26 April 2006

by Katherine Webster

As ridiculous as it sounds, fat people are assumed to be inherently unattractive, stupid and enslaved by creature comforts. Such stereotypes are portrayed by both the media and the public. Even in "politically correct" circles, where one would certainly not hear derogatory remarks about ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, or people with disabilities, one continues to hear derotagory remarks about fat people.

Stereotypes, and the resulting prejudice, develop from a belief that a group of people share common characteristics. This belief is almost always grounded in myth and ignorance. The central myth surrounding the prejudice against fat people is that fat people really could lose wieght if they wanted to. Research shows that fat people inherit metabolic factors. Within three to five years 90-95% of all diets fail. Tragically a high proportion of people will die from weight loss surgery and that dieting makes a person fatter. Most fat people have no more control over their size than a person does in the colour of their skin. Our society, accepts that some people will be shorter or taller than average, and some people will be thinner than average but cannot accept that some people will be fatter than average.

This climate creates a "blame the victim" mentality, where myths and stereotypes are used to justify treating fat people as second-class citizens. This has a devastating effect on the quality of life for fat people. Fat people are discriminated against in employment, in that they are denied employment, denied promotions, denied benefits, and sometimes fired, all because of their weight. Fat people cannot adopt children, solely because of their weight. Fat people are denied access to adequate medical care, sometimes denied treatment, misdiagnosed, harassed, and treated as though every medical condition is a weight-related condition. Fat people are denied access to public accommodations, such as public transport, airline travel, theatres, and restaurants because seating is not available for them.

Research has documented that women are most commonly the victims of size discrimination. Perhaps this is because men have traditionally gained credibility through the power and wealth they accumulate. Women have gained credibility through how closely they conform to society's ideals of beauty. Size discrimination is therefore linked to sexism. Women get fatter as they get older (a physiological phenomena), so size discrimination is linked to ageism. As lower income women tend to be fatter than higher income women, size discrimination is linked to classism. Size discrimination is undoubtedly a feminist issue.

Reader Comments:


30 May 2006 by Caroline

I am sure I have recently been a victim of "size discrimination" but it is difficult to prove. I attended an interview for a clerical position and thought the interview went well, I certainly had the relevant qualifications, experience and some outstanding references. Having followed up the rejection letter, the manager was very cagey about the reasons I was not offered the job. I think Equal Opportunities should also protect large people. After all, we can do the job as well, if not better, than the next person.

04 October 2006 by Anita

Having just read the article on Sizism I could not agree more with a lot of the points it discusses. For eight years I had a shop selling 16-32 ladies' clothing and witnessed the distress often felt by my customers when trying to find something to wear.
Their self-esteem was low and self-confidence was often totally lacking. My heart used to go out to them as I tried to find a garment which they liked, suited them and was also comfortable to wear. But what a feeling we shared when they did find what they wanted! They would go out happy and smiling, knowing that they would look good in what they had chosen.
It was a job which was very rewarding. But why are there not more outlets selling clothing for curvy ladies. There is a distinct lack of shops where a larger sizes can be bought, making it a nightmare sometimes for anyone over a size 14.
Now I run an ebay shop called THE-BIG-BOUTIQUE selling 16+ ladies clothing and although sometimes I miss the personal contact, I know that I am doing my bit to help us "normal" (I hate the word outsize) girls feel good about ourselves.