When it comes to workplace discrimination, body size matters — but is this news?

Sofi Papamarko
Shine On
May 4, 2012

Those who claim that size doesn't matter have probably never been discriminated against for being overweight.

According to a new study out of Australia's Monash University published in the International Journal of Obesity, obese women receive lower starting salaries than their non-overweight colleagues.

"Participants viewed a series of resumes that had a small photo of the job applicant attached, and were asked to make ratings of the applicants suitability, starting salary, and employability," says lead researcher Dr. Kerry O'Brien in a press release.

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"We found that strong obesity discrimination was displayed across all job selection criteria, such as starting salary, leadership potential, and likelihood of selecting an obese candidate for the job."

But are these findings really surprising to anyone? Probably not. However, one less obvious finding was that employers who thought highly of their own physical attributes were more likely to discriminate.

"It's a frustrating story with unsurprising findings," says Stacy Bias, a UK-based fat activist and feminist. "Any fatty could have told you job discrimination exists. This isn't exactly news."

Bias points to a Reuters story that suggests obese employees are more likely to miss work or be a drain on the healthcare system as an example.

"The truth is always in the middle," says Bias. "Some fat people are unhealthy. Some fat people are healthy. Some thin people are unhealthy. Some thin people are healthy. Fitness and fatness are not directly correlated as any of a dozen recent studies will show."

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Dr. O'Brien suggests that clear policies need to be developed in workplaces to ensure this type of discrimination does not occur.

"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" she says.

Bias would add people need to start focusing on health and not how fat someone is.

"People need to start understanding the complexity of the physiology of fat and the human body and that BMI is useless. Our bodies are diverse and health can't be measured by appearance."

The Monash University study comes hot on the heels of a recent Israeli study that concludes attractive woman are less likely to be hired for a position than their less-attractive peers. The reasoning behind this is that their would-be colleagues in primarily female HR departments felt threatened by the beauty of other women.

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