‘Fattism’ is rife in the jobs market, as a new study reveals that obese women are more likely to be passed over for jobs or start on lower salaries than their slimmer colleagues – especially if the people doing the interviewing and job assessments have a high opinion of their own attractiveness.
Researchers at Monash University looked at whether the universal measure of bias (UMB) – which measures anti-fat prejudice – related to whether women would be discriminated against during the job hiring process.
They wrote their findings in an article on Obesity Discrimination: the role of physical appearance, personal ideology and anti-fat prejudice in the International Journal of Obesity, concluding: “Obesity discrimination was displayed across all selection criteria. Higher UMB sub-scale scores (distance and negative judgement), authoritarianism, physical appearance evaluation and orientation were associated with greater obesity discrimination.”
How they came to this conclusion was by asking participants in the study (who were unaware of what they were being judged on) to look at CVs with photos attached, and to rate candidates suitability, starting salary and employability.
Lead researcher Kerry O’Brien said: “We found that obesity discrimination was displayed across all selection criteria, such as starting salary, leadership potential and likelihood of selection for the job.” The higher a participant’s UMB score, the more likely they were to discriminate against obese candidates.
However, an interesting discovery emerged from the research: there is a link between the participants’ own body image and the levels of obesity discrimination exhibited. Dr O’Brien said: “The higher participants’ rated their own physical attractiveness and importance of physical appearance, the greater the anti-fat prejudice and discrimination. One interpretation of this finding might be that we feel better about our own bodies if we compare ourselves to, and discriminate against, fatter people.”
He added: “The results suggest that a belief in the superiority of some individuals over others is related to the perception that obese individuals deserve fewer privileges and opportunities than non-fat individuals. It’s also becoming clear that the reasons for this prejudice appear to be related to our personalities and how we feel about ourselves, with attributions, such as ‘obese people are lazy, gluttonous, etc’ merely acting as self-justifications for the prejudice.”
With women bearing the brunt of anti-fat prejudice, it seems that Susie Orbach’s book from the 1990s – Fat is a Feminist Issue – still resonates today.