A Woman’s View: weight discrimination

With increasing pressures for an ideal body, women everywhere are worrying more and more about their figures and weight gain or loss.  Weight discrimination is a touchy subject given the popular status of having to be “perfect”.  Discrimination is not limited to persons who are overweight, but it also transcends to those who are considered underweight.  When a female looks in the mirror she inevitably will criticize herself and features of her body that displease her and ruin her self-image.

Magazines, Hollywood starlets, TV and everywhere you turn there are symbols of the “perfect” figure and weight that for most is unattainable without serious health hazards.  There are now cosmetic surgeries promoting mutilation for the sake of the “perfect” body.  Eating disorders are increasing with the pressures society has inflicted upon ordinary women.  

“When I was younger I was a dancer” Kirsten told NEast Philly.  “As a dancer you have to have and maintain a low weight but still build muscle.  You also spend hours looking in a mirror, which can destroy any possible hope for the perfect body if you constantly see your flaws.  Due to this I became anorexic because of the pressure to have that perfect ballerina body.”

Many people may think it is perfectly acceptable to criticize an underweight person for their looks and body features, but that is also not something that should be done.  The same as an overweight person does not want her body judged, neither does an underweight person not want her body scrutinized.  I have heard on several occasions of a thin person being told when she gains weight with careless disregard of the fact the woman may be self-conscience about it the same as an overweight person would be.

“I get picked on all the time at work for being too thin and people can be very hurtful, but you can’t say anything back because they get mad,” said Mary, who works at a doctor’s office in the NEast.  “I have to hear, ‘skinny b—-’, ‘you need meat on your bones you look terrible;’ ‘Oh we have to watch her food intake she has a problem,’ when I don’t or, ‘I hate skinny people.’  I don’t understand when this became acceptable.”

Hurtful comments like these are said more often than not with the complete illusion that because a person is she they must be immune to ridicule. While genetics may play a part in helping a person grow and develop, a healthy eating habit can also reform a body.  Not all thin women have an eating disorder; some just maintain a body structure through hard work and healthy foods.

There are, however, women who feel the pressures from society, work, family or even friends to obtain the “perfect” figure and in return, cause harm to their bodies by depriving themselves of much-needed nutrition.  Dancers, gymnasts and athletes are always at a higher risk of developing these eating disorders due to the demand placed on their bodies to perform as needed, and competition from other women who may have a natural lean physique.  Eating disorders are no laughing matter and should not be made fun of – especially to a person who is even suspected of having one.  More ridicule about a person’s stature would only cause the problem to flourish further, making it even more difficult to treat.

“I had been teased something awful when I was younger for being overweight, so I stopped eating and had some real problems,” Betti told NEast Philly. “Today I am very thin and I am no longer anorexic, but I still battle the thoughts and feelings, which aren’t helped any when people feel it is alright to tease your body because you are thin.”

Women who are overweight are also subjected to scrutiny and persecution of their body size and shape from various expectations that are ideally made.  Many have legitimate reasons for carrying extra weight, while others struggle to maintain the “perfect” body status with fad diets, pills, surgery or sometimes stopping eating all together.

“After I had my second child I had a hard time losing the weight and use to be mocked at the warehouse I work at constantly.  The worst part is I was eating healthy and exercising daily, but baby fat is just hard to get rid of,” Nichele said.  “They had no right to do that.”

Women who are overweight – no matter how slight it may be – are also subject to mocking terms, which can be damaging to their self-image.  Working environments can be made difficult, as can personal life and relationships.

“I am overweight and I know I am, but people don’t need to point and laugh. I mean that is just rude,” Margaret said. “I feel so horrible sometimes and I try all the diets, but it is just so hard to lose the weight sometimes.  Even at work, they had to find me a bigger chair and I was laughed at by all the other employees it was so embarrassing.”

Discrimination is discrimination regardless of what situation is occurring, and women should be given respect and opportunities despite whatever size or stature they have.

“I was in line for a promotion at work and I was better qualified for the job and had been there longer, but instead they gave it to a well-built woman who had just started,” Annemarie said. “They said that since it was a sales job that clients would find it hard to deal with me.  I couldn’t believe it.”

This kind of persecution should not be accepted in any place of business.  If you are subjected to this kind of discrimination you should go directly to your human resource department and report the abuse.  If that is not an option, the Better Business Bureau is an excellent source to contact for information on how to handle the situation and appropriate action that could be taken.

Today’s world standards have made a difficult living environment for many women, but there are some who have stood against the grain.  A full figured model can now be seen featured in magazines and advertising.  More women are taking a stand to defend their rights to dress, look and appear as they are rather then how society would like them to be.  Weight scales are slowly being eliminated from dance studios and gymnastics although the process is slow and some antiquated instructors are reluctant to part from the outdated theories.

The bottom line is: you have to be comfortable with yourself.  People will always place unattainable restrictions on your features and body, but rising above and living a healthy life style with good eating habits can make you feel better and look better, regardless of society thinks.  Throw away the mirror and go with your health.  If you feel healthy and medically there are no hazards, stop trying to impress people by attempting to attain the “perfect” figure, and start helping yourself.  No one has a right to chastise the way you look or discriminate against you for it. Nor do they have the right to utter derogatory comments that may shatter yourself image.  If you have a story of such nature write in and tell NEast about it.  It is time we but a stop to this persecution.

A Woman’s View is a column about women’s issues written by Donna Ward. The column appears every other Thursday on NEastPhilly.com. See others here. Read other NEastPhilly columns here.

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