As a fat person, I hate the first weeks of January with a burning passion.
After each holiday season, there is seemingly no escape from the weight loss industrial complex. Social media is awash with weight loss ads, people are constantly posting fitness goals, and gyms are in-your-face talking about “beach bodies.” The entire world embraces the eating disorder I worked so hard to escape while gleefully saying, “Your body shouldn’t exist.” To be honest, the world does a pretty good job all year long, but it really kicks up its game this time of year.
Before I started working remotely, I dreaded the office kitchen in early January, where almost every conversation included how “bad” people had eaten on vacation and how “good” they must be now.
The worst was when he showed up at work. You might be able to easily report social ads and mute friends, but how do I escape an email from HR encouraging staff to join a team weight loss challenge with monthly weigh-ins? Or a boss who encourages her entire team to buy Fitbits so they can compete in daily steps? (Both were real things that happened at two of my previous jobs.)
Employers rarely seem to take fat people into account when crafting their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion goals. But creating a space for plus-size employees to feel welcome is as much about diversity and inclusion as any other group.
Before I started working remotely, I dreaded the office kitchen in early January, where almost every conversation included how “bad” people had eaten on vacation and how “good” they must be now. Staring at my colleagues as they described exercise as some kind of self-punishment for enjoying the food, all in an effort not to look like me.
I admit, it was really hard for me to realize how harmful these things were until I recovered from disordered eating and started refusing to participate. Talking about how fatphobic and ableist these kinds of “wellness programs” or incentives are for people with larger bodies, disabilities, and eating disorder experiences would often be met with a roll of the eyes or a lecture about how my employer is only encouraging.” healthy behaviors. .” Politely asking my coworkers not to talk to me about restrictive eating often led to awkward silences and few further conversations.
These kinds of programs and incentives value weight loss as healthy above all else, without taking into account the complex factors that go into measuring health. They also ignore the recommendations from studies suggesting that bias against fat and weight stigma contribute to poorer health outcomes than a high Body Mass Index (BMI). In fact, weight discrimination (which is still fully legal in 49 states) leads to poor results for fat people at work, including damage biases in the hiring process Y less pay.
So if workplace weight loss programs aren’t actually improving employee health, what are they trying to do?
As the writer and fat activist Aubrey Gordon said when discussing workplace wellness programs at a recent episode from his podcast”Maintenance Phase“: “One of the main narratives driving our understanding of and response to fat people in the world: fat people are most often discussed as a cost.”
And it’s true. Many of the arguments underlying these types of discriminatory programs are in the name of healthcare cost savings. But that argument starts to unravel quickly when you consider that fat isn’t a reliable indicator of health. According to one UCLA study published in 2016, the misuse of BMI as a measure of health incorrectly labels millions of obese Americans as unhealthy, even though by other measures, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, they are not. And yet, workplace wellness programs that focus on weight loss and other measures related to fat phobia, such as BMI and fat percentage, persist.
There isn’t much evidence to suggest that these workplace weight loss programs even reduce costs. The same “Maintenance Phase” episode noted a 2013 studywhich found that “savings for employers can come from cost shifting, with the most vulnerable employees—those from the lowest socioeconomic strata with the greatest health risks—likely bearing higher costs that in effect subsidize their lower-ranking colleagues.” healthy”.
The size of my body has nothing to do with my work. I recognize that this may sometimes not be true for certain professions (one of the many good reasons I’m not a jockey or cave diver).
Another study in 2021 notes that “if the goal is to save money by reducing health care costs and absenteeism or improving chronic physical health conditions, there is little evidence that this type of program will deliver the desired results.” Y one more for good measure: “There is no evidence that these programs work, but there is ample evidence that they are an expensive distraction and lower the business morale of businesses,” according to medical experts in a 2015 article for The American Journal of Managed Care.
So we’re shaming fat people, excluding people with disabilities, and provoking those of us recovering from eating disorders for…absolutely no reason.
For my own sanity, I have to believe that there are employers who genuinely want to support the health and wellness of their staff, and it’s not just a thinly veiled attempt to get fat and sick employees to cover healthcare costs they don’t want. pay for. Organizations and companies need to focus on how to make the workplace as safe and welcoming as possible for each of their employees. This means offering benefits that cover mental health care, paid vacation time off, sick time, and family medical leave.
One of the best workplace “wellness” benefits I have ever received from an employer is a global global stipend that I could use for reimbursement on what I felt would improve my health. I could use that benefit for a massage after a car accident, a series of classes at my favorite yoga studio, or a meal box subscription so I don’t have to plan meals every week. The incentive was to take care of myself and enjoy my work, which in turn makes me proud to work there and makes me more productive.
To help make this the rule rather than the exception, employers should ask themselves: Are older employees welcome and safe in your workplace? Staff should be reminded to never make comments about people’s bodies, like you would about race, religion, gender, or sexuality. Because they can accommodate someone with an injury or disability, workplaces need to ensure office space and travel needs accommodate plus-size employees. Office gifts and swag should be kept body neutral or offered in extended sizes for people in need. Hiring practices need to be updated to recognize and combat anti-fat bias like all other implicit biases. Health plans must offer a wide range of providers so that overweight people can see the best medical professionals for them. Weight discrimination and anti-fat bias could be included in workplace bullying training. And any workplace wellness programs that specifically encourage weight loss must be recognized as harmful and ended immediately.
The size of my body has nothing to do with my work. I recognize that this may sometimes not be true for certain professions (one of the many good reasons I’m not a jockey or cave diver). But for the vast majority of us, the workplace should be a body-neutral space. My value as an employee lies solely in my experience, skills, and contribution to the mission of our work, and that cannot be measured on a scale.