Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Case For Weight (part 1)

I know Ashley's post began to touch on this, but I wanted to make a case that body size should be a protected characteristic under Title VII or at least have some policy to prevent discrimination on the basis of body size. Because this is something I've been thinking about for awhile now and have read a lot about in other classes, I would like to discuss this topic in a series of posts.

To begin this series of posts, I would like to start by providing one reason why body size should be a protected characteristic and speculating why currently body size is not a protected characteristic.

I have also read articles about how particular biases are formed regarding body size and how these biases are perpetuated by societal norms and media One argument that was brought up in class regarding the differences in discrimination on the basis of race and gender as opposed to the basis of religion is choice. I think most people would agree that most people regard religion as a choice. But what about body size? Do people choose to be the size they are? I would argue that many people cannot simply choose their body types, and therefore, body size should be a protected characteristic because it is not necessarily a mutable characteristic, at least not simply mutable as we discussed in class about dress code and appearance (in which an individual can remove a hat or change a hairstyle quite easily).

I would argue that body size is not a protected characteristic because people think that you choose the size of your body by working out, dieting, or overeating, and in general people have a tendency to ignore the genetics side of it. In her article, Fat and Culture, Laura Kipnis mentions that, “Recent studies in Scandinavia have indicated that fat women actually live longer than thin women, and there’s a preponderance of evidence that weight and distribution of body fat are for the most part genetically determined. A recent National Institute of Health study concluded, There is increasing physiological, biochemical, and genetic evidence that overweight is not a simple disorder of will power, as is sometimes implied, but is a complex disorder of energy metabolism” (Kipnis, 205).

Kipnis further outlines in her article that society as a whole does not view weight or body size in this way. Society tends to think more along the lines that further perpetuate the idea of the American Dream: that if you work hard enough, you can succeed or achieve anything. With this idea, if you work hard enough (by dieting, working out, etc.) you can be thinner, and we are bombarded with weight loss products (Hydroxycut, Alli, etc.) or weight loss reality shows (The Biggest Loser, Celebrity Fit Club) that prove this to be true.

Should an employer be able to choose not to hire you because you are not a size you genetically would and could never be without surgery?

**I intend to follow up this post with additional posts discussing other reasons to "make the case for weight" and also ideas on how the case for weight can be made today without it being a protected characteristic.


Blogger Katie Krengel said...

I find that I can sympathize with both sides of this argument. People should not be judged based solely on their weight. However, obesity can affect employers as well. What about people that provide health insurance for their employees? I know of an employer that pays a ludicrous amount monthly for their obese employee's health insurance due to their obesity and medical complications that come with obesity (more prone to heart attacks, diabetes, etc). Is this increase considered a reasonable accommodation or may the employer choose to not cover this employee anymore due to the ridiculous cost?

10:48 PM  
Blogger spoehner said...

You make an excellent point Katie, and that is why I do not think this issue can simply be covered in one post and I intend on making a few more posts on this topic. Another reason I really wanted to address this issue was to get feedback and definitely hear some counterarguments since I feel very strongly about this issue. Could it be possible that this trait, like disability and religion, be protected but to a point of undue burden? I would argue most definitely, although that may open a whole new can of worms in legislation and increase employers' liability.

8:03 PM  

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