Higher Ed Plus-Fat and Job Searching

A few months ago on the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page, there was a post from a woman who stated that she had been advised by a family friend who had worked in higher ed for years to talk about her energy levels during an interview. The reason why? Because she was plus-sized, and she should let her potential employers know that, in case they didn’t want to hire her based on her body type.

Woaaah, slow down. You mean that employers in Higher Ed discriminate against larger bodies?

Sad to say, it’s apparent that they do. This post only highlighted that.

Most people were outraged. “They can’t do that!” They exclaimed. “If they do, they’re not worth your time.”

Obviously the friend of the woman knew more than these comments.

The thing is, being plus-sized in higher ed, when you go into a job interview and are rejected, you rarely if ever know the reason. So, it’s really not apparent whether or not we weren’t hired based on something we said or did, or if the employers felt we wouldn’t have enough “energy.” How could we possibly know that? This friend of this woman apparently knows something we don’t: that comments about people’s weight take place behind closed doors and are important in hiring meetings.

While reading the comments, it became apparent to me just how little people know or understand about the plus-sized community. For all of Higher Ed’s talk, there is little to show for it when it comes to this area. People were saying things like “THIS IS ILLEGAL!” And in fact, in many states, it’s not. Body size is only a protected class in a few cities and states throughout the U.S. Therefore, someone can be discriminated against because of their body size in their place of work, and it is perfectly okay. Other people shared stories of being called “frumpy” or even being told “get off your fat a$$ and do it yourself.” In front of students. So not okay.

There were also a lot of comments about showing your energy through your interview…but that’s problematic. Interviews are long and draining experiences. What if you happen to be plus-sized and introverted? You’re in a no-win situation there, because you may not be able to show “energy”, and therefore potential employers may assume it’s because of your weight and decide not to hire you. The REAL problem here is that fat or plus-sized people are assumed to have low energy, because that’s what society tells us. Fat people are lazy. Fat people don’t want to do anything to help themselves. Fat people are disgusting. Fat people could change their ways if they wanted to. Fat people lack “energy.”

And then there’s this thing within higher ed called #saFit. While there could be many benefits to this movement, I think that it can also be extremely harmful. A couple of the plus-sized people in the thread mentioned this movement and said they had received unsolicited advice from those who participated in order to “help” them. I also know of many offices that compete in weight loss competitions or go to Weight Watchers together. My question is, what does that do to the person who is plus-sized in these offices and doesn’t participate in these functions? And what does that say about what higher ed folks believe about weight in general?

Some offices take it too far. I know of a department where they were forced to take a “health assessment” and participate in a mandatory water drinking competition. MANDATORY.

Health is a singular experience. By that I mean that it is only the person who knows how healthy they are. Someone’s weight may not necessarily relate to their health. But we all assume it does. We want people to be healthy, sure. But only that person can tell you whether or not they are. And really it’s NO ONE ELSE’S BUSINESS.

Even if someone is “unhealthy”, does that mean that they are worth less? Does that mean they are treated like a second-class citizen? We place so much importance on this as a field, but I think that it is very misguided. We have a lot of work to do as far as this goes.

So, if you have an opportunity to hire individuals in your department, ask yourselves what you are presenting and promoting during your interviewing process. What questions do you ask? What factors do you consider during decision making? Because there are a lot of biases when it comes to weight within higher ed, as seen on that post.

STOP SHAMING.

I have been very bothered recently by a video that’s been going around of sorority women at a baseball game.

The women are not really paying attention to the game. They are looking at their phones, taking selfies, and posing for pictures with each other. And the announcers are making fun of them. “Oh, does this one look better than the other 300 that I’ve taken?” an announcer mocks. They also finish announcing a play, pan to the girls and say “And nobody noticed!” They also make comments about how they should take away their phones and not give them back until the end of the game.

The number of people that have shared this mocking the women makes me infuriated. And I’ll tell you why. I’m assuming that people think this video is a representation of a. That these girls don’t care about sports. b. They are selfish, too into themselves and their beauty and c. They should not be there if they are not paying attention to the game. and d. They are a billboard for “this generation” and it is “horrible.”

What I don’t understand is that obviously there was not much going on important in the game, otherwise THE CAMERA WOULD BE ON THE GAME AND NOT THE GIRLS. So why are people so angry? If there’s a lull in the action, why wouldn’t they check their phones?

And hey, have you ever gone to a concert and taken a selfie with your friends during the concert? Have you ever gone to an event and had a few adult beverages and now can’t remember exactly what happened? Have you ever answered your phone while you’ve been out with friends? Have you ever taken a picture of yourself IN GENERAL? Then technically you’re doing the same exact thing that the women were doing, and you should not be shaming them for that. And you know what? The women were paying customers. That means they get to do WHATEVER THEY WANT during the game. If they choose not to pay attention, so be it. Maybe they wanted to experience the atmosphere and not necessarily watch the game. But they should be able to do that. Because they PAID to.

I guess what bothers me most is this video and the comments that people are making perpetuates stereotypes. “Girls don’t understand sports. Girls love taking selfies. Girls shouldn’t be able to go to a game and not pay attention. Sorority girls are dumb. This generation cares about nothing other than themselves.”

The College Panhellenic Association at Arizona State University, where the womresponseen were from, had a beautiful response to the comments going around.

In case you can’t read the photo, it states, “…(We do) not condone the sexist and misogynistic comments made towards the women in the Panhellenic community…We support the women of Alpha Chi Omega who have been subjected to inappropriate an inexcusable media attention. We believe the comments are undermining women’s confidence, projecting negative stereotypes intended to demean and diminish the worth of our fellow sorority women and ASU students, and continue to promote a sexist environment within professional sports.” It then goes on to list the many accomplishments of the women in the sorority and the great things that they have done. The final paragraph states, “We cannot sit silent nor idle as our fellow women are treated in such a chauvinistic way. We want to take this opportunity to educate all those who have participated in these negative comments on the importance of respecting women and how their words have a greater impact on breaking the glass ceiling of women’s rights.”

I found this response on Facebook posted under the video of the women, and thought it was perfect. Apparently other people did not though, and went so far as to question why you “can’t call a girl a girl these days.”

FIRST of all, they are not “girls”, they are women. SECOND of all, things that perpetuate stereotypes like these or even jokes made about women that are “not harmful” are actually indeed harmful. These ideas contribute to an environment where people think it is okay to think these things about women and continue to escalate the cycle of privilege and oppression. So to some people, I’m sure I’m “overreacting.” But I’m tired of hearing that women are vain. I’m tired of hearing they can’t be into “manly things” such as sports. I am tired of hearing that this generation is doomed because we are glued to technology. Because you know what? It’s not just this generation that’s glued into technology; Everyone contributes to a society where technology is so valued as it is today.

I am grateful that I work with college students, because although I do have to deal with negative situations, I also deal with extremely positive ones. I have watched students help each other. I have watched students fight for their rights and the rights of others. I have watched a group of women in a sorority put on events that are philanthropic in nature and contribute positively to society. I have watched a group of young black men hold an event to talk about stereotypes and share their voice in order to break the cycle of oppression. I witness sisterhood. I witness brotherhood. I witness random acts of kindness. And I get to see these things every day. So I may be privileged in that regard, because I don’t think this generation is doomed. It may be, though, if people continue to spread things that demean others and continue to hold them back. But I won’t sit idly by and watch it happen, because I know we can do better.