I Am DONE With Office Weight Discrimination

Photographed by Alexandria Gavillet.
The morning at my insurance firm was hectic. My first appointment after lunch was a balding man in his mid-50s. I smiled at him warmly and attempted small talk to keep the awkward silences at bay. “What do you do for a living?” I asked casually.

“I head up a Masters in Business program,” he said. I mentioned that I was pursuing a BA in business online. He nodded his head. “It’s hard out there. You have to grab any advantage you can get. You are a woman and you are in your 30s, I presume. Odds are not exactly stacked in your favor.” The tone of his voice dipped condescendingly. He tilted his head the to the side, eyes appraising me. My blood pressure spiked, and my cheeks flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and anger. I took a deep breath and regained composure.

“How long have you been working here?” he continued. I looked down at my keyboard to avoid eye contact.

“About a year and a half. I worked in another industry for almost a decade. It was a boys club, and I showed up at the party with the wrong equipment,” I responded sardonically. I really didn’t feel like having a conversation with this particular gentleman, but getting that commission could make or break the budget of this here single mom of two.

“Sounds about right. The old guard has a hard time accepting change. Women are seen as an unknown variable. It’s not right, but it is the way it is.”

I am big. I am not big-boned. I am fat, overweight, heavy, obese. If there is an adjective to use that means I don’t fit the mold of what our culture demands of women, then that's the one for me.

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He continued: “There are definitely opportunities for women in the workplace. Though, if I am being honest, it takes certain…attributes to overcome those barriers.”

This man wasn't the first to make an insinuation in my direction about the types of female bodies that are deemed "acceptable" in the workplace. I am big. I am not big-boned. I am fat, overweight, heavy, obese. If there is an adjective that means I don’t fit the mold of what our culture demands of women, then that's the one for me. I am seen as too much: too tall, too loud, too plain, too opinionated, and all too willing to forgo convention and ask for more.

I entered a male-dominated field shortly after high school. I was good at my job. My superiors reaped the benefits of the relationships that I was able to establish and solidify with clients. They utilized my data analysis and efficiency skills to increase production. They also passed me over, time and time again, for promotions — instead favoring less-qualified male candidates. According to my bosses, my appearance “didn’t meet the image” that the company was trying to project. Where was the incentive to move me up the ladder? They could promote a male figurehead who wouldn’t offend their prejudiced views of what was acceptable and still keep me where I was, to do the work that needed to be done. My gender and size were liabilities. The return on investment on my career was a calculated risk that wasn’t worth taking — not when they could have their cake and eat it, too.

Some time later, I was contacted by a dental office in a nearby town that was looking for a new patient care coordinator. A former colleague of mine worked there, and she had encouraged her employer to reach out due to my past work performance. When I got the call, I was sure this was my exit out of my stagnant position. I did a phone interview; they loved me. They hired me, sight unseen.

“Come on in on Monday. We'll get your paperwork sorted and get you started. You are amazing. I am excited to have you on board," the hiring manager said.

I showed up for my first day, dressed and pressed and ready to go. They pulled me into a private room. Apparently, I was not what they needed. My services were no longer required. Just like that, I was dismissed.

What I've realized is: I'm over it. And I was absolutely over it with the man in front of me.

I stopped typing and turned to face him.

My gender and size were liabilities. The return on investment on my career was a calculated risk that wasn’t worth taking — not when they could have their cake and eat it too.


"And what attributes would those be?” I asked sarcastically. “Intellect? Character perhaps?”

"Image," he responded, laughing. "It pisses people off to say what we are all thinking, but it does matter. Women get promoted. Just not women like you.”

He extended his arm and gestured, imitating my size.

This man came into my office. He sat at my desk. He sought my counsel on a business affair. He had the gall to spread toxic verbal waste in my direction. My response to that is not just "no," but "hell no." Not in this office. Not to this fatty. I excused myself, rose calmly, and walked quickly down the hallway, into my boss’ office.

I recapped what happened and recused myself from the appointment, portfolio, and subsequent $300 commision check. I would figure something else out to counter the financial deficit. My self-respect is worth more than his $300 commission. I made my way back to my open office door. I stood in the doorway and motioned with my hand for the man to rise and to leave.

“Thank you for your time today, sir. I think we're done here. I’ve transferred your portfolio to my superior. He would be happy to finish up with you. His office is down the hall and to the left. You can’t miss it.” I forced a smile and held his gaze unflinchingly until he was visibly unnerved. I held the door open for him. It dawned on him that I was serious. He rose awkwardly and walked out.

I closed my door and locked it. I slid down the wall and landed with a thud on my curvaceous and substantial backside. I proceeded to bawl my eyes out.

I cried because he said such awful things to me with a smile on his face. I cried because I knew he was right. Women of size are hired less often. We are promoted less often. We are paid less for performing the same tasks.

Women of size are hired less often. We are promoted less often. We are paid less for performing the same tasks.

A study by the American Psychological Association, released in 2010, supports this. The study found that 60% of overweight women have been discriminated against in the workplace. Obese individuals are rated as less desirable as subordinates, coworkers, and bosses. They are viewed as less emotionally stable and less extraverted than their "normal weight" counterparts. These views are false and unsubstantiated.

The study explores the relationship between weight, gender, and wage. It confirmed not only that significant bias is present, but that this bias often proves to be fiscally devastating. “All else equal, a woman who is average weight earns $389,300 less over a 25-year career than a woman who is 25 lbs below average weight,” the researchers reported. The financial effects of a woman's weight being above the culturally acceptable threshold are even more severe — and are amplified further as her weight increases.

It is tempting to vilify and pin blame on Misogyny Man for the years of decreased pay and lost promotions. It would feel amazing. It would also be incorrect. Yes, he was unkind. He was all too happy to speak without discretion or thought of others. He spouted the doctrine of a broken system. He is but a symptom of a greater social ill.

I don’t have all the answers here. I don’t have a magic wand to miraculously change how people who look like me are treated at work. Misogynistic jerk-faces still make me cry and doubt myself. We have to talk about it. We have the ability to pull prejudice into the light and force it to face scrutiny. The shame is not ours to carry.

For me, change starts with throwing a jerk out of my office.

My response to discriminatory practices based on gender and size is not just no, but hell no. Not to this fatty. It’s time for you to go.
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