Canada

Fatphobia in the workplace can be career limiting and psychologically harmful

Expert says fatphobia doesn't just affect job growth. It creeps into every aspect of a person's life and can affect a person’s psychological well-being.

A study found that 45 per cent of employers were less inclined to recruit a fat candidate

Brenda McPhail says the length and complexity of the agreements deter people from reading them and she worries about what could happen when users don't understand the fine print. (Shutterstock ID)

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.

Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and an expert on fat discrimination and body image. (Donna Scarola)

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.

Angela Alberga is an assistant professor of health, kinesiology and applied physiology at Concordia University in Montreal. (Submitted by Angela Alberga)

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.

About the Author

Rubina Ahmed-Haq

Business columnist

Rubina is a business columnist who has been covering money matters for more than 10 years. Her career began 20 years ago as a news reporter. After a decade on the news beat she realized her passion was discussing personal finance issues. Now, she weighs in on money and workplace matters on CBC Radio, CBC TV and CBC News Network. Her goal is to get Canadians to take control of their personal finances on their own.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.