Size bias is not something openly addressed by companies, but unfortunately it’s real, and its negative effects are far-reaching.
A growing body of research has found that weight based discrimination can impact every aspect of a career, from hiring to promotion to level of pay.
Weight bias is a widespread form of prejudice that stigmatises people who are perceived to have excess weight. In a paper digging into the topic, researcher and doctor of psychology Rebecca L. Pearl found that obese employees are often stereotyped as “lazy, unmotivated, unintelligent, sloppy, and lacking willpower.”
A recent study published in the journal of Psychological Science further backed this up by highlighting the link between the way we look and how people perceive us. Scientists confirm that those with larger bodies are generally more associated with negative traits, while slimmer people are more likely to be described positively, such as being enthusiastic or confident.
Shockingly, a study on LinkedIn revealed that women who are overweight are paid €2,270 less per year than colleagues who weigh less than them
Unsurprisingly, it is women who are more likely to bear the brunt of these hurtful generalisations. We already know that women are constantly under scrutiny when it comes to physical appearance, given that society has long put a premium on high beauty standards.
Research into the role of the media on eating disorders showed that women’s magazines contain 10.5 times more diet advertisements than men’s magazines, bombarding them with unrealistic ideals of the “perfect” body.
Those who don’t reach the bar can be subject to unfair treatment — a trend that can be especially worrisome in a working environment when a negative bias can affect a woman’s chances of promotion and pay increase, or even getting hired for a job in the first place.
In most developed countries there are provisions against workplace discrimination that cover various factors, from gender and religion, to marital status and race. But a largely unconscious bias around weight is a difficult one to regulate, often leaving a blindspot in diversity training and workplace culture.
It’s important to include body and size diversity in workplace training sessions, including acknowledging the smallest of actions that can foster the bias.
Shockingly, a study on LinkedIn revealed that women who are overweight are paid an average of £1,940 (€2,270) less per year than colleagues who weigh less than them. The discrimination is even more apparent when you compare overweight women to overweight men, which is when the gender pay gap clocks in at a sizeable £8,919 (€10,439) on average annually.
To tackle the problem, it is up to the employers to ensure that overweight employees are not only paid justly, but are also kept safe from bullying or offensive behavior because of their appearance. This means keeping all other employees in check, taking note of any rude comments or sensitive remarks made against obese staff members, especially women.
Others may not realise the impact that making a simple comment about someone’s weight or diet can have.
It’s also important to include body and size diversity in workplace training sessions, including acknowledging the smallest of actions that can foster the bias. Others may not realise the impact that making a simple comment about someone’s weight or diet can have.
With inclusivity and workplace well-being hot topics right now, we need to think about how to tackle this form of discrimination.
Thoughtful focus needs to be given to furthering the body positivity conversation among peers and more importantly, with ourselves. It’s about women of all sizes reclaiming their bodies and rewriting the definition of body positivity and self-love, emphasised on popular retail sites like Woman Within.
Prioritise our own comfort, listen to our bodies, and practice positive self-talk. But most of all, know that our worth shouldn’t be dictated by numbers on a scale or the gender and weight gaps in our pay check.