Note: This blog post was written in February 2016. I saved it in a word document, because I did not have a blog to share it in at the time. Names have been changed, but this is my personal story of feeling disrespected in the workplace due to my weight. I am sharing this now because I hope it will help people open their eyes about this and stop shaming other's about their weight. If you feel you are being mistreated due to your weight, I welcome you to share your story with the Finally Inspired Weight Loss Support Group or seek legal advice from a professional.
As much as HR departments will claim otherwise, weight prejudice in the workplace is real. A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that those with a high BMI are judged more harshly by peers and seen as less effective than their slimmer colleagues. It seems that people have no issues aiming overly cruel comments toward overweight and obese people because there are few consequences.
I can personally attest to the fact that this happens, and that is why I want to share this story.
In May 2013 I sold my business as a festival planner and took a full time job at a medium sized professional services firm. At first all was well. I was in sales, and I was bringing in new clients and working hard.
The prejudice I experienced started with my boss, Frank, making small comments to me about my weight. He tried to encourage me to lose weight and he would make comments when I ate something unhealthy in the office. It quickly lead to him excluding me from company lunches, and then to not taking my ideas or work ethic seriously.
Frank hired two young men a few months after I started, Matt and David. As much as I wanted to like them, these two men judged me right away. I tried to be nice to them and they spoke down to me. My boss made it undeniable through his actions that he favored these young guys and he considered me a frumpy and fat burden. He disregarded all of my input and never acknowledged my accomplishments, while praising them excessively for much less. What's much worse is the fact that Matt and David were making almost twice my salary for the exact same job, with less experience.
Every opportunity I had to be friendly with Matt, I did, and he returned my kindness with stark rudeness. Once I heard him offer a couple attractive, female co-workers a ride to our company Christmas party. They were going later and turned him down, so I innocently asked if I could ride with him. He made up silly lies as to why he could not take me, as if I had not heard him offer the other women moments earlier. He told me “There’s actually too much stuff in my car right now, I can’t.” Another time, while sitting in the conference room with some coworkers, he was questioning why my husband would want to be with someone who is so big.
Frank told me latter that it was, in fact, true that Matt did not like me, but I should not have expected him to like me because, “Fitness and health are really important to Matt. You’re just too different from him.”
It was clear that I was not good enough to my employer, or co-workers, just because of my weight. My boss basically told me that I had to accept that I was being disrespected because of my weight and I should not expect to have my basic kindness returned, or even to be given simple respect.
David, the other new sales rep, was less obvious with his dislike for me, but acted cold enough to make it clear. The three of them, my boss and the two sales reps, spent a lot of time together and made me the butt of many jokes. There would be times they would stop laughing when I walked in the room, and at one point I heard one of them make a comment about how my mouth must be the only thing I work out because I talk too much.
After a couple months of Matt and David working with us, injury was added to insult. Frank asked me to give up my position as a sales rep to be Matt and David’s sales assistant. He wanted me to make cold calls and find leads for them. This came with a decrease in pay and less opportunity to make commission.
What could I do? I have a family who relies on me and for some reason, at the time, I was too intimidated to look for a new job. I started working as an assistant for the two people who had less experience, no track record, and treated me like I was worthless. I still did my best and worked hard, but Matt and David complained about everything I did to Frank. Something was always not good enough, despite the fact I was providing them with solid leads they should have been able to close.
As the months passed, results spoke for themselves. Matt and David had not even closed half as many deals as I had in the time I was a sales rep, despite the fact that they were being handed hot leads. Matt was fired for poor performance and David quit before reaching the same fate.
The entire time I worked for this company, I faced prejudice for my weight. Finally I wised up and left the same week as David, after working there close to two years. Nothing was going to change, and I wanted to be appreciated for my contributions. In hind sight, I could have sued Frank and the company, but that is not the choice I made. I just wanted to move on with my life.
If you are currently battling prejudice for your weight, stay strong, be confident, keep your good friends close, and forget about the bad. If needed, research local laws on your situation and take action to protect yourself.