Hey, Big Guy: Weight Discrimination Infringes on Basic Human Rights, Say Obesity Bias Advocates

By Swift, Diana | Anglican Journal, May 2011 | Go to article overview

Hey, Big Guy: Weight Discrimination Infringes on Basic Human Rights, Say Obesity Bias Advocates


Swift, Diana, Anglican Journal


IMAGINE THIS: you live with a condition that puts you at physical risk for diabetes, joint and heart disease, hypertension, dementia and some cancers. But on top of that, you're stigmatized as lazy, willful, sloppy and self-destructive, not to mention the antithesis of current norms of acceptable appearance. You're passed over for employment or promotion. Jokes are openly made at your expense, and you're treated as a second-class citizen--in the media, on the streets, in health care facilities--even in your own family. The first thing people notice about you--and often comment on--is your weight. You're at psychosocial risk for everything from eating disorders to depression and suicidal thoughts.

According to recent estimates, weight discrimination has increased by 66 per cent over the past decade and now stands on a par with racial discrimination. "Weight stigmatization is socially acceptable. It is rarely challenged and often ignored," says Dr. Rebecca Puhl, director of research at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. Her goal is to place weight discrimination and stigmatization squarely on the radar of social justice issues.

The costs of obesity bias in human productivity and quality of life are high, says Puhl. And weight bias is particularly hard on the young, says Dr. Wendy Craig, a psychology professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. "These children suffer from low self-esteem, bullying, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, poor social interaction and poor academic performance."

In the electronic media, it's open season on the overweight, with many a joke and snide comment made--to canned laughter--at their expense.

David Dolomont, a 48-year-old Hamilton, Ont., father of two sons knows all about weight prejudice. A former paramedic and now a corporate CPR and first aid instructor, he recalls the lifelong comments made at his expense--from the ubiquitous "Hey, big guy" greeting to gales of laughter when he asked about joining a paramedic bike squad. "We don't make Spandex that big," he was told." This treatment starts very early," he says. "You get labelled as something that does not quite fit the norm."

In high school, he weathered the usual taunts, which he now brushes off as "the unthinking and innate meanness of kids." The worst time for him was early adulthood when he entered the workforce and realized his treatment stemmed from the bias of adults. "It wasn't about 'Fatty, Fatty, two by four' anymore,'" he recalls. "It was about one of my first managers making a weight-related remark every time he saw me." At an employees' breakfast, for example, the manager loudly announced, "We saw you coming, so we got an extra cook."

"You start to wonder if you're ever taken for who you really are," says Dolomont. A few months ago, he heard a human resources specialist on the radio saying that, when faced with a thin applicant and an equally qualified overweight applicant, she would hire the former because the overweight person would call in sick more often and overtax the benefits system. "I started out working in Toronto with young men who had just finished four-year phys-ed programs, and six to eight months later, some of them were gone on permanent disability with blown-out backs or knees," he fumes.

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Hey, Big Guy: Weight Discrimination Infringes on Basic Human Rights, Say Obesity Bias Advocates
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