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.

NEW SERIES: Higher Ed Plus-Back to School Supplies and Essentials!

Hello friends!

I’m excited to introduce a new series to this blog-Higher Ed Plus. Being plus-sized or fat within student affairs and higher education comes with its own unique set of challenges. Even though I’ve wrote about it a little on this blog, I realized I have a lot more to say on this topic. However, I realize I come with my own set of privileges being a white, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class woman. I can only speak to my experience with all of that in mind. However, I think it would be great if I someday have contributors to this blog that come from different backgrounds to speak to their experience being plus-sized in the field. I think this is something that is not spoken about often enough, and we do a disservice to ourselves and to our students by being quiet about this issue.

But for now, I’m going to start this series with a Back to School haul of sorts, if you will.  Our Resident Assistants moved back in for training this week…the summer flew by! Therefore, this past Saturday was the last day I would be able to go clothes shopping before the semester started. I believe it’s time to amp up my wardrobe, and so I wanted to  get some things and be a little more prepared for my semester. However, as I will describe later, it proved to be VERY difficult, as per the usual, to find some things that I wanted.

But first, let’s start with the “wellness” items I bought.

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This year I know that I need to be more focused on my overall well-being. My work/life balance was a little out of place last year. I’ll talk more about this later but I’ve been slowly taking steps to ensure that I am in a good place to focus on that. So I stopped by Bath and Body Works, and they were having a sale on candles-$10 off! I smelled the Autumn Day one and I couldn’t resist, and candles actually help me relax. Next, I was running low on my body scrub and couldn’t find the one I love which is upsetting (it’s a summer scent though so I guess not surprising).  A Thousand Wishes is a really nice smelling scent and it can be used in all seasons. Next, I was also running low on the Stress Relief shower gel that I am in love with. They recently came out with new scents for Stress Relief, and I got the cedarwood and sage scent. I also bought two car air fresheners-one fall scented (Leaves) and the Stress Relief one (because hi, it’s August in Higher Ed). The Stress Relief one I put right in my car and it’s SO good.

Next I went to Lush. I have been wanting to try a bath bomb for a while, especially since I’ve taken to watching bath bomb demos on YouTube…don’t ask. I bought one that would be really relaxing and luxurious, so I bought one with cocoa butter in it. I’ll probably use it either right before or after opening.

Finally, not pictured here, I went to Sephora and got the sample pack of the Glam Glow Supermud mask. If you haven’t heard of Glam Glow before, you should really look it up. It’s a mask that pulls all of the dirt, oil, and impurities in your skin…and you can see it on your face as it dries. Some people may find that gross, but I find it fascinating. It also works extremely well. After I use it, my pores are smaller and extremely clean, and my face feels so good. It’s not pictured because I put it on my face as soon as I got home, as I’d been sweating a lot lately and wanted to clean up my face.

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Next, I bought a whiteboard, some markers, and magnets. I wanted to create a vision board out of these items. I’ve created vision boards before, but nothing has seemed to stick. I wanted something that I’d be able to update and change easily if my vision changes. I believe this will help me be more focused on balance and wellness, and remind me of the things I want to accomplish this year.

 

 

 

 

But now, let’s get into the clothes.

torrid

Don’t mind my foot…

I picked a few things up from Torrid. They were having a really good sale, buy one get two free on Clearance items, but honestly I didn’t find anything. It was really disappointing, but I did find a couple of staple items that my wardrobe needs!

First of all, I bought a really colorful peach blazer. It’s so pretty and goes well with my skin tone. I bought the flowered tank top to match with it. I figure once I get some other jewelry I can also wear some solids with it, but for now the flowered top will do. I also got a jean jacket because I love the look of a maxi dress with jean jackets in the fall. Then I bought this really gorgeous purple chiffon top. It looks great under sweaters or just by itself. I was disappointed I couldn’t find anything in clearance and hated that I was about to pay full price, but the cashier took pity on me and used a code so that I got $50 off! BLESS YOU, AMAZING CASHIER.

I tried on a few pairs of pants, and I also wanted to find a skirt, but I wasn’t able to find anything. It was a little disappointing, but for some reason the styles that I tried did not fit me. However, this trend unfortunately continued.

lane bryant.jpgAt Lane Bryant, I found some items that I have been looking for since last year! I got a sports bra because I have recently joined the local YMCA. I also got a chambray shirt, and another gray blouse that could go with the peach blazer I bought. Again, I struck out with pants or skirts. I don’t know what’s going on! It could be the styles that I am trying in the stores but I know my size hasn’t changed because I have other pants the same size that still fit me. This is the struggle, not just with plus-size brands but with all brands. Sizes mean different things at different stores, or even within the same stores. It makes shopping that much more frustrating…especially for plus-size people. To make matters worse, everything is so expensive, especially for plus-size people looking to buy work-appropriate attire. There are not many plus-size brands that have business casual clothes either. I struggle a lot to find things, and I know I’m not the only one.

But, I know that I found a lot of great items and I’m excited to use and wear them all. I am still on the hunt for more pants/skirts, but will have to look online for them apparently…and I need to wait until I get paid again to shop some more.

If anyone wants the prices of anything I bought feel free to reach out! I kept all of the receipts.

If anyone would like to contribute to the Higher Ed Plus series, you can contact me on Twitter at @dani_a_johnson.

Judgments and the Job Search

I recently had the opportunity to present to undergraduates, graduate students, and new professionals at a conference. My presentation was about the job search and little tips and tricks I learned along the way. One of those things was regarding professional dress.

“Does anyone follow #SAChat on Twitter?” I asked. A few people raised their hands. “This has been a really hot topic lately.” .

“Here’s the thing: you are going to be judged based on your appearance during your job search. Is that right or fair? I don’t know. But it’s going to happen. So you really need to put some thought and effort into how you are going to present yourself. My suggestion would be to get a second opinon. I’m all for expressing yourself and feeling comfortable in what you’re wearing, but I would think about what outfits you want to wear prior to the conference and ask a colleague or mentor what their opinion is.”

A little while later, I could see some raised eyebrows in the room when I talked about color choices. “My mentor told me that for an initial interview, don’t wear red. Red is bold and bright, sure, but some people could see it as agressive subconsciously. That would be a more appropriate color to wear at a second interview.”

Honestly? It sucks that I had to say all of that. But after a lifetime of being judged based off of my appearance, it’s a fact that I’ve come to know pretty well.

PEOPLE JUDGE.

And honestly, it’s not all our fault. We are hardwired to recognize things about other people because, way back in the day (like caveman times), humans had to make split second decisions about whether or not someone or something was safe based on their appearance. And unfortunately, we still do it today. But, that doesn’t mean we necessarily have to follow through with what we initially think about people. I know that, because of my body type, people may initially look at me and think that I am lazy and do not care about my appearance. My hope is that, while people may think that at first, they get to know me and see that it is not the case at all. I work extremely hard for what I have, and I know that I am beautiful and a really good person. My other hope is that soon our profession will be able to judge not on appearance but also in quality of work as well.

The reason I told that to the attendees at the conference is because I want them to do the best they possibly can in their job search. As it stands right now, I do not think that the Student Affairs profession is ready to look past the way people present themselves as an initial judgement of whether or not they want to hire candidates. But you can bet that I will be challenging those who judge potential candidates based on how they present themselves. And slowly but surely, maybe we can change this culture around. It starts with us!

The Developer in Me

Recently at a RA In-Service, we began talking about our Strengths (based on StrengthsQuest).  We broke out into our staff groups and were asked to share with each other the Strength that you really identify with.

My Strengths, in order, are Positivity, Empathy, Developer, Includer, and Consistency. When I first took the test two years ago I thought…okay, this makes sense. I’m definitely an optimist, and I love making others happy. Empathy and Includer relate to my love for people and my passion for treating them all the same, which also fits in with Consistency. But I did not really know what Developer meant. Once I read the description and looked back on my career, I thought, wow. This is really cool. It is the Strength that I have grown to admire the most about myself.

My StrengthsReport reads:

“People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.”

I feel as though this is the reason why I’ve gone into Higher Ed and why I love it so much. I can see what my students can be before they even realize it, and sometimes they just need a little push in the right direction. I love being able to say I was the one who helped a student realize their true path, since I admire and appreciate those who have helped me in my path. I love helping students figure out what they’re meant to be. My StrengthsReport also says that I enjoy when my words of encouragement push other people to excel. This is so me, to a “T”.

The only problem with having the Developer skill is that I place the needs of others ahead of my own way too often. My report states: “By nature, you sometimes throw yourself into your work even when you are personally inconvenienced.” It is, unfortunately, very true. I sometimes feel like I’m not doing my job if I don’t go out of my way to help a student. However, it’s important for me to realize that A) I can’t help everyone and B) I need to take more time to myself and not devote so much time to others. I love helping people, but I should not be willing to put my own health and sanity at risk for them. For me, there is just no better feeling than knowing I’ve helped someone…but I should realize that I can’t help others if I’m not in a good enough place or if I’m not helping myself.

A few days ago I recieved a message from one of my former RAs asking for help in her graduate school search. I was thrilled that she reached out to me and was happy to provide her with information. She then posting a status on Facebook thanking me and our former supervisor for helping her. It’s situations like that that absolutely make this job worth it. The fact that I can keep connections with former students and am able to help them even while living on opposite ends of the country makes me the happiest I have ever felt. It’s just the Developer in me.

 

“The Power of Vulnerability”-A guide to “Wholehearted Living”, and Confidence

Almost as soon as I published my last post…I began to struggle with my one word: confidence. Ironically I began to feel less confident. We were going through professional staff training and some of the sessions were really hard for me. I began to question whether I was good enough to be doing my job. I was frustrated and wondered why it was so hard for me to let my guard down. I thought about how I could be more confident. But still the thought of “I’m not good enough” kept running through my mind.

Surprisingly it ended up being a theme within our staff, and so our supervisors decided to show us the video above. Everything began to make sense.

I hate being vulnerable. I feel like because I am a woman, because I am young, and because I have a different body type, I already feel like I’m more suseptible to vulnerability. As mentioned in previous posts, I have never felt very confident. I think because of this, I have a hard time initially making connections with people. It’s funny because I’m an extrovert and I love people, but it is the hardest thing for me to let new people in and for me to trust them. In addition, I cannot stand crying in public. Even though it’s a natural thing, I feel like I’m showing others that I’m weak, that I can’t be strong, and that I am not capable of handling myself.

Brene Brown talks about how people who were living “wholeheartedly” embraced their vulnerability. They saw it as something that is necessary in life, “the way to live is with vulnerability”. And after viewing this, I understand now that vulnerability and confidence are connected.

I can’t have “confidence” as my one word unless I embrace my vulnerability, until I realize that I am worthy, that I am capable, and that I need to show others who I really am. This means showing my feelings. This means telling people about who I really am. This means that I need to let my guard down and let people in.

Now, as a supervisor and working in Residence Life, I’ll need to be a different kind of vulnerable. Some things are not appropriate to share with staff members or with residents. However, if I make a mistake I need to own it. If I’m struggling with something that affects my work life, I need to make others aware. I need to role model how to properly and healthily deal with emotions, and not make myself numb in order to look strong or capable. I need to ask for help and input. But I also need to believe that I was hired for a reason and that I am capable of doing this job and that I am worthy of everything I’m achieving. I need to put myself out there.

So now, the “One Word” movement has another, additional step for me-but that’s okay. I believe everything happens for a reason, and so I needed to see this video in order to fully be able to be and think confidence. And if I can both embrace vulnerability and be confident, I think I will be a better individual, professional, and citizen of the world.

One word: Confidence

I want to feel brave enough to do anything I put my mind to!

Recently I came upon the “One Word” Movement. I was reading through some old documents and saw that the building I’m currently running had decided to do this as a staff. Essentially people who choose to do this will pick one word that they want to live up to for the entire year…kind of like a New Year’s resolution, only more manageable. I found this a profound idea, and from the documents I was reading it seemed like the students and staff really took to it. Not only that, but they said it helped them set goals and they actually saw a real improvement in themselves.
Then, yesterday, I read this article that essentially stated the same thing, with a twist-a man decided to change his password to something he wanted to accomplish-forgiving his ex-wife. He found it very healing, very cathartic, and over time he began to set goals for himself by changing his password. It was a reminder every day to do the things he wanted to do-and he found these one word phrases to be very powerful in his life. To anyone who says words can’t hurt or do nothing, I beg to differ. But anywho…
I’ve decided to join the movement. What better time than my first professional job than to come up with a “New Year’s Resolution” of sorts? And so, for me, my word is going to be one of the things I find to be the hardest: confidence.
It’s hard to say when my struggle with self-acceptance began, but I think it started when I was young. I’d always been chubby, and my family has always been very body-conscious. I’ve struggled with that my whole life. Then to top that off, my brother and I are 14 months apart, with me being the elder. He did well in school while I struggled. He was athletic while I was more creative and musically inclined. Even though it was unintentional (or at least I hope it was), there was definitely some competition and rivalry between us. I think it’s these factors that made me self-conscious. I just wanted to be accepted and loved by everyone…and I still do. It was a hard thing for me to realize that no matter how nice I am, no matter how well I sing, no matter how I look, no matter how much I try to make other people happy, not everyone is going to like me. However, that didn’t stop me from trying. It got to this really unhealthy point where I realized I was only doing things because other people told me to, not because I truly enjoyed them. That’s when I started doing things for me.
It has been a rocky road. I almost didn’t go to grad school. I had trouble finding an assistantship, and then when I did I was lonely. But I grew. I grew so much that I was honored as the Graduate Assistant of the Year. Then the job search struggles happened. I learned to just be myself and that it wasn’t always about me, it was about fit. That was hard, wondering if I fit somewhere that I really liked. But eventually I’ve found my new job, and like my last post mentioned, I’m unbelievably happy. But I still struggle with confidence, and wondering if other people like me.
The thing is, I know that they loved me here and that’s why they hired me. They believed I would fit in with the other people and that I would make a great addition to the team. I am going to try my best and my hardest to make sure that I am a great addition, but I also need to believe that I already am. I have what it takes. I’ve got skills. I’m competent. I can do this. As for other people liking me…well, if they don’t, at least they respect me. Again, not everyone is going to like you. People naturally bond with other people. But I’m here to do a job, and as long as I have my colleague’s trust and respect, that’s all I need.
So my word for this year is “confidence”. Every time I feel unworthy, I’m going to think this word. Every time I question a decision, I’ll remember to trust myself and my abilities. Every time I feel like I’m feeling vulnerable, I’m going to remember to be confident. And in the end, I hope I really will feel confidence in myself without having to try. I want it to come naturally. I believe in the power of one word, and I welcome the changes this word will bring.