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Sometimes, when I write about size bias, people think I'm just being sensitive. Yeah, it's not nice to make jokes, their reasoning seems to go. But it's not like it's doing any real harm.
But here's the thing: It is.
A new study published in the journal Elsevier's Economics and Human Biology shows that overweight women earn less than slimmer women. And this is just the latest in a slew of research showing a weight-based wage gap. A University of Florida study published last year found that those who weighed 25 pounds more than average made $13,847 less, while women who weighed 25 pounds less than average made about $15,572 more than average-weight women.
So, all those fat jokes that comedians love to tell and all those commercials that sell us on the idea that thin is everything and all those wacky fat sidekick roles that talented actresses like Melissa McCarthy and Camryn Manheim usually get relegated to? They might be harmless enough when you take them one by one. But cumulatively, our culture's onslaught of fat shaming translates to discrimination. We've seen it on airplanes, in healthcare settings (see: the gynecologists in Florida who won't take you on as a patient if you're above a certain weight) and it's clear that it exists in the workplace, too.
One interesting twist: In this new study, it was only overweight women who experienced the stigma. Overweight men seemed to do fine, earnings-wise. I don't think this is a victory for overweight individuals, though. For starters, as Jezebel notes, most media reports on this study are interpreting it as a good reason for overweight women to drop pounds: Live Science's write-up included tips about replacing ice cream with fruit and yogurt. Oy.
It's also true that men have long been able to get away with a bigger waist line, as steak dinners and cigars are the consummate fat cat signs of corporate success. Many men holding top jobs know that size can be power. But if you check out the current list of women in power positions -- Anna Wintour, Andrea Jung -- it's clear that success and size operate on an inverse ratio. And powerful women who aren't sample sized (like Oprah, Hillary Clinton, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD) face constant media scrutiny.
And there's nothing funny about discrimination -- especially because overweight people aren't protected by traditional discrimination laws, which means someone seeing her paycheck stagnate due to her size has precious little recourse. "It's this kind of body stigma that's bad for us," says Jane Krauer, PhD, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies food and body image. "Not the fact that we're overweight or obese." Indeed, experiencing size bias has been shown to take a serious toll on your health: In a Rudd Center research study of more than 2,400 overweight and obese adults, 79 percent reported that they had coped with weight bias by eating more and 75 percent reported that they refused to keep dieting in response to bias. In addition, adults who experienced weight bias were more likely to engage in binge eating.
Newsflash: Yelling at overweight people -- and paying them less -- won't make them thinner. It just makes you a jerk.