Weight Watching: Weight Bias in the Workplace

My heels dug into the asphalt, putting unbearable pressure on my knees and ankles as they worked hard to hold the uneven distribution of my almost 300-pound body as I navigated a massive hill. I was interviewing for a counseling job at a fancy private school in Seattle, one with an expansive urban campus that blended into the city. To break up the monotony of a formal interview, I was given a tour of the hilly campus while being peppered with interview questions.



I internally lamented at my choice in clothing – my blazer was creating a personal sauna, and the discomfort my body was experiencing internally started to make itself known to the outside world by producing beads of sweat all over my face, giving me a rosy red complexion that should only be reserved for Santa.


My heels dug into the asphalt, putting unbearable pressure on my knees and ankles as they worked hard to hold the uneven distribution of my almost 300-pound body as I navigated a massive hill.

To regain control of my body, I tried to breathe through my nose so that the slender white man, who clearly hikes every weekend, giving me the tour, would not notice how strenuous this was for me. But he was about to know my truth the moment he turned to look back at me and asked if I could expand on my cover letter. Instead of answering his question, I held my chest and said - “One moment, please, I’m a little winded.”


What my body was experiencing internally started to make itself known to the outside world by producing beads of sweat all over my face, giving me a rosy red complexion that should only be reserved for Santa.

This story would become infamous in my friend circle; I managed to reclaim that moment and my dignity by making it into a comedy; however, the reality of it haunts me. Being a first-generation womxn of color, I was already questioning my belonging and qualification – now imagine trying to negotiate away doubts while managing physical discomfort. My body was LITERALLY telling me you do not fit.

It was not the first time my body signaled to me its displacement in society; it was the first time where I had to share the realities of navigating a body that the world didn’t design for to a complete stranger. Not just a stranger, but one who was in a position of power over me and would determine my fate.


My body was LITERALLY telling me you do not fit.

Understanding unconscious bias is a trendy topic for organizations, but so often, the conversation never gets around to the role of weight. Odd, considering that over 70% of adults in the United States are either overweight or obese. According to a study, discrimination against overweight people, especially womxn, are as commonplace as racial discrimination. Damaging stereotypes of overweight people include lazy, less intelligent, and messy. These stereotypes ensure that overweight people are hired at a lower rate, and those who are in the workplace are subjected to lower salaries and poor evaluations due to weight bias. I imagine if we were to disaggregate all these studies and look at how it impacts BIPOC womxn, it would probably be worse.


According to a study, discrimination against overweight people, especially womxn, are as commonplace as racial discrimination.

All of this goes unnoticed and unsaid because, as a society, we are oriented to believe that weight is something an individual has control over. The diet and media industry promote a belief that weight is a reflection of one’s character and qualities. This perspective completely disregards and erases the genetic, health, race, and class factors that are linked to how weight manifests in the body. That is just the tip of the iceberg; let's not forget the role that colonization and imperialism have played in completely changing the diets of communities of color. The insidious nature of these beliefs (lies) is that it unfairly puts the ownness of change on the individual and not the system.


This perspective completely disregards and erases the genetic, health, race, and class factors that are linked to how weight manifests in the body.

Fat people should not have to be smaller to secure the bag. Organizations need to take the lead in cultivating places of belonging for all bodies. To those who are hiring managers or supervisors, take the Implicit Association Test (IAT) on weight. Chances are very high that you have internalized fatphobia. Unpack that and understand the ways in which you may have been complicit in exhibiting weight bias, from who you hired to who you have promoted. Openly talk about weight bias; the secrecy of it enables the bias to go undetected and embed its toxic ideology into a culture. Consider sending a clear message to your organization; include weight bias on any anti-discriminatory statement/policy or diversity workshop. Bringing it to the surface allows everyone to internally examine their role in being complicit and provides an opportunity to develop shared values that promote belonging for all bodies.


Consider sending a clear message to your organization; include weight bias on any anti-discriminatory statement/policy or diversity workshop.

I didn’t end up getting that job. While there could be many reasons why -race, class, gender, age- I will always wonder if my weight had something to do with it.


Esther Chong Weathers serves as the Associate Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she is responsible for developing strategies to increase diversity, deepen inclusion, and advance a sense of belonging for all. A higher education specialist, Esther has dedicated her career to directly addressing the barriers faced by historically marginalized communities. Her work is shaped by her experience being raised on Guam and navigating her intersectional identities as a first-generation professional/student and curvy queer womxn of color. Learn more about and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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