post.

    Perhaps because it's new or because you all haven't quite yet caught up to us in the "fat hate" stakes we have here in the States?

    (Although from some of the things I read in the Guardian, the country's getting close ...)

    And I think you're right. "Fat" woman hate is much more vitriolic than "fat" man hate, while beginning at a much smaller body size.

    I have my own theories on that, but no wish to bring the evo-psych trolls to your blog.