Michael Hobbes‘ Highline story on the critical need to rethink how we understand and approach fatness is not without issue — It’d be great to see an actual fat activist who’s been writing about this for years get attention, and “obesity” is a loaded word — but the bigger issue of how society treats fat people is the most important thing, and the story is a good one. How does society treat us? Like crap, and pointing that out isn’t just about not wanting to have our feelings hurt: it’s about pointing out the very material ways fat-shaming impacts our lives, our health, our relationships, and even our careers.
This is how fat-shaming works: It is visible and invisible, public and private, hidden and everywhere at the same time. Research consistently finds that larger Americans (especially larger women) earn lower salaries and are less likely to be hired and promoted. In a 2017 survey, 500 hiring managers were given a photo of an overweight female applicant. Twenty-one percent of them described her as unprofessional despite having no other information about her. What’s worse, only a few cities and one state (nice work, Michigan) officially prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of weight.
Paradoxically, as the number of larger Americans has risen, the biases against them have become more severe. More than 40 percent of Americans classified as obese now say they experience stigma on a daily basis, a rate far higher than any other minority group. And this does terrible things to their bodies. According to a 2015 study, fat people who feel discriminated against have shorter life expectancies than fat people who don’t. “These findings suggest the possibility that the stigma associated with being overweight,” the study concluded, “is more harmful than actually being overweight.”
Come for the excellent story, stay for the excellent (and sometimes heartbreaking) photos — representation matters.