Weight Discrimination – Is it worse for women?

Julie Shenkman
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As any woman who doesn't fit the ideal body type can tell you, weight discrimination is a part of life. And, it seems to take only a modest weight gain for women to experience this sort of discrimination. A man, it seems, can gain a great deal more weight before he will experience any bias against his appearance.
You see it all the time on television, male actors are allowed to be heavy, but even in sitcoms, a large man is always paired up with a thin, attractive actress to play the wife. If a female actor even slightly fits into the “plus sized” category, she is immediately considered a “fat actress” and there is a great deal of attention given to the fact that she is overweight.
This notion that society is not as tolerant of overweight people in general, and women in particular isn't just speculation. In fact, a recent study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, backed up this opinion.
The study showed that weight discrimination, especially against women is alive and well, and, it is perhaps more common than racial discrimination. But, for their research, they wanted to find out what amount of weight gain was necessary in order to trigger discrimination. And, as you would expect, that the point at which discrimination occurs was far lower for women than men.
Using Body Mass Index, the rage that is considered “normal” is 18.5 – 24.9. The study showed that women who reached a BMI of 27 began to face discrimination and negative consequences at work and in personal relationships. For example, if a woman is 5 foot 5 and weighs 162, (or 13lbs over what is considered normal for her height) she will face discrimination.
The researchers found that for men, the story is a bit different. Although men do face weight discrimination and have negative consequences for their weight gain, it happens at a much higher point than for women. A man can reach a BMI of 35 or higher before he starts to experience it. So, this means that a 5 foot 9 male would start to encounter weight discrimination when he reaches about 237lbs.(or about 68 pounds over his “normal” weight for his height).
Interestingly, the study also found that women are twice as likely as men to report having experienced this sort of weight-related workplace bias. It also showed that workplace and interpersonal mistreatment due to obesity (being called names or teased) are common for women. They found that this sort of discrimination and mistreatment was more prevalent than discrimination against gender or race.
It seems that for women who are even just slightly overweight, they are hit with the double whammy of discrimination. They are overlooked not only for their gender but also for their weight. Even if they are hired, odds are slim that they will be recognized for their hard work or promoted. Many people look at obesity as a personal flaw and think that it shows a lack of discipline, when, in fact, obesity is a medical condition and has no reflection on the skills or abilities of the person in question. Although, many people would say that an obese person is more likely to have low self-esteem and low energy levels, it is more likely that after years of dealing with mistreatment, both at work and at home, their self-esteem has taken the hit.
It seems that discrimination of overweight people has become the last acceptable form of discrimination. It isn't protected by law and employers can feel free to deny employment to people who they feel don't meet their weight guideline.
What do you think about weight discrimination? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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By Melissa Kennedy- Melissa is a 9 year blog veteran and a freelance writer, along with helping others find the job of their dreams, she enjoys computer geekery, raising a teenager, supporting her local library, writing about herself in the third person and working on her next novel.

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  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Thanks so much for the feedback. You're both right that we, as women, are constantly being compared and measured, based on our size, our beauty and our overall attractiveness. When we don't measure up, both men and women are quick to punish us for our failings. It's very sad. Maybe it's because women are most often portrayed as decorations, ornaments and they always look the most attractive when they're least able to move or run.
  • beej
    It's true. I think one of the reasons I have a hard time finding work in my industry is bc I'm slightly overweight and I'm black. Double wammy.
  • Laura V.
    Laura V.
    This article is one of the most important articles that I have read about women and employment and the covert ethics of employers.There is a book that was published in 1982 that speaks to the therapetuic rigors of women's struggles with weight.  The rigors are self-imposed.
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