The true cost of being fat?

For better or worse, I’m an occasional participant in WeightWatchers. Sometimes I’m okay with that, sometimes it makes me feel a bit dirty. There’s a whole other blog post or perhaps an article about the trying-to-lose-weight-in-a-feminist-manner issue.

But anyway, let’s take the WW membership as read. Every Monday (the traditional day of good intentions and diet resolutions) an email drops into my inbox filled with low fat recipes, generic seasonal articles and inspirational stories. So far, so normal. Sometimes I read them, sometimes I don’t.

This week I had a glance at the success story. And I was staggered.

The story is about Susan. Susan is fairly typical of her type of story, which usually runs: middle aged woman with a couple of kids behind her, weighs in at about 13 stone. Some trigger point drives her to WeightWatchers, she is amazed to discover how easy it was, even managed to have a glass of wine from time to time and – bada bing bada boom – she is a size ten gym bunny. None of this was what staggered me.

Here is what did.

“The worst thing though, was when I went for a job interview, knowing full well I had all the skills needed. But I never got the job.”

Susan believed she was turned down for the job on the basis that she was overweight. Proof of this came six months later when she applied for the same job again – this time much slimmer – and got the job.

Let’s review that. The woman has if not irrefutable proof then pretty serious evidence that companies (at minimum this one company) are actively discriminating against women on the basis of their weight. For all we know, they could be discriminating against men on the same basis. I have a hunch they aren’t, not least because we don’t impute so much about men’s “value” from their physical attributes as we do for women, but I’d be pretty horrified by that too.

So are WeightWatchers scandalised by this? Are they headlining their site with shock stories about discrimination against women on the basis of appearance? Are they using their high profile to make some noise about this in a way that Susan on her own may not be able to do without jeopardising her new job and/or incurring some serious legal fees. Are they buggery. What they are tacitly saying is “gosh that’s not very nice but never mind because she’s thin now it’s all okay”. It’s only a hop skip and a jump away from “now she’s thin she REALLY deserves the job”. They’re treating this situation like someone who wanted to run a marathon and now – because of their hard work and dedication – has achieved that lofty goal. It’s not even the main focus of the story – it’s dropped casually into the middle of the piece, which moves immediately onto Susan’s gym regime. They should be writing it up as an example of serious workplace discrimination which could be affecting many of their members, not as a tale of derring do.

And of course they don’t, because WW are a business not a political pressure group and because they make a great deal of money from convincing people that being overweight is the ultimate shame. Which, I suppose, brings me back to my original point. I’d better reconsider my membership …