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How again is being fat socially acceptable?

8th April 2008

How again is being fat socially acceptable?

posted in Fat Bias |

Being fat isn’t a piece of cake regardless if you’re a man or a woman. But it seems as if fat women have a heavier load to bear. This is not to say that fat men do not suffer size discrimination – they do, but at much higher weights than women do.

I don’t believe the fight against fat bias ought to be split along gender lines. It’s a collective fight. But it seems as if women have more of an uphill climb than do men – as documented in a new report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, published this month in the International Journal of Obesity.

Researchers there documented the prevalence of self-reported weight discrimination and compared it to the experiences of discrimination based on race and gender among a nationally representative sample of adults ages 25 – 74. The data was obtained from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States.

Overall, the study showed that weight discrimination, particularly against women, is as common as racial discrimination. But the researchers also identified the amount of weight gain that triggers a discriminatory backlash. They found that women appear to be at risk for discrimination at far lower weights, relative to their body size, than men.

Based on body mass index, which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight, a normal weight is in the range of 18.5 to 24.9. The study found that women begin to experience noticeable weight bias — such as problems at work or difficulty in personal relationships — when they reach a body mass index, or B.M.I., of 27. For a 5-foot-5-inch woman, that means discrimination starts once she reaches a weight of 162 pounds — or about 13 pounds more than her highest healthy weight, based on B.M.I. charts.

…Weight bias against men becomes noticeable when a man reaches a B.M.I. of 35 or higher. A 5-foot-9-inch man has a B.M.I. of 35 if he weighs 237 pounds — or 68 pounds above his highest healthy weight.

The fact that women are more likely to be discriminated against for weight explains why women are also twice as likely to report weight discrimination. Weight-related workplace bias and interpersonal mistreatment due to obesity are also more common for women, the study revealed. Researchers found that weight discrimination is more prevalent than discrimination based on sexual orientation, nationality or ethnicity, physical disability and religious beliefs.

But according to study co-author Tatiana Andreyava, obesity “continues to remain socially acceptable.”

Do these authors live in the same universe that I do?

One needn’t look beyond the Times article itself to make a case. The study reveals that women reported weight-based discrimination at a BMI of 27 or just 13 pounds above what the government constitutes a “healthy” weight. And yet, look at the photo the Times chose to use for the article. Does this woman look 13 pounds overweight? It’s this kind of over-dramatization that serves to inflate anti-obesity sentiments and weight-related discrimination.

How again is being fat socially acceptable?

The center’s very own study reveals weight discrimination to be the most prevalent form of discrimination, eclipsing discrimination based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, physical disability and religious beliefs.

How again is being fat socially acceptable?

A recent study by Tennessee State University economists revealed obese men and women can expect to earn on average anywhere from 1 to 6 percent less than normal weight employees, with heavy women being the biggest losers when it comes to their paychecks. Another recent study reveals that 16 percent of employers admitted they wouldn’t hire an obese woman under any circumstances, while another 44 percent reported they would only hire them under certain circumstances. That’s 60 percent of employers who admit to weight-based discrimination, folks, 60 percent. See here, here and here.

How again is being fat socially acceptable?

Taxpayer-funded public universities allows students to print hate speech against fat people, calling fat people “fucking disgusting” and suggesting fat people deserve no special accommodations because making life harder for people encourages them to lose weight.

How again is being fat socially acceptable?

A Mississippi legislator can introduce a bill denying fat people the right to eat in certain restaurants in a new form of Jim Crowism, while other states actually debate the moral and political obligations in adding weight as a protected class. Not only is it a tragedy that fat people need political protection from discrimination, but that the state would hesitate to provide it.

How again is being fat socially acceptable?

Fat people are regularly misdiagnosed and mistreated by doctors who cannot see beyond fatness to treat the real medical issue at-hand. That is, fat people who go to the doctor at all. Fat women in particular are disproportionately unlikely to seek out preventative medical care due to the insults, humiliation and verbal abuse they encounter from medical professionals who report being “repulsed” by their fatness.

How again is being fat socially acceptable?

Fat children routinely encounter weight-based discrimination in public and private schools – and it’s usually tolerated. According to a 1994 National Education Association position paper, “for fat students, the school experience is one of ongoing prejudice, unnoticed discrimination and almost constant harassment. … From nursery school through college, fat students experience ostracism, discouragement and sometimes violence.”

How again is being fat socially acceptable?

Fat people are regularly denied the right to adopt a child, based solely on weight, while others in the medical field refuse to treat fat women for infertility.

How again is being fat socially acceptable?

We should and need to be asking how is being fat NOT socially acceptable?

Perhaps it’s because fat people haven’t been stripped yet of all their rights and herded into fat camps that leads researchers to conclude fatness to be socially acceptable. Study authors need only ask fat people if they feel fat is socially acceptable to discover that fatness continues to be stigmatized, denigrated and demonized – and the anti-obesity scourge only continues to gain gale force.

And we wonder why eating disorders are on the rise?

(It has been brought to my attention that study co-author Tatiana Andreyava may have been referencing discrimination, not obesity, that is still socially acceptable. Her statement isn’t all that clear. But even if I misinterpreted Andreyava, there are still plenty others who insist fatness is socially acceptable.)

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 8th, 2008 at 3:11 pm and is filed under Fat Bias. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 22 responses to “How again is being fat socially acceptable?”

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  1. 1 On April 8th, 2008, Carrie said:

    It strikes me, more and more, that the fat hatred in our country is *so much* like what went on with the African American population before the Civil Rights Movement. It’s exactly like saying that African Americans weren’t discriminated against because, duh, there were still black people in the country.

    Though I’m sure some British dieticians would have something different to say…

  2. 2 On April 8th, 2008, SharonC said:

    I don’t think you can assume what Tatiana was referring to. The quote from the paper said ““However, despite its high prevalence, it continues to remain socially acceptable,” said co-author Tatiana Andreyava.” and whilst that isn’t 100% clear, the most obvious way to represent it is that “it” refers to “weight discrimination”, not obesity.

    If that’s the case, as seems likely, you’ve mis-characterized the authors’ opinions.

  3. 3 On April 8th, 2008, kxm24 said:

    I maybe wrong, but I think that they are saying that despite the high prevelance of weight discrimination, it is still socially acceptable to discrimnate based on weight as opposed to being not socially acceptable to discrimnate based on race.

  4. 4 On April 8th, 2008, BigLiberty said:

    Great post, Rachel. I’m going to make it one of my featured links.

  5. 5 On April 8th, 2008, Rachel said:

    Kxm – I may have jumped the gun and misinterpretated Tatiana, but even if the study authors aren’t saying obesity is socially acceptable, there are plenty others who insist that it is. In fact, I was just on television with one of the more vocal chupacabras in January.

  6. 6 On April 8th, 2008, Emerald said:

    The other thing is that…if a fat person dares to say ‘Excuse me, we’re fat and we’d like to be able to buy clothes/get decent medical treatment/not be discriminated against/oh, heck, just get a little respect, please’…many people who make a living or a life from being thin, or from weight loss, will claim that if we’re allowed any of that, it means thin people are being persecuted.

    Sorry, but this sounds to me rather on the level of certain evangelical Christian groups (not meaning to offend anyone, but that’s what the people concerned identify themselves as) here in the UK who claim that they’re being ‘persecuted’ if any other religious group is, you know, allowed to actually practise their religion and treated with a modicum of respect. It’s exactly the same assumption.

    It’s amazing the way it seems to stick in the minds of the thin lobby that being fat-accepting must mean you’re thin-hating (even if many of the fat-accepters are thin!) and that more respect for us means less for them. Maybe it means less privilege for them, but they have to ask themselves whether lording it over other people because they happen to have a different body size is something they ever had a right to in the first place.

  7. 7 On April 8th, 2008, Rachel said:

    if a fat person dares to say ‘Excuse me, we’re fat and we’d like to be able to buy clothes/get decent medical treatment/not be discriminated against/oh, heck, just get a little respect, please’…many people who make a living or a life from being thin, or from weight loss, will claim that if we’re allowed any of that, it means thin people are being persecuted.

    I haven’t heard cries of thin persecution, but I have heard people bemoan that by insisting on clothes that fit our bodies or protesting against fat discrimination or encouraging girls to develop healthy self-esteem at any size, we’re somehow “glorifying obesity.”

  8. 8 On April 8th, 2008, Charlotte said:

    We’re not “glorifying obesity”; if we’re glorifying anything, it’s being treated with humanity and respect no matter what size we are.

    *headdesk*

    There are days where I just can’t believe that someone can sit there with a straight face and say that certain people deserve to be treated poorly just because they look a certain way.

  9. 9 On April 8th, 2008, whiskers said:

    Someone just did this to me today. Aronov Realty. I was asked by a staffing agency if I would work this weekend at a booth for the home-builders association and accepted the job. I was supposed to go into an “interview” today to get the materials I had to memorize. The man saw me walk in the door and refused to interview me, he had his assistant talk to me for literally 2 minutes, refused to look at my resume and then they called and said they didn’t need anyone else they were already full. I can only assume it was because of the way I look.

    I am overweight but attractive, I was dressed professionaly and I have a TON of expirience . . . I honestly think the guy is shooting himself in the foot though – if I’m out looking to buy or buid a home it’s a huge investment.I’m probably a married or older couple or a single mom with kids – I want someone friendly and knowlegable giving me info not some “hot” chick who may be dumb as a box of rocks and just got the job because she’s more attractive. Also I’ll never buy or buid with them, and I’ll be relaying this story to friends and family so that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential business he just lost for his company.

  10. 10 On April 8th, 2008, Meowser said:

    You tell ‘em, Rachel. Even if Andreyava did actually mean that discrimination, not obesity, was “socially acceptable,” there’s still plenty of people playing the “you fatties are still fat because we thin people are too nice to you” card. Those folks are clearly irrational and unpersuadable, but our job is to make sure they don’t persuade anybody else.

  11. 11 On April 8th, 2008, whiskers said:

    you fatties are still fat because we thin people are too nice to you” card

    Ugh! That’s so true. Seriously, the balls of these people. I’d like to squish a few of them like the bugs they are. *grrr*

  12. 12 On April 8th, 2008, HeatherRadish said:

    Sorry, but this sounds to me rather on the level of certain evangelical Christian groups (not meaning to offend anyone, but that’s what the people concerned identify themselves as) here in the UK who claim that they’re being ‘persecuted’ if any other religious group is, you know, allowed to actually practise their religion and treated with a modicum of respect. It’s exactly the same assumption.

    I follow events in the UK, too. I find it interesting that you classify “demanding that people who do not practice Islam are prohibited from eating pork, buying Bibles, and flying the national flag” as “being treated with a modicum of respect.”

    It would be a great comparison, if fat people were demanding that clothes in small sizes be made unavailable, since we can’t wear them, or that vegetables be disallowed in school lunch, and chanting “Behead those who insult fatties.”

    Big differences.

  13. 13 On April 8th, 2008, Jules said:

    Rachel,
    I just want to thank you for all you do to educate and inform. I’ve read your blog for some time now, and I am grateful you are out there getting your articulate and compassionate voice heard (and read)!

  14. 14 On April 8th, 2008, Sarah said:

    HeatherRadish:

    I don’t think you should be talking about “respect,” especially with your various swipes at those evil liberals and feminists – I googled your name. Lots of interesting stuff popped up.

    Yeah, and stereotyping all Muslims with fundamentalist sects? Real smart. I’ll let you know that I eat pork in front of my Jordanian brother-in-law every Easter. He could care less. Yes – he celebrates Easter and Christmas with the family, despite being Muslim.

  15. 15 On April 8th, 2008, Mark said:

    “How again is being fat socially acceptable?”

    I think the point is that it’s _relatively_ more socially acceptable than it was 30 years ago. The degree of fatness you have to reach to trigger discrimination is higher. At the lower end of overweight, people don’t even perceive others as being fat who would have been considered fat 30 years ago.

    There appears to be the same amount or more discrimination because a lot more people are a lot fatter now than 30 years ago. If you normalize to, say, a random group of 100,000 people of BMI 28 30 years ago, and 100,000 people of BMI 28 today, today’s group would report a much more comfortable, less victimized life than those of 30 years ago.

  16. 16 On April 9th, 2008, Rachel said:

    Mark – I disagree. If we view social perceptions of fatness on a linear plane, we see the demonization of fat increasing, not decreasing. A woman need only be 13 pounds overweight to experience weight-based discrimination. The limits for men are higher. Thirty years ago a fat person may have had to endure being called fattie as a kid; today they can be denied health care, employment, adoption, and competent medical care.

  17. 17 On April 9th, 2008, Jackie said:

    You know, I took Dr. Phil’s show off my DVR today.

    I’ve had it with him. He claims to have a show that deals with fat abusers, then says “Genetics doesn’t mean you will be fat, it means your predisposed to being fat” The fat is a choice argument.

    I’ve watched his show despite hearing from the FA community, that he’s promoting size-discrimination. Today it was very clear. You can’t tell people not to hate fat people, while simultaneously blaming them for their condition. You are playing into that fat people have made themselves fat, that to most people says they’re deserving of hate. It’s a contradiction. Not to mention he said that right when there was a family with a fat father and daughter. Oh I suppose she became fat by eating food 24/7 too, certainly it isn’t genetics.

    So after years of enjoying the Dr. Phil show, I just can’t watch it anymore. I can’t lie to myself, and pretend Dr. Phil has what is best in heart. He doesn’t, he had a chance to change views on size-discrimination today. Instead he just regurgitated time old claims, that support it.

    My rant is done. I just thought I’d post it here, because I remember Rachel posting about Dr. Phil behaving sizeistly awhile back. So I figured, you’d understand where I’m coming from Rachel.

  18. 18 On April 22nd, 2008, galley said:

    rachel–

    where have you ever seen this in action?

    “A woman need only be 13 pounds overweight to experience weight-based discrimination.” i am curious to hear who this happened to and how she had been discriminated against.

  19. 19 On April 22nd, 2008, Rachel said:

    Galley – I’m sure study participants aren’t public information, so sadly this information isn’t available. And the study gauges their perception of discrimination, which may or may not be discrimination by another’s standards.

  20. 20 On July 8th, 2008, Eating disorder discrimination » The-F-Word.org said:

    [...] the disorder, many of its sufferers are overweight or obese. It’s well-known that fat people regularly face discrimination in hiring, employment, housing, public spaces and other areas due to their weight, even when their [...]

  21. 21 On February 9th, 2009, Rudd Center releases videos on weight discrimination » The-F-Word.org said:

    [...] bias as a social injustice issue and are actively working to reduce it. Last year, the center conducted a study in which they found weight discrimination to be more prevalent than discrimination based on sexual [...]

  22. 22 On October 16th, 2009, “Colossal” loophole in health care reform bill bad for fat people » The-F-Word.org said:

    [...] would allow for the financial punishment of fat people, who are already punished in that they are paid considerably less than thin people in comparable positions.  According to the Post: President Obama and members of [...]

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