My Story: Job Hunting While Overweight

A decorative cover image for the posts discussing my weight loss story.

[Content Note: Today’s post contains mentions of weight related biases and prejudices, in the context of job hunting while overweight. If this is a consideration for you, then I encourage you to give today’s post a miss, and go check out some of my other stuff. We’ll kick it together some other time. Deal? If you decide to move forward w/ today’s post, and it brings up some difficult feelings for you, I encourage you to reach out to the Crisis Text Line.]

It is a very sad truth in life that as a society, it’s easy to get caught up in the way others look, and assign attributes to them based on this. Depending on the context, it can be positive, but 9 times out of 10, that ends up not being the case. Worst case scenario, assigning those attributes to others based on looks plays out in racist and prejudiced ways.

One of the search terms I found, “overweight people job hunting,” is what sparked this post. I went into it recently in the latest installment of Tales from the Search Engines, but now it’s time to go more in depth with it. Ever since it showed up in the statistics, it stayed w/ me.

The first time I saw it, I was at a loss for words. After doing my own research, and based on my own experiences, I can’t say any of what I’ve found came as any real shock to me.

In my own story, I was overweight and obese throughout my childhood, and only now, I’m seeing exactly what I missed out on, and the ways it held me back. I lost some of the weight early on in college, when I went on my first job search. It was 2005, and I started looking for work toward the end of the school year. I busted my ass 7 days a week, upwards of 8 to 15 hours a day for long stretches at a time, on my bike, traveling from company to company to slam out applications in mere seconds by the bundle.

I’d get callbacks, which meant my mom would have to drive me there, meaning using gas, and that cost money. It was money we didn’t have.

In return, all I got for my efforts was rejection, bullying, abuse, belittling, excuses, scams, and ice-cold radio silence.

2005 was when I started losing the weight the first time around, and there was one place I went in to ask about a job opportunity. It was a new place in town. It was something other than an upscale technology shop, and the owner looked at me with nothing but disgust, scorn, and contempt in response, before coldly saying “no,” and ignoring me after that.

I wrote them off, and thought nothing of it until 3 years ago when I happened to be in the neighborhood for a festival going on. Before then, I’d had yet another negative experience at that shop when one of the sales clerks accused me of stealing out of nowhere, and the shop owner made a half-assed attempt at sticking up for me. At that point, I’d gained back whatever I did manage to lose that time around and then some.

I walked in, having lost nearly 100 pounds by then. That same shop owner did a complete about-face, shoving things in my face, asking me if I wanted to try this, that, and the next, and even tried to offer me a job there.

They already had that answer, haha. The pay probably wouldn’t have been any better than what I was already getting at my now-old day job anyway.

Job searching is hard enough on its’ own. Just ask pretty much anyone who’s been at it for anything longer than a month, and they’ll probably tell you the same. Throw in biases from the hiring managers, recruiters, and any other Powers that Be, and it makes everything a zillion times worse.

One of those biases is against those who are considered overweight according to the BMI scale. I would like to say that this has its’ drawbacks, and that it isn’t always accurate for some. That being said, it’s currently generally accepted as an indicator, not the sole arbiter of someone’s health as of the date this post went live.

I’ve talked about similar things in the past, like about others who treated me like I was a subhuman piece of garbage based solely on my weight, w/o knowing me from Eve, and then doing that same about-face when I lost most of the weight. This is a horrible reality for those of us who’ve lost the weight, or are in the process of doing so.

It comes as no surprise that this kind of mistreatment towards those who are overweight carry over into the work setting. This piece from Forbes talks about how those who are overweight often become the target of unfair assumptions, and those who have any say-so in the hiring process assigning negative attributes to a candidate just on the basis of their weight and those assumptions. During the hiring process, they don’t know the candidate from Adam or Eve, and that can be one of the times those assumptions become clear.

It goes on to talk about how those who are overweight and have shared identities tend to have different experiences when it comes to whatever Powers that Be judging them, as well as the pay gaps between overweight workers who identify as male, and those who identify as female. Because this piece is from 2008, it doesn’t specifically refer to those identifying as non-binary. Based on these findings, I’d personally go out on a limb and guess that this would negatively affect those identifying as such.

A 2012 piece from Science Daily talks about how weight problems can negatively impact job prospects overall. To be fair, it doesn’t say what types of industries and job postings were explored in their study. I would guess that these were office jobs that don’t require a ton of manual labor (i.e., construction, concrete cutting, diesel engine repair, airframe and powerplant maintenance, welding, etc). According to the Science Daily piece, the participants in the study were told that it was a test on personnel selection. This study is from the University of Manchester, and the participants were given sets of resumes w/ photos of applicants attached to them.

The photos used depicted women at their starting point size with BMIs ranging in the upper 30s to low 40s, as well as women who’ve undergone bariatric surgery and had reached BMIs in the low 20s.

The Science Daily piece goes on to state that the higher the participants’ likelihood of showing biases against overweight applicants largely depended on their personality. It then mentions how the co-authors of this study noticed “that the participants’ ratings of their own physical appearance (body image) and importance of physical appearance were also associated with obesity discrimination.” The lead researcher, Dr. Kerry O’Brien said that “The higher participants rated their own physical attractiveness and the importance of physical appearance, the greater the prejudice and discrimination […] One interpretation of this finding might be that we feel better about our own bodies if we compare ourselves and discriminate against ‘fat’ people, but we need to test this experimentally.”

In other words, their biases could be a reflection of how they feel about themselves, and regardless of whatever’s going on w/ them, they’re harming job seekers while they’re at it. Sure, they may be concerned about applicants’ health, and what insurance may be like, but it’s no excuse for writing someone off due to their weight, even if they’re otherwise wholly qualified for the role in question.

It’s important to understand that these pieces both came out long before the pandemic, and due to the pandemic, many people who were already overweight at the start gained even more weight. This could’ve been due to the lack of exercise, the readily available calorie bomb cheapie food, pre-existing health conditions, and possibly even mental health crises. When these first two pieces went live, our collective weight problems hadn’t gotten to the extent that they’re currently at now.

To wrap this up, if this is something that hits close to home for you, I want you to know that I am so sorry this has happened. That recruiter/hiring manager/Powers that Be was completely in the wrong for allowing their biases and prejudices to become the star of the show. What they did speaks to who they are at the end of the day, and I’m sorry that you’re the one who’s paying for their actions. I have been where you’re at now. It sucks more than I can even begin to describe here. It’s been years, and I still can’t forgive the ones who refused to even talk to me due to my weight.

This was no job opportunity for you. They weren’t the one. They were just one of many out there. Next!

Over to you, readers. Have you ever been in a place like this before during a job search? Is this something you’re going through now? Know someone who is? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways, so drop ’em below like they’re hot, and let’s talk.

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