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Obese Women Less Likely To Succeed In The Workplace Due To Discrimination

Updated on May 10, 2012

One would hope that their body would be a matter of concern only to themselves and their general practitioner, but repeatedly we find that this is not the case and that outside parties want to create judgements for themselves. Whether these are based upon stereotypes or are prejudices that are hidden beneath a veil of 'concern', we can find shaming and victimisation of obesity in many different forms. This not only leads to a lack of representation within the media but also, it seems, in the workplace. Submitting a CV or attending an interview, one expects that they will be judged based on their achievements, qualifications or experience, but this is not the case for a wide variety of people who are oppressed and are thus judged according to prejudices. These prejudices are not always necessarily obvious and extreme, but are often ingrained through socialisation with other people that hold prejudices, media representation and societal hierarchy; left unquestioned and being continually validated by others'. Unfortunately, this means that obese women are being denied prospects that they would otherwise gain due to the issues of others.

The Study

In order to assess whether obesity had any effect on job prospects for obese women, The University of Manchester and Melbourne's Monash University, used the UMB (universal measure of bias) along with a measure of anti-fat prejudice. Their study, which is published in the International Journal of Obesity, aimed to see whether they could use the findings of these measures in order to predict a person's likelihood of being discriminative when it came to offering jobs to obese people. They also tested other variables which may lead to a higher level of discrimination, including the employer's own body image, authoritarianism and social dominance orientation. These factors are can be linked to other forms of prejudice such as homophobia and racism - but would they also be factors that could explain why a person might be discriminatory to the obese?

The participants in this study were kept in the dark about its what it intended to measure, instead being told that it was to find out whether some are better than others' when it came to personnel selection. This was done in order to avoid biased results (if participants were told that the study was about job prospects of the obese then they may have selected employees based around what they thought the studiers wanted).


How The Study Was Carried Out

The participants were given a number of resumes which they were asked to rate in terms of the following criteria:

  1. Applicant suitability
  2. Starting salary
  3. Employability.

Each resume contained a small image of the applicant on it. The participants were given, amongst their resumes, images of the same women. Some were given photos of an obese woman, with a BMI ranging from 38-41 whereas others' would be shown an image of the same person after bariatric surgery, now with a BMI between 22-24; the latter weight being around average.

The Results

The results found obesity discrimination throughout all of the criteria in which the candidates had been rated. It was also found that those who had scored higher when measured for anti-fat prejudice discriminated more when it came to selecting candidates. Another correlation that was made was between authoritarian personalities, who were also more likely to be discriminatory. More surprisingly, links were found between the participants' own body image and their perceived levels of the importance of physical appearance to their choices; they were also more discriminatory if they found themselves to be physically attractive and if they thought that physical appearance was of high importance. “One interpretation of this finding might be that we feel better about our own bodies if we compare ourselves and discriminate against ‘fat’ people, but we need to test this experimentally.” says Dr Kerry O'Brien, lead researcher of the study. “Our findings show that there is a clear need to address obesity discrimination, particularly against females who tend to bear the brunt of anti-fat prejudice. Prejudice reduction interventions and policies need to be developed. It’s also becoming clear that the reasons for this prejudice appear to be related to our personalities, how we feel about ourselves, with attributions, such as, obese people are lazy, gluttonous etc merely acting as justifications for our prejudice.”

Whilst the body positivity movement fights on in an attempt to create a society in which the bodies of others' are of no consequence to anybody other than themselves, and to create a space in which everybody has the freedom to love their body, it seems that not everybody is jumping on the bandwagon to body acceptance. Although body shape and size does not necessarily equate to level of health, it seems that many are still being judged by this false basis. People are questioning the capabilities of those who are obese (who have clearly submitted their resume because they feel capable - and who else better to judge somebodies abilities and limitations them themselves?) based on nothing other than prejudices. Now that we have found that discrimination does occur for obese people, hopefully we can move forward from this acknowledgement and further push for acceptance of all within society, as well as a more just careers market where achievements are held above appearances.

Read more on the Manchester University website here.


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    • lexicon10 profile image


      6 years ago

      Discrimination is a core value of American culture. We, in fact, look for differences on which to base bias, long hair, short hair, brown eyes, blue eyes, tall, short, full figured, skinny, accent, color, attire anything that might help satisfy our insatiable need to mame, injure, humiliate. And you are absolutely correct, our biased behaviors are indeed shaped and reinforced by community, a testament to our weakness and cowardice.


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