10 Terrible Ways Overweight People Are Discriminated Against
In contemporary society, not only is thin in, but fat-shaming is also pretty rampant and to some degree, socially acceptable. Psychologists and anthropologists believe one reason that thinness appeals to people comes down to supply and demand. For a number of people, it is harder to be skinny and easier to gain weight, making thinner people rarer, thus more desirable. Also, the media has a huge influence on how society views things like beauty.
As for why overweight people are discriminated against, it is because stigmas that are often attached to overweight people. Often people who are overweight are thought of as lazy, unhealthy, they can’t control their urges and they are unmotivated. Of course, none of those qualities are positive and as a result, the discrimination stems from those qualities.
The problem is that while there are some overweight people are lazy, unhealthy, lack self-control and unmotivated, but not all of them are. Yet, they are all painted with the same brush and treated as a “fat person”, instead of just a person with feelings and emotions. This type of stereotyping is unfortunate, because underweight and normal weight people can also be lazy, unhealthy, lack motivation and have no self-control, yet they are not stereotyped in the same way. Instead, overweight and obese people are discriminated against because they look different than normal weight people.
It is also important to note that the term “normal weight” is not used to represent “the norm”. Instead, it is used in literature on the topic of weight for lack of a better term for someone who is neither underweight nor overweight.
Being Overweight Could Get Someone Deported
Understandably, overweight and obese people are too big for some places, but can someone be too fat for a whole country? Well, that was the reality for Albert Buitenhuis from South Africa. In 2007, Buitenhuis, who is a chef, moved from South Africa to Christchurch, New Zealand and he lived there with his wife. Every year he was able to renew his visa without a problem until 2013. That is when he was told he was too fat to live in the country. It turns out that in the six years that Buitenhuis lived in Christchurch, he gained 65 pounds. When he tried to renew his visa, he was denied because he was not at “an acceptable standard of health.”
After Buitenhuis’ story made international headlines he was given a 36 month reprieve. So while Buitenhuis has not been deported yet, his case can show how people’s perception of overweight people can be repurposed in a way to discriminate against them. For example, would they export someone if they smoked? What if someone ate worse than Buitenhuis, but didn’t gain weight in the same way? Instead, they saw that Buitenhuis was overweight and singled him for being too fat.
Airlines Blatantly Discriminate Against Obese People
An example of how discrimination works against obese people in the most mundane activity is when an obese person tries to travel by plane. Currently, many airlines have a policy that if a person cannot put down an arm rest or cannot get a seatbelt around themselves, then they must buy two airplane tickets, which literally doubles their cost of flying.
While this can be argued that since they are using up more space, then they should have to pay more. While this is true, it is also important to look at the rates of obesity since 1960 in the United States. Since then, on average, males are 25 pounds heavier and women are 24 pounds heavier than they used to be, but the size of airplane seats has not changed at all. Also, 34 percent of Americans are obese, meaning that one-third of all Americans may not fit into an airplane seat and the obesity levels do not look like they are going to decrease any time soon. That means that they are only going to have more obese customers in the future, so the question arises, why don’t airlines just make the seats bigger? Instead, airlines steadfastly refuse to change, which just leads to more overcharging of overweight flyers.
Parents May Be Less Likely to Help Obese Children
Easily, one of the saddest studies of discrimination of overweight people is a 2010 study from the University of North Texas. The study took a look at teenagers who were buying a car, and it found that parents were less likely to chip in money to help pay for the car if the teenager was overweight. The study also took into consideration family income and gender and found that they did not play a factor. One theory is that the parents fear the overweight children may not do as well in life and are hesitant to help.
However, other experts disagree with the study. They said that parents of obese children are similar to parents of children with learning disabilities. That at times, it is stressful, but the parents still deeply love their children and want what is best for them.
Juries May Be More Likely to Find Overweight Defendants Guilty
When someone goes to trial, their character may be called into question, but someone’s weight really shouldn’t be an issue when it comes down to their guilt or innocence. However, again, people aren’t perfect and they tend to fall into the trappings of their own biases, even when it comes to something as important as being on a jury.
This was seen in a study from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. For the study, the researchers gave participants pictures of four defendants – a lean male, a lean female, an obese male and an obese female. Then they had them rate their guilt on a five point scale. The results were that the men were significantly more likely to find the obese woman guilty. It is believed that the reason men are more likely to think that an obese woman is guilty is because they believe that overweight women are unhappy with life, so therefore they more likely to commit a crime. Another reason for the discrepancy is that the men in the study were more attracted to the lean woman, so they were more likely to think she was innocent. What was interesting about the study is that there was not much difference between the guilt levels of the lean male and the obese male. Also, the women participants viewed both women equally.
Overweight People May Have a Harder Time Getting into University
When applying for grad school, a few things should be taken into consideration, such as recommendation letters, grades and extracurricular activities for sure, but someone’s Body Mass Index (BMI)? Sadly, according to a study from Bowling Green State University, weight can be a factor for people applying to school.
The researchers took a look at students applying for grad school for psychology. The results were that when a woman with a high BMI had an in-person interview, they were significantly less likely to be offered admission. The reason is that the interviewer might have a prejudice, either consciously or unconsciously, against people who are overweight. Again, the prejudice possibly stems from the idea that an overweight person may not follow through with plans because they are lazy and have no self-control. Or another reason is that the interviewee is aware that they might be prejudice to overweight people and it may hurt their confidence or impact the interview in a negative way.
Weight May Have a Direct Correlation with Pay Rate
In the workplace, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their ethnicity, race or gender. Yet the laws of discrimination do not extend to protect people who are overweight. The problem is that this type of discrimination can have a profound impact on people’s livelihood, especially overweight women.
A study from Vanderbilt University found that overweight women earned less than their peers in a vast number of fields. This study also took into consideration the amount of education the overweight women had and found that it did not make a difference if they had the same amount or more education than their normal weight counterparts. Overweight women were also less likely to get hired for high-paying jobs, and when they do, they make 5 percent less than other people in the same position.
The discrimination also can affect women who were once thin and gained weight. If a woman gains 25 pounds, it can negatively affect her future earnings by $15,000 a year. It can even affect women if they gain 13 pounds, because studies found that they could lose $9,000 a year when it comes to potential earnings.
Governments Try to Limit Social Benefits Available for Overweight and Obese People
One thing that will keep popping up throughout the entries is people’s perception that overweight people are lazy and unhealthy. This is important when it comes to social benefits, because if there is one thing that taxpayers hate, it is lazy people getting social benefits. Ergo, it is clearly obvious that those taxpayers really do not like it when overweight people collect welfare.
Looking to fix this perceived problem is British Prime Minister David Cameron. His plan is to cut benefits for people who are obese. In order to get their benefits back, they would have to go to the gym and afterwards, provide proof that they did. In theory, this makes sense because a healthier population would save money in the health care system. However, the approach to the problem is profoundly misguided.
One problem is that studies have shown that 60 percent of normal-weight people are just as unhealthy as overweight people. That means that normal weight people can sit home all day and collect welfare just because they aren’t overweight, yet, they are just as likely to have similar health problems. Instead, the proposal is just fat-shaming in the guise of saving the government some money.
Also, these types of proposals show the narrow mindedness of some people when it comes to weight problems. For some people, it is not as simple as going to the gym because struggles with weight are much more complex than that. Weight, exercise and eating habits can be deeply tied to emotional problems and life experiences. Also, for weight loss to be effective, a whole lifestyle shift needs to be done. And changing your whole lifestyle, to achieve a difficult goal is a daunting task for just about everyone.
Doctors May Not Treat Overweight and Obese Patients to the Best of Their Ability
Part of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors have to take is that they agree to take care of anyone who needs their help. But, of course, doctors are people and they can fall victim to biases, just like anyone else. Sadly, this type of bias can emerge when doctors are treating patients.
One bias that a sizable amount of medical students appear to have is against overweight or obese patients, with two out of five medical students either implicitly or consciously holding the bias. The researchers believe that this is behavior learned from the instructors. It is also thought the bias stems from the fact that being overweight is often associated with laziness and a lack of self-control, so doctors do not think heavier people will follow through with any advice that the doctors give them, so the doctors don’t try as hard.
The bias from the doctor can also affect their relationship with patients because overweight people are more likely to switch doctors over a negative experience they had in the doctor’s office. As a result, overweight people are also more likely to “doctor shop” and these doctor shoppers are 85 percent more likely to make a trip to the emergency room, which puts strain on the whole health care system.
Fat Discrimination is a Worldwide Phenomenon
“Thin is in” isn’t just a First World notion. In fact, researchers at Arizona State University interviewed people from the United States, England, Iceland, American Samoa, Argentina, Mexico, Paraguay, Puerto Rico and Tanzania about their attitudes about fat. In all the countries, they found there was a desire for thinness, while being overweight was associated with laziness. In the study, only one place was fat-neutral and that was Tanzania. However, the reason for that may be because of where it is located. Tanzania is in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is an area that has been ravaged by HIV and AIDS, so thinness can also be associated with sickness.
It is believed that American movies and television shows are, at least in part, responsible for the change in attitude. One classic example that is pointed to is Fiji, a country in the South Pacific. In the 1980s, anthropologists visited the country and it found that fat was celebrated. In 1995, the island got television for the first time and they could watch American television shows like Melrose’s Place. In 1997, just two years after the introduction of TV, 74 percent of teenage girls thought they were fat. Also, the amount of girls who induced vomiting to lose weight went from 3 percent before TV’s introduction to 15 percent in the post-TV era.
Overweight and Obese Children are More Likely to Be Bullied
For anyone who grew up in a society that values thinness, or even spent time with children in that society, it should be little surprise that overweight children are more likely to be bullied. What’s interesting is a study from the University of Michigan that found that even if a child has traits that would discourage bullying, like good social skills or they do well in school, they were still targeted. The study seems to indicate that the driving force in their bullying is that they are overweight.
What is interesting is that childhood obesity rates are soaring. 8.4 percent of preschoolers are overweight or obese, so before they even attend school and start making choices for themselves, they have developed into people that are targets for victims through no fault of their own. Beyond preschool, when many children are still eating what they are fed by their family and their schools, the rates increase, with 30 percent of children being at least overweight. This means that one-in-three children in the United States are more likely to be bullied, even though they may have been set on that path before they even had self-awareness.
While this list may come across as a pity party for overweight people, that is not the goal. Instead, it is to provoke people to open their minds a little and to become a bit more aware of their own biases because it can have profound effects on other people’s lives. When you see someone who is struggling with his or her weight, perhaps it’s best not to jump to conclusions about them. Perhaps even put yourself in their shoes and ponder the question, does anyone really want to be overweight? The answer is, probably not.
So that means people with weight problems already dislike being overweight. Then, they are labeled and stereotyped about the very thing they dislike about themselves and then they are openly ridiculed, mocked and discriminated against. It is important to remember when you hear someone ridiculing overweight people to remember that they have feelings and they can face discrimination in nearly every facet of their life. You also have no idea what has happened to that person that led them to that point in their life. Finally, please consider that overweight people are more than their weight. No one wants to be labeled because of a noticeable aspect about themselves that they don’t like.
In closing, one final stat about fat-shaming is that it may lead to more weight gain. A person may be fat-shamed into a depression, where they only gain more weight and this can lead to a terrible cycle. Instead, be accepting of someone’s weight and encourage any steps they want to take for weight loss. Because while there is nothing wrong with being overweight, everyone should strive for a healthier lifestyle for their own sake, for their friends and family and to ease the pressure on the health care system.