By Jeany Miller
From the Diary of a Fat Woman Blog Series
In a 2008 study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, researchers found that society is less tolerant of weight gain in women than in men. In fact, just a modest weight gain causes women to often experience weight discrimination, but males can gain far more before experiencing similar bias.
For the study, researchers documented the prevalence of self-reported weight discrimination and compared it to experiences of discrimination based on race and gender among a nationally representative sample of adults ages 25 to 74. The data was obtained from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States.
Overall, the study showed that weight discrimination, particularly against women, is as common as racial discrimination. But the researchers also identified the amount of weight gain that triggers a discriminatory backlash. They found that women appear to be at risk for discrimination at far lower weights, relative to their body size, than men.
The study also revealed that women are twice as likely as men to report weight discrimination and that weight-related workplace bias and interpersonal mistreatment due to obesity are common. The researchers found that weight discrimination is more prevalent than discrimination based on sexual orientation, nationality or ethnicity, physical disability and religious beliefs.
As a woman who is roughly 60 pounds overweight, this news is disheartening, but hardly surprising. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard comments made about my weight, usually from other women. In fact, men seem to be much more tolerant of less-than-perfect bodies than women are. If I hadn’t experienced this fact for myself, I never would have believed it, but I know it to be absolutely true.
To illustrate, I remember participating in a “biggest loser” competition at work several years ago. I happened to be employed in a dental office at the time, and each of the participants individually went into one of the examining rooms to be weighed by the office manager. When I went in for my turn, I stepped on the scale and watched as the number flashed wickedly before my eyes: 209.
I tried to laugh, but the noise sounded more strangled than I would have hoped. For her part, the office manager, a thin and svelte 23-year-old who wouldn’t know fat if it slapped her in the face, looked at me steadily. “Yes, you’ve got a lot to lose,” she said in a cool voice, as if to imply I should be ashamed of myself. Which, of course, I was. I walked out of the room with my head down and actually dropped out of the contest before it started. To be perfectly honest, she made me feel defeated already.
Since that time, I’ve become increasingly aware of other, equally cold comments. Once when I waitressing, for example, a co-worker and I were commiserating about being overweight. Another colleague, overhearing the conversation, eyed me up and down and shrugged. “You’re not that big,” she said and walked away. It may have been intended as a compliment, but the words stung nonetheless.
Maybe I’m over sensitive, but discrimination against overweight women is prevalent. I know there are examples far worse than my own, and I also know how humiliated I always feel by the comments I hear. So all I can say is this: to those who have been the object of bias, I apologize deeply. Just know you’re not alone, and happiness can and should be achieved even without the approval of others.