Fatphobia in the workplace can be career limiting and psychologically harmful
A study found that 45 per cent of employers were less inclined to recruit a fat candidate
When a person competes for a job, the hope is that they will be measured by their talent and ability, not by their appearance.
But Virgie Tovar, a self-described "fat woman" weighing 250 pounds, says fatphobia has stunted her career growth.
Fatphobia is a term used to describe a bias against someone based solely on their weight. There is no minimum weight that is considered "fat" by this definition.
Tovar recalls one encounter she had at a corporate office in San Francisco. After hitting it off with the female interviewer in the first and second interviews, Tovar felt she was a frontrunner for the position.
"However, her boss had to approve me," said Tovar. "So I go all the way upstairs and I'm greeted at the elevator by a man and he kind of looks me up and down and is visibly disappointed."
She says this situation played out several times in her search for a new job. Each time, she would make it through the initial phase. But when bosses saw her, she says they were reluctant to hire her.
Tovar now spends her time writing about fatphobia in the workplace. She's a freelance contributor at Forbes magazine and the author of the book You Have the Right to Remain Fat.
Workplaces set up to support smaller body types, says expert
Angela Alberga is an assistant professor at Concordia University in Montreal. Her research focuses on better understanding how certain societal or institutional factors influence weight-related issues and weight stigma. She says fatphobia doesn't just affect job growth, it creeps into every aspect of a person's life.
"If people actually experience these types of negative judgments associated with their body size they may feel more anxious … and blame themselves," said Alberga. "And that shame and guilt can actually really affect their psychological well-being."
She says there are several common and harmful stigmas associated with fatphobia and that, once established, they can be difficult to reverse.
According to Alberga, some of the stereotypes that people in a larger body face include people thinking that they're undisciplined, inactive, not as friendly, more emotional and less likely to succeed.
Even when hired, the workplace can still feel hostile because Alberga says workplaces are set up to support smaller body types.
An example of this is an office fitness challenge, which Tovar says is "absolutely inappropriate."
"They have no place in the workplace," said Tovar. "There's absolutely no reason that your employer should be surveilling you on what you eat or how much you weigh."
Bosses need to educate themselves
In a U.S. study published in Science Direct called "The affective and interpersonal consequences of obesity," researchers found 45 per cent of employers were less inclined to recruit a candidate they considered obese.
They also found obese people are less likely to be regarded as able leaders and had lower starting salaries.
Tovar says everyone has to raise their voice on this stigma, especially those who happen to be smaller.
"Like, I have this advantage. People think of me in a certain way because I'm in a smaller body. And how can I leverage that in order to kind of create a better more inclusive, less phobic workplace?" said Tobar.
She encourages those in power to read more about, what she calls, fat justice and activism and to seek out fat-positive literature.
She also wants companies to have diverse body types featured in internal marketing.
Both women say attitudes about larger bodied people are changing, but not fast enough.
In the interim, they say many companies may be missing out on talented workers because they were too preoccupied with the candidates clothing size instead of the wealth of experience they could bring to the job.