Research has long looked into the ways in which weight affects women in the workplace. Studies have proven a prejudice against overweight people in a society where those overweight are too often labeled lazy, lacking willpower and weak. And, in the workplace, particularly, new research from LinkedIn suggests that obese workers even earn less than thinner colleagues.
LinkedIn conducted a survey of 4,000 full- and part-time working adults in the UK who are considered obese by their BMI. They earned about $2,512 less per year compared to those with BMIs deemed "healthy." In fact, nearly a third of people considered obese said they had missed job opportunities or promotions because of their size; 43 percent of them said they felt that their thinner colleagues advanced more quickly in the company than them. The same was true for one in four workers in the overweight class, over half of whom (53 percent) said they felt left out of their team because of their weight.
To little surprise, women who considered overweight or obese also earned less money than men of the same weight — the gender gap stood at $11,547. This is perhaps because women are more likely to be affected by body image at work. Thirty-nine percent of women, compared to 28 percent of men, reported receiving negative comments surrounding their bodyweight in the workplace.
After all, research suggests that people tend to think it's okay to comment on colleagues' appearances at work anyway. A recent poll on workplace behavior from NPR and Ipsos, which offered 1,130 American adults a range of potentially objectionable office behaviors along with a range of options for each behavior, from one to seven (always, mostly and sometimes inappropriate; it depends; and sometimes, mostly or always appropriate). Seventy-two percent of people polled have seen a male commenting on a female coworker's appearance, and 23 percent have admitted to doing it. And 65 percent of people have seen a female coworker commenting on a male's appearance, and 26 percent have admitted to doing so.
The research suggests that only 49 percent of people think that a male commenting on a female's appearance at work is inappropriate. Another 36 percent say that it depends, and 15 percent think it's totally fine. As for a female commenting on a male's appearance, 46 percent think it's inappropriate, 37 percent think it depends on the situation and 17 percent think it's fine.
An estimated 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight, according to Health Data. Nearly three-quarters of American men and more than 60 percent of women are obese or overweight. A National Institutes of Health report showed that, from 1962 until 2006, obesity in adults ages 20 to 74 more than doubled, increasing from 13.4 percent to 35.1 percent.
Of course, work stress (which may stem from, perhaps, being underpaid), can contribute to rising obesity in the country. Ongoing stress releases a hormone called cortisol, according to Medical Life Sciences. Cortisol increases a person's appetite, so if their stress doesn't subside, cortisol continues to raise their appetite, which can lead to weight gain.
"Dealing with people who make snap judgments about me because of my appearance is something I've faced my whole life," plus size blogger Stephanie Yeboah said in a press release. "I want everybody to feel confident in their bodies and believe that nothing can hold them back if they want that job, promotion or pay rise. If you're putting in the hard work, you should be rewarded regardless of how you look."
Like Yeboah, many women are dealing with weight discrimination in the workplace. Their hard work should reap rewards, not stress that can lead to a vicious cycle.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report,