Editorial cartoons used to depict the rich and powerful as big and round. They were fat cats. But attitudes toward weight have shifted to...
Editorial cartoons used to depict the rich and powerful as big and round. They were fat cats. But attitudes toward weight have shifted to the point that more heft now means less money.
A story in The New York Times last weekend cited a number of recent studies that match weight with wealth and income. The connection is partly about health, which has been amply documented. Illnesses associated with extra weight are expensive to manage, but there is a cost beyond poor health, one that even healthy heavy people pay.
One of the new studies found that for white women, an increase of 64 pounds corresponded with a 9 percent lower wage.
Mark V. Roehling, a researcher at Michigan State University, said that is partly due to employer concerns about higher health-insurance costs, which means they may not even hire people they see as fat for some good-paying jobs.
Most Read Life Stories
- 8 new do’s — and 1 don’t — for post-pandemic restaurant etiquette
- 21 Seattle-area restaurants our critics are most excited to try post-pandemic
- Suddenly everybody knows about Juneteenth. How does that change how we celebrate?
- When Juneteenth was just ours: Reflecting on the national recognition of a holiday that was once just for Black folks
- More outdoor dining options in Seattle, QR code menus — here are 8 food legacies from the pandemic that will stick around
But that’s just one factor. People make generalizations about other folks based on size. Fat equals lazy, weak-willed and unattractive.
I saw a study of health-care professionals a couple of years ago that found many therapists held negative views of fat patients and treated them differently because of it. They ought to know better, but biases are rampant and hard to recognize and weed out because they seem so justified.
Weight bias is just one of the many prejudices that affect our relationships with one another, and it has interesting intersections with other prejudices.
Roehling found people are more biased against white women who are perceived as fat than against white men. OK, we all know what that is about. This society says white women are supposed to be beautiful.
White people, he said, are more accepting of black women who are heavy.
Black people in general are more accepting of large people, he has found.
Since white people are in the majority, and certainly make up the majority of bosses, their biases have the greatest effect on bank accounts.
Jay Zagorsky, an economist at Ohio State University, matched body-mass index and wealth data. Lose weight, earn more money. At least it works that way for white people. A 10-point drop in body-mass index for white men corresponded to an increase of nearly $13,000 in wealth for white men and just a bit less for white women.
Losing weight made much less difference for black women and made no difference for black men at all.
Black people are already affected by another kind of bias, so I’m not surprised that weight doesn’t do much more damage.
A psychology professor at the University of Virginia, Brian A. Nosek, told the Times that studies have shown people have about the same amount of bias against black people and fat people, as measured by the Implicit Association Test.
The test, which I’ve mentioned before, gets at bias that a person might not even recognize he has.
People whose bias against black people shows up in the test will deny having any such feelings, but Nosek said most of them freely admit they hold the fat bias, the test shows. Who’s going to complain?
I looked at several bias studies and found one in which even medical doctors who treat obese patients scored high for anti-fat bias. That can’t be helpful.
I’ve yet to meet a person without biases, but if I’m honest with myself about having a particular bias, I can work at eradicating it or at least managing its effects.
Michael Richards and Mel Gibson are pretty good examples of what can happen if a person is in denial. If you don’t clean out the garbage, sometime you’ll open the door and everyone will get a whiff of it.
Over the years, researchers have shown a whole bunch of characteristics that have nothing to do with job performance still affect career advancement and salary level from age to gender to race. Now we can add fat to the fire.
With my combination of bias magnets, I guess I should just be grateful they don’t charge me for the privilege of having a job.
Whether you are short, wear glasses, are attractive to other people or not, light- or dark-skinned — it all makes a difference.
There is a reason height makes a difference if you’re putting together a basketball team. Eyesight is a good thing to take into account if you are looking for fighter pilots.
But too often all of this stuff is made to matter when it shouldn’t. It’s a heavy burden for individuals — and for a society that needs to go on a serious bias diet.
Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or email@example.com.
His column runs Thursdays and Sundays and is found at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.