Despite a growing social movement toward body positivity and away from shaming, some bosses may still deem people to be “too fat” to get a promotion. That’s especially true for white women, who may find that the higher their body mass index, the lower their wages, and vice versa, according to a study from Cornell University.
While previous studies have linked obesity with decreased wages, this report also measures the connection between weight and wage over time, and across gender and race. Findings reveal that white American men and women have long maintained a consistent preference for thinness in women and more of a body norm for men — one that’s neither too thin nor too fat — that dictates pay scale, whereas in black communities, larger bodies are increasingly socially accepted and less penalized.
“It looks like obesity is in the eye of the beholder,” co-author Vida Maralani, associate professor of sociology at Cornell, told EurekAlert. “People are judged differently depending on who they are. ‘Too fat’ in the medical world is objective. You can measure it. But in the social world, it’s not. It’s subjective.”
She continued, “We find quite consistent patterns for white Americans across outcomes and over time. For white men, there was a penalty both for being too thin and for being too fat. For white women, thinner was nearly always better. For African-Americans, the link between body mass and these outcomes dissipates. … People seem to have become more accepting of larger bodies. But that’s not true for whites.”
The study points out that not all obese people experience the same social implications. Maralani adds, “I think our focus on the medical definition of obesity has led us to lose track of the fact that, in the social world, we have quite subjective and fluid definitions of what it means to be fat or thin for different groups.”
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