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You want a better career? Lose weight!

May 28, 2008 1 comment

Apparently, if you look like this, you may not pass that job interview. More so if you\'re a woman. Today, someone told me straight to my face: I need to lose weight to really succeed in my career.

At first I wasn’t sure how to take her advice. Should I be seriously offended? Upset? Nod in total agreement?

After all, the advice wasn’t unsolicited. I did ask her what to do with my current state of career restlessness. She was someone I looked up to, and she has a tendency to be all “no holds barred” when it comes to giving anyone advice. It’ll sting, but it’s most often than naught the truth.

She went on to point out that I’m still dressing like a schoolgirl (ouch. And I thought the lacy white blouse and jeans was a nice combo), I don’t take good care of my skin, my hairstyle is crap and my teeth has coffee stains (wilts).

“You want to be taken seriously? Then you have to look it. It’s a man’s world, my dear,” she said.

Years ago, I would’ve gone home, hid in the toilet and sobbed my eyes out after hearing someone say that to my face. But I’ve gone past that point, meaning, I’ve come to accept responsibility in my current state of fatness. I eat too much, I exercise too little. It was my choices that got me in this shape, so it has to be my choice again to get me out of it.

If you’re reading this and you’re horrified, let me say just this: I know, it’s upsetting. But reality stinks.

An article in Forbes says:

“This is not just something on the margins,” says Mark Roehling, Michigan State University associate professor of human resources management and author of an upcoming meta-analysis of 30 studies examining weight-based discrimination in controlled employment settings. “At the obesity level and higher, we have every reason to believe [discrimination] is having a very significant impact on people.”

The bias appears to be most prominent during the hiring process, when an employer knows a potential employee the least and therefore is most likely to be influenced by stereotypes (such as fat people are lazy), says Cort Rudolph, a Wayne State University researcher. Rudolph presented his meta-analysis of 25 studies on the topic at a conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in April.

The bulk of research has also shown that the bias tends to be felt most by overweight white women, who are battling both the glass ceiling and the stigma of being heavy. A 2004 study by Cornell University Associate Professor John Cawley found that when the average white woman puts on an additional 64 pounds, her wages drop 9%. (Some studies have shown that overweight white women are evaluated more harshly than overweight African American women and that African Americans tend to be more accepting of large body types, according to Roehling.)

In 2004, Charles Baum, of Middle Tennessee State University, also reported in the journal Health Economics that obesity could lower a woman’s annual earnings by as much as 6.2% and a man’s by as much as 2.3%. – Is Your Weight Affecting Your Career?

Here’s the thing: In Asia, this is terribly common. They don’t even bother to hide it.

I had an … acquaintance who told me airily that there’s someone in her department who’s jealous of her.

“She believes that I get the promotions because of the way I look. What can I do? It’s just the way things work. I look good – can I be blamed for being promoted because my boss likes how I look?” she shrugged.

It took me every ounce of will not to wrap my fingers around her neck, but she’s got a point.

See, how should I react to the reality of our unfair world – a world which discriminates overweight people? Should I sue the pants of somebody? Should I stamp my feet and cry, “No fair!” like some people are doing in this MSNBC forum? (Though the nasty posts about overweight people does get my goat. Hello, assholes!)

Well, I agreed with my advisor. To a point. I don’t believe that looks is primarily what a woman needs to get ahead but I believe I should take better care of myself, and I actually appreciate the fact that she said that all I had to do now – since I am actually very good at what I do – is to take better care of myself: work less hours, take more walks, go for facials, enjoy being a woman, exercise more, improve my health. I’m glad she didn’t tell me to run on the rat race threadmill longer and faster.

I also believe that yes, although I tend to look young (people still think I’m in college, and I suppose my dressing doesn’t help) it’s time to look my age. (All of 30+).

Strangely, her advice to make myself the priority in improving my career is only reinforcing what thoughts that have been floating around in my head lately.

I need to get off the rat race threadmill and by golly, start being nicer to my body.