Whether it comes out in derogatory remarks, open hostility, or by the withholding of suitable work tools, fatphobia does indeed exist in the workplace.
In a recent example, a nurse was refused a job because of her weight.
“There are a lot of assumptions that come with a big body,” laments author, blogger, consultant and speaker, Edith Bernier. You get judged before you even do anything. You get classified as soon as you appear. ”
She published the book Grosse, et puis? Connaître et combattre la grossophobie in 2020. [Fat, and …? Understand and fight fatphobia], and launched the informative site Grossophobie.ca. She knows what she’s talking about. Edith Bernier builds on her own experiences, but also uses international studies to argue against discrimination and stigmatization of large people in the workplace. She gives the example of the too narrow work chair or the too small cubicle.
“If sweaters are ordered for a teambuilding activity, there is never one in my size,” underlines Edith Bernier, who suggests using caps or arm-bands instead.
Fatphobia can cause even more dramatic career consequences for fat people, who can have more difficulty than others to land a job. In France, in particular, fat women say they are victims of discrimination in the hiring process eight times more often than those with a so-called “normal” body mass index, according to the “Baromètre du défenseur des droits et de l’Organisation internationale du travail” on the perception of discrimination in employment, published in 2016.
What’s more, fat people are more likely to have lower salaries, to be stigmatized by their colleagues, and to be sidelined for promotions, according to the publication Eating Disorder and Obesity, of which the drafting was directed by Duke University professor, Kelly D. Brownell and Columbia University professor, B. Timothy Walsh.
Edith Bernier observes that fatphobia is “seldom voluntary or even conscious ”. This finding doesn’t stop her from wanting to fight prejudices. In 2019, with the support of Québec solidaire spokesperson Manon Massé, she presented a petition on the website of the National Assembly to add physical appearance to the grounds of discrimination in article 10 of the Charter of human rights and freedoms.
“Right now, a boss could fire you saying you’re fat or ugly, and you have no Charter recourse,” she asserted.
While waiting for a legislative change, the blogger suggests that companies incorporate fatphobia into their workplace anti-harassment policies, or even into their code of behaviour. She also feels that awareness should be raised to debunk the myth that “if you are large, you’re not healthy, and it’s your fault ”.
“You do not choose to be small. You do not choose to be black. And you don’t choose to be fat,” insists Edith Bernier.