Weighty Issues

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Anna Kirkland, assistant professor of women's studies and political science at the University of Michigan and author of Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood, and blogger Lara Frater, author of Fat Chicks Rule!: How To Survive in a Thin-Centric World, look at the legal question of discrimination against the overweight.


Lara Frater and Anna Kirkland

Comments [39]


Neither guest answered this question: is or is not obesity a disorder? Fat activists stridently insist "no" (as do many people who deeply believe in discrimination against fat people). Disorders of various kinds are now protected against, legally. It's plausible to protect those with obesity, as well. But not if you insist that obesity is completely normal. It's Not normal when it's in the "morbid" range. 200 or more pounds of exra weight is not normal and will harm one's health, for sure. Stigma is related to this, but different. Stigma is people's belief that having a disorder or condition (that might be normal in itself, like race) is highly negative and also their fault.

Apr. 04 2008 12:07 PM
David Emanuel

Where do population-and-resource issues such as food scarcity (, and environmental-and-energy issues such as air conditioning ( fit into the kinds of beliefs, studies, advocacy and activism explored in this segment?

I have fought the battle of the bulge for the better part of 42 years. I know full well the weight of fat-ism ( But I don't want to be fat for reasons that transcend my confidence, appearance and socioeconomic status.

I don't want to start dripping sweat during the middle months of the year simply because I walk down the street or up a flight of stairs.

I don't want to have to crank up the air conditioner to avoid the extreme discomfort of dripping sweat every single minute I'm indoors during those globally warmed middle months (using the air conditioner to keep cool in the short run exacerbates the warming in the long run).

And I don't want to continue to consume more than my fair share of food. Do I really have a "right" to be fat while the world struggles to feed itself (

I'm not surprised that resource, environmental and energy issues are missing from these kinds of "discussions", but such dynamics do add to my concern that we are essentially unaware of the bigger picture (not to mention apathetic about it when we are aware).

David Emanuel

Apr. 03 2008 12:07 PM

Sara, I agree with your comment: "not everything is fair. And all the "legislation" in the world won't make it so." Which is what I always think when the issue of gay marriage is brought up. But that's socially unacceptable to say in liberal circles.
However, it IS socially acceptable to discriminate against fat people. We do it all the time, and it is THE reason many of us run marathons, triathlons, etc. But isn't it moe important that we act to prevent the unhealthy conditions that encourage obesity for the larger public? Rigorous and required phys ed and nutrition courses and TESTS for K-12. Because the costs of obesity and even overweight-related illness on the state level are in the tens of billions annually. And it ain't no fun to be sick.

Apr. 02 2008 02:33 PM
sara from Brooklyn

Mike: Actually, I had at first gone on to say that these concerns should, by all means, be discussed...but I thought it seemed unnecessary. So, I apologize -- I was mistaken.

However, I do take exception to your comparison of a women's right to be educated with the matter of social stigmas (one problem) attached to society's perception of obese people (another problem) and how this can result in unfairness towards that group (a third problem).

It's not nearly as easy to assign responsibility socially with regard to the obese as, say, it is when distinguishing among people by race or gender, since it is not at all clear-cut how to assign individuals with weight problems a "group identity"and discern the degree of responsibility that is inherent in their condition.

No offense intended.

Apr. 02 2008 02:19 PM
name withheld from spiritually? Newark

World's toughest milkman: Usually, I'm inclined to agree with you, but having worked in at least one office where older, hard-working, athletic and fit women were extremely marginalized/shunned, and the emphasis was on hiring young, sexy women who would attend after-working-hours company parties, even though that had nothing to do with business, well, let's just say that I've had my attitude adjusted. If you brought it up, you were considered "not a team player".
No, this wasn't Hooters, but a respected American company. Scary. So, I have changed my mind about protection in the workplace.

Apr. 02 2008 01:02 PM
World's Toughest Milkman from the_C_train

I'm so sick of all the PC and affirmative action these days, it was necessary years ago but now it just seems fodder for litigation. Employers should be able to hire and fire whomever they want, and it is already happening with "at will employment" and in other scenarios where the company you work at is not the one that hires you, similar to an employment agency.

Apr. 02 2008 11:51 AM
Mike from NYC

Sara: So does this mean that no one should complain about unfairness? If no one ver had, you'd be an uneducated housewife. My apologies if you are an uneducated housewife; I did not intend to malign them as a group.

Apr. 02 2008 11:50 AM
sara from Brooklyn

One other comment:
We are consumed as a society -- perhaps ultimately even as a race -- with insuring that everything is "fair'; not everything is fair.

And all the "legislation" in the world won't make it so.

Apr. 02 2008 11:36 AM
Mike from NYC

Zen: I agree. Perhaps public money should go towards subsidizing fresh fruits and vegetables and gyms. Employers should be required to provide enough time off and a schedule that allows people time to exercise. It's no mistake that the working poor are disproportionately obese and that the world is increasingly obese as this lifestyle spreads.

Apr. 02 2008 11:33 AM
D Grooms

A big part of the issue is the grocery industry, try eating healthy on a budget, not possible.

Apr. 02 2008 11:30 AM
Chris O from New York

Hi Diana,
You make a good point that thin people get rejected from jobs but that does not mean fat people have the same experience as you, or that it is not harder for them.

But mainly I wanted to say that I think you mean "jibe" and not "jive".

Apr. 02 2008 11:30 AM
joanna from queens

I think that getting a job because one "jives" with the interviewer might be against the law...

Apr. 02 2008 11:29 AM
Kate from NY

I'm with you, Sue. Having fun finding a bathing suit that doesn't make you look scrawny? I can't stand it and when I complain I get nothing but eye-rolls and "Oh poor YOU!"

Apr. 02 2008 11:29 AM
Zen from new york

Id like to add that I find it highly irresponsable to encourage people to be "ok" with their fatness. Its like telling people its "ok" to be a smoker

Apr. 02 2008 11:28 AM
Mike from NYC

Alex - Why do we have to put up with the whining of those who have starved themselves?

Apr. 02 2008 11:27 AM
Sue from North Salem, NY

I've been thin all my life and lately I have a horrible time shopping in department stores. Vanity sizing has completely outsized me and everything is geared towards sizes 12, 14 and 16, L and XXL. I can't find a S, XS, 2 or a 4 to save my life. I have to shop in the juniors' department which frankly, now that I'm 40, is rather inappropriate.

However, not much sympathy for my "problem". Think anyone thinks I have a problem? I get called skinny bi-ch and a variety of other names, out of envy or outright hostility. I feel I have to apologize for being inherently slender.

Apr. 02 2008 11:26 AM
Mike from NYC

How far should the employers' rights go?

Do you think you might be less likely to say 'yes' when a morbidly obese worker at McDonald's asks you "Do you want fries with that?" Could McDonald's reasonably claim that an employee's weight dampens their sales?

50 years ago, some white people might have been less likely to buy food prepared by Black people.

Even if overweight workers dampen sales, should McDonald's be able to select workers based on appearance?

I am an obese, white male and I'm sure that my weight does affect my evaluation at work, although I have no contact with the public.

Apr. 02 2008 11:26 AM
Alex from EV

It's all nice and well to fight stigmas, but....

Why do I need to be crushed when I sit in an airplane chair? How many fat people would sit next to each other on a plane by choice?

Why do my health insurance fees have to keep going up because of the health issues fat people have due to their weight?

Apr. 02 2008 11:26 AM
Zen from new york

Although there may be some overweight people that are the way they are due to medical reasons, on the whole being fat is a choice!!! So as far as comparing it to p.c. issues such as race thats bollocks ! You cant chose to be white or black, but most of us can chose to be fat or not!

Apr. 02 2008 11:25 AM
Andy from Manhattan

America loves big things:trucks, bottoms etc. In Europe it's much more of a handicap.

Apr. 02 2008 11:25 AM
Sad from Manhattan

This discussion makes me very sad inside. Being overweight is such a complicated issue and there are a plethora of factors that contribute to obesity (genetics, medical, the environment you grew up in, a tragedy you experienced, your parents, etc. etc.). But I firmly believe that being fat has nothing to do with being weak or gluttonous, and unfortunately that is what the majority of people believe. I grew up with a father who was highly critical of fat people, and a mother who was highly obsessive with the size of her body. This did not lead me to gain weight, but rather to be extremely body conscious and obessively hard on myself. Today I am working very hard to be at peace with my relationship to my body.

Apr. 02 2008 11:24 AM
diana mogilevsky from new york

I think we need to be very careful about what is assumed discrimination and what actually is. i am a thin, white, young woman and i've been turned away from plenty of jobs for reasons that have nothing to do with appearance. if an employer turns down an overweight person it may be simply because they have a better candidate who is more qualified or just 'jived' more with the interviewer on a personal level. This isn't to say that such discrimination does not exist, I'm just trying to make the point that this is difficult to measure.

Apr. 02 2008 11:24 AM
Bridget from West Village

If 90% of Abercrombie & Fitch's clients are slender people, then wouldn't it make sense to have the people working in the store be slender people? And, also, aren't they hired as models and not as salespeople?

Apr. 02 2008 11:21 AM
Angela from NYC

While I disapprove of treating fat people poorly or unjustly, the new trend toward embracing fatness seems entirely unhealthy. I am currently overweight, and have been on the edge of obese. Obesity is a leading cause of death in America. In some ways it should be treated like a medical illness, much like cancer. While no one can argue that we should discriminate against cancer patients, we would not discourage someone with cancer from seeking treatment.

Apr. 02 2008 11:21 AM
Andrew from Manhattan

I am a good-looking, mid 30's, thin white male who has been turned down for positions. When positions are posted one out of hundreds are chosen. I have to settle that I simply was not experienced enough. This is harder than blaming the rejection on race, gender, weight etc. I think it is too easy to say you did not get a job because you are fat.

Apr. 02 2008 11:20 AM
Linda from Queens

I see this kind of discrimination all the time. I am an overweight white woman, working in a white collar profession. I take good care of myself, exercise, dress and groom well. However, I see at least a few other overweight women in my workplace who are on the frumpy end of personal grooming and who constantly receive behind the back taunts. It doesn't matter how hard they work, how intelligent or friendly they are. Such taunts are not made about thin, but frumpy co-workers. There is much more leeway given to overweight men as well as less-than-stylish dressers on the thin side.

Although I've been told I'm attractive and I have no trouble getting dates, I constantly worry about how my physical appearance compares to anyone else I have to compete against in the workplace.

Apr. 02 2008 11:19 AM
M Nofier from NYC

As a former human resources manager and recruiter I found that the class of candidates most discriminated against were the obese.

Hiring managers generally considered overweight candidates to be lazy and unmotivated even when their credentials indicated the opposite and even when the managers themselves were overweight.

Apr. 02 2008 11:19 AM
Jack Garrbuz from Queens, NY

My weight problem came to an end in 1997 when I went on the Atkins "diet." Plenty of meat, eggs, fat, cheese and Splenda. The main reason for overweight today is due to the "Low Fat" nonsense that has beens shoved down our throats. "Low Fat" foods make you fat. Eating fat makes you thin (except for "transfats.") Controlling carbohydrate intake is one key to permanent weight loss and good health.

Apr. 02 2008 11:18 AM

What do your guests think of joining up with SMOKERS to compel insurance companies to treat both groups equally with the rest of the population?

Apr. 02 2008 11:18 AM
Substantia Jones from Manhattan

I think it's serendipitous you've scheduled Ms. Kirkland to follow a segment on conformity, as society expects fat people to be apologists at the very least, and ideally willing to reroute their innards or have large portions of vital organs removed, often to the detriment of their health, all in the name of conformity. Conforming to a beauty ideal that's both unrealistic and, as we're learning now more recently, scientifically misguided.

Many thanks for today's show.

Apr. 02 2008 11:18 AM
sara from Brooklyn

Part of the problem is that, outside the unfairness of "social norms", which, granted, we are bombarded with to an unhealthy extreme, sometimes people, men and women both, are unhappy with their weight, particularly when it is as a result of an inability to control their appetite and behavior around food -- whether as a result of psychological or physiological reasons.

Most people with *noticeable* problems of either a psychological or physiological nature are to some degree disadvantaged and discriminated against -- i.e. stigmatized.

Apr. 02 2008 11:18 AM
rick from brooklyn

I thought yesterday was april fool's day? what's next? why not let's start protecting ugly people against discrimination?

the guests own logic shows that who is considered "fat" depends on lots of other would you establish who is protected? these are traits that can change from month to month and from year to year. are you going to say that white women should be protected more because they are discriminated against more??

this is an absurd argument and one that would only present endless litigation- courts would never be able to make sense of this. one major problem is that this is not an inherent condition. duh. Give me a break!

Apr. 02 2008 11:17 AM
Francine Lange from Roosevelt Island - NYC

A couple of years ago, I was shopping in Paris for a pair for slacks, size 14-16, in department stores there. After a lot of searching, the only pants I could find were actually labeled "Grosse," which means "fat" in French, but also made ME feel like a gross, fat woman.

Apr. 02 2008 11:17 AM
Ana from NJ

I have been both skinny (120 lbs) and obese (260 lbs, my current weight) and I have experienced the difference of how people treat the obese. The way people look at you and what they assume about you (lazy, dirty, sloppy, slow) is very evident.

Apr. 02 2008 11:16 AM
Robert from NYC

Okay Brian, you can should as for a raise for being not fat.

Apr. 02 2008 11:14 AM
Robert from NYC

I never stopped saying fat. There is nothing wrong with fat it defines a comparative of size as bllnd defines loss of vision and deaf defines loss of hearing. You're impaired in a condition if your not completely of a condition, as far as I'm concerned. Now if I said fat pig then there's a judgement involved and a not very nice one, unless you are looking at a pig (real animal) that is fat. These are PCs gone overboard.

Apr. 02 2008 11:13 AM
Seth from Astoria

I watched a video back in school where a news persona, I don't remember who, went to a summer camp and asked the kids a bunch of would you rather... or be fat. Thinks like, would you Rather have Downs syndrome, have one arm, be blind or deaf, and every time the kids chose the Non-Fat answer. There did seem to be a little bit of piggy-backing with their answers but it was interesting. And yes, shows a dicriminatory attitude even at a young age.

Apr. 02 2008 11:12 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Wouldn't it be just easier to scrap the huge list of protected traits for jobs and just say that any time a person is fired or not hired because of a trait that had nothing to do with job performance that they have a right to legal action?

Apr. 02 2008 11:11 AM
Katie from Forest Hills

Many women suffer from PCOS and can't lose weight or it is very difficult. This is a hormone problem that can only be managed with medications. It is a living hell for a lot of my friends whom suffer from this.

Apr. 02 2008 11:10 AM

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