You might have heard about Jennifer Livingston – a news anchor at WKBT in La Crosse, Wisconsin – and her public fight against weight discrimination. As you see in the video above, Livingston received a caustic e-mail from a viewer who called her “fat” and a “bad role model” for young girls.
Livingston decided to give her response on public television in a passionate broadcast editorial. Her speech went viral when Ellen Degeneres tweeted the link (nearing 12 million views now!).
Sadly, Livingston’s story is just one chapter from the tragic weight discrimination handbook. According to obesityaction.org, from 1995 to 2005 weight discrimination increased by 66%. Obesityaction.org calls it a “socially accepted injustice” because, unlike racial or gender bias, weight bias is rarely challenged.
Timothy A. Judge of the University of Florida and Daniel M. Cable of the London Business School conducted a study on the weight discrimination differences between males females. Here are some of the highlights from Lisa Quast via forbes.com:
• “For men, increases in weight have positive linear effects of pay but at diminished returns at above-average levels of weight.”
• Gaining weight is more damaging to women’s earnings than to men. “For women, increases in weight have negative linear effects on pay, but the negative effects are stronger at below-average than at above-average weight levels.”
• “Whereas women are punished for any weight gain, very thin women receive the most severe punishment for their first few pounds of weight gain. This finding is consistent with research showing that the media’s depiction of an unrealistically think female ideal leads people to see this ideal as normative, expected, and central to female attractiveness.”
• “Very thin” women earned approximately $22,000 more than their average weight counterparts.
• “Thin” women earned a little over $7,000 more than their average weight counterparts.
• “Heavy” and “Very Heavy” women lost over $9,000 and almost $19,000, respectively, than their average weight counterparts.
That’s hard data right there. However, some people say that perhaps overweight workers are lazier. But this is a generalization that fails to step into the shoes of the people that you’re accusing. For example, the news anchor in the video above has actually been trying to lose weight for a long time, but she has a thyroid condition that hinders her progress.
Let’s take a moment here to try to appreciate how hard losing weight is. Consider this: new fat cells don’t go away. Ever. So, even if you do manage to lose your spare tire, you still aren’t done. Sure you’ve decreased the size of your fat cells, but they’re all still there, and they’re all still hungry, which means that an incredibly high percentage of people gain back all of the weight that they worked so hard to lose.
Fat people are not lazy. Lazy people are lazy. Surely you’ve noticed this. I know plenty of skinny people who who haven’t exercised since January 1, 2005, and I know plenty of “overweight” people who exercise 4-5 times a week. Guess who’s healthier? The heavier people who exercise. Fat does not mean lazy. Skinny does not mean healthy.
But maybe the obese worker you sit next to at work is lazy, but maybe the ultra thin worker sitting across from you is too. You don’t know what they do at home when they get off of work. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe the obese, single mom goes home at night, picks her kids up from school, fixes dinner, drives to her second job, goes to bed, and gets up early to start her day again. And maybe the ultra thin worker goes home and watches TV for hours on end while eating Cheetos because she was blessed with a high metabolism.
That’s a hypothetical example, but this is the point: weight discrimination in the workplace is wrong because weight and productivity are not correlated. If you’re thinking about paying someone less, then check out their work performance, not their weight. If you don’t, it’s your loss and you don’t deserve them and no one should work for you. But that’s just my opinion. To prove my point, let’s look at a few successful overweight Americans:
1. Aretha Franklin: 18 Grammy awards.
2. Kevin James: actor, comedian, screenwriter, producer.
3. Oprah Winfrey: she’s Oprah Winfrey, perhaps the most influential woman in the world.
4. Mike Huckabee: potential presidential candidate and hosts own program on Fox News.
So tell me again that fat people are lazy. Yep, that’s what I thought.
Trust me, you don’t want overweight people to be discriminated against because, if they deserve less money, then everyone deserves less money. They are working just as hard as everyone else and, who knows, maybe they really are trying to lose weight. But, in the workplace, that shouldn’t even matter. This is the office not the YMCA. The only thing that should affect their pay is work performance. Period.
Here’s a link to a great read that I found on psychologytoday.com titled “Is It OK to Discriminate Against Obese People?”