Being fat at work can be really difficult to navigate. There is already evidence that fat people get hired less often and paid less money than our thin counterparts. Once you do have a job it can be really scary to make waves – even when you are faced with things like getting worse benefits than your thin counterparts, being charged more for insurance, forced to attend company Weight Watchers meetings and more.
I got this question from reader Mary on Facebook: “I received an e-mail from my employer today encouraging all staff members to lose weight in an effort to raise money for charities. What would you say to that if you received it?I’ll answer this in a more general way but outlining what you can do when your employer suggests weight loss. I would probably send a message to the person in charge of this (HR/My Boss/Whoever) making the following points and asking for a meeting:
- As someone who practices Health at Every Size I am uncomfortable with my boss suggesting something that goes against the health plan that I’ve created with my health professionals since I don’t want to be torn between my health practice and looking like I’m not a team player at work
- This could be triggering and dangerous for people suffering from, recovering from, or who have a propensity for developing, eating disorders (for me I could talk about this in the first person but even if I hadn’t recovered from an ED I would want to point this out.)
- As a fat employee I’m very uncomfortable that my employer has a point of view at all about body size and weight loss rather than being focused on work performance
- It is my understanding that studies show that the vast majority of people who attempt weight loss gain their weight back and many gain back more, so could they please provide an evidence basis for the efficacy of their weight loss recommendation?
- All of the pitfalls could be avoided if the employer focused on health rather than weight.
- I would provide lots of evidence for a HAES intervention, like this absolutely amazing article
- I would offer to help in any way that I could including creating a committee to create an optional employee movement plan with weight-neutral shame free messaging that works for people of varying fitness levels and dis/abilities
- I would ask for a meeting to talk about this further
Some employers choose to give better benefits to thin employees. We talked here about that here.
Some companies choose to charge their fat employees more for the same benefits. We talked about that here.
Finally there are the employers who insist that in order to keep your health insurance costs the same as your thin co-workers, fat people must join weight loss programs. For this situation I would first and foremost ask for proof of long-term efficacy and safety. If it’s one of the programs like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, you could bring up the fact that they have been successfully sued by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive trade practices and ask your employer’s thoughts about that and the “results not typical” .
You could attempt to get notes from your healthcare providers indicating their support for your Health at Every Size practice and saying that dieting is not something that they believe is in your best interest. Be aware that this situation is likely due to the “employee wellness” company with which your employer contracted (often owned by companies that sell the weight loss that they recommend but that’s a different blog) and so your employer may not be able to do anything with it. I still think it’s worth it to let your employer know the issues with this.
Being fat at work can be tricky and being a fat activist at work can be a risk. How much you want to risk is a very personal decision- risk is the currency of revolution but you don’t necessarily have to pay that at work, or at all. I think in general it’s good to try to make it you and the person you are working with against a problem rather than you against someone at work. Again, it’s also totally valid to not deal with it at all and just get through your workday or do to activism around some things and not others. If you have a story of how you dealt with a fat at work situation, I hope you’ll leave it in the comments.
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