was at a stage play earlier this year, where one of the leading female characters gave a very impassioned monologue which ended with the phrase, “Is being fat or thin a reason to love and respect a person…?” It immediately caught my attention for surely this was something that many people have wondered, at some [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Is being fat or thin a reason for being more successful at the workplace?”


 was at a stage play earlier this year, where one of the leading female characters gave a very impassioned monologue which ended with the phrase, “Is being fat or thin a reason to love and respect a person…?” It immediately caught my attention for surely this was something that many people have wondered, at some point in their lives. Whilst the topic may not be one that is limited to the female sex, for the purposes of this article, I will focus predominantly on the issues that surround and affect women.

Hearing this particular phrase ringing out loud, and wafting over the audience in the midst of a darkened theatre had a very strong impact. Not only on myself, but in all likelihood on many of the predominantly female audience members present that evening. So it made me ask the question: Is being fat or thin a reason for being more successful at your place of work?

Do we view people – and in this case women specifically – differently, based on their size? Do we feel they are actually more or less capable/trustworthy/efficient/committed/suitable for a role – whether that be in the Corporate, Education, Entertainment, Government or Social Sector? It is natural that we have our own inherent, individual opinions. It is difficult to sometimes pin point a particular source from which these ideas stem. These…opinions…are sometimes inexplicable and is something that we have formed and cultivated over a lifetime of personal experiences, values, self imposed and imposed-upon beliefs and usually, the surrounding environment. The collective media, such as television, films, sitcoms and dramas, glossy magazines, and even social media sites and many commercials and other entities which give us subliminal messages, promote their own idea of what is considered…”normal”. So are there advantages to being…above or below…size “normal”?

In a fascinating study published by The Journal of Applied Psychology in 2010 titled “When It Comes to Pay, Do the Thin Win? The Effect of Weight on Pay for Men and Women”conducted by Timothy A. Judge from the the University of Florida and Daniel M. Cable from the London Business School, it concludes there is a very definitive correlation between being “thin” and successful.

“Cultivation theory suggests that society holds very different body standards for men versus women, and research indicates that the consequences of defying these social norms may not be linear.” Citing various authorities in the course of their study, Judge and Cable go on to observe that “The standard of attractiveness portrayed on television and in magazines is slimmer for women than for men, slimmer than in the past, thinner than the actual female population, and often thinner than the criteria for anorexia. In the fashion industry, models have become so frail and emaciated that shows have started banning models below certain weight ratios. On the basis of these pervasive social norms surrounding weight, it is perhaps no surprise that some women have internalised these values: About 90% of cases of anorexia and bulimia are women…What may be more surprising is the degree to which employers also seem to have internalised the notion that employees’ weight matters. Roehling’s (1999) comprehensive review suggests that obese individuals are rated as being less desirable as subordinates, coworkers, and bosses, and they are viewed as less conscientiousness, less agreeable, less emotionally stable, and less extroverted than their “normal-weight” counterparts. Even though these stereotypes are inaccurate (Roehling, Roehling, & Odland, 2008), it appears that in the United States, obese employees are viewed by their employers as lazy and lacking in self-discipline (Puhl & Brownell, 2003). Roehling’s (1999) review also revealed that overweight women are consistently judged more harshly in the workplace than overweight men, and Griffin (2007) reported that 60% of overweight women and 40% of overweight men describe themselves as having been discriminated against in the course of employment.”

Writing for Forbes Magazine, Lisa Quast states in Why Being Thin Can Actually Translate Into A Bigger Paycheck For Women, “In American culture we have seen standards of attractiveness that are substantially slimmer for women than men – which can be seen in comments/beliefs that overweight women are “fat” yet overweight men are “sturdy”….Over time, this standard for women has only gotten worse, with women trying to lose more and more weight. “This media ideal is quite pervasive in society, with female cartoon characters, movie/television actresses, magazine cover girls and Miss America Pageant winners all having become increasingly thinner over the decades.”

Interestingly, Quast also goes on to summarise certain key points raised by Judge and Cable, observing that “For men, increases in weight have positive linear effects of pay but at diminished returns at above-average levels of weight…Gaining weight is more damaging to women’s earnings than to men, as for women, increases in weight have negative linear effects on pay, but the negative effects are stronger at below-average than at above-average weight levels…Whereas women are punished for any weight gain, very thin women receive the most severe punishment for their first few pounds of weight gain. This finding is consistent with research showing that the media’s depiction of an unrealistically thin female ideal, leads people to see this ideal as normative, expected, and central to female attractiveness….’Very thin’ women earned approximately $22,000 more than their average weight counterparts… ‘Thin’ women earned a little over $7,000 more than their average weight counterparts…. ‘Heavy’ and ‘Very Heavy’ women lost over $9,000 and almost $19,000, respectively, than their average weight counterparts…”.

There are, and always will be opinions and counter opinions with which people explain such things.  Some will agree, some will not and others will offer alternative theories which explain other reasons for success. The topic itself is one which probably merits further discussion another day. For now however, on a personal note, I for one vehemently oppose the idea that the way one looks should determine one’s capability, credibility or dependability on the job. Any job. For a performing artist where is it an integral part of recruitment, it is a bitter pill to swallow, and I am grateful that every day authoritative entities around the world are trying to shift the importance away from appearance and more towards skill. Nevertheless, as Lisa Quast so aptly puts it, “(This Study)….shows me that, as a society, our physical appearance plays a key role in workplace interactions and earnings outcomes. Do I like this or agree with it? Absolutely not; however I appreciate reading studies like this one because they have the ability to make public the sometimes odd cultural beliefs we hold as a society. Studies like these also help employers and hiring managers become aware of potential ingrained biases of how much people’s weight affects employment decisions.”

All comments, suggestions and contributions are most welcome. Confidentiality guaranteed.

Please email: KJWVoiceforWomen@gmail.com


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