Does skinny equal successful? Luke Malone – The Sydney Morning Herald
Luke Malone November 28, 2011 – 9:16AM
The Sydney Morning Herald
If there’s one thing that we can learn from Kelly Osbourne, it’s that a reduced waistline can do great things for your career. This is in no way meant to detract from any hard work she may have put in over the years, but, as her stint on Dancing With The Stars illustrated, the more weight she loses the more credible she seemingly becomes.
Once demonised in the press for her outspoken anti-Hollywood persona, Osbourne’s public image has changed as radically as her figure. In just two years she’s made the leap from rehab habituee to red carpet reporter as the host of US style show Fashion Police. With her gig as the face of Madonna’s Material Girl clothing line, she’s assumed an aura of cool chic and cemented her new status as fashion arbiter.
Osbourne is well aware of the role weight loss has played in her transition from whipping girl to media darling. She freely admits that her perceived weight problem was a much bigger issue for the media than her confessed drug abuse.
“I took more hell for being fat than I did for being an absolute raging drug addict,” she said. “I will never understand that.”
She’s not the only one.
Though the very hilarious Melissa McCarthy of Bridesmaids has been attracting attention for all the right reasons lately, she’s an anomaly in an industry that maintains its fascination with women’s waist measurements. Even those few size somethings who do manage to succeed – think Jennifer Hudson, Magda Szubanski and Oprah – have fought very public battles with their figures.
While no one begrudges an individual’s attempts to improve their health, the attention paid to the weight woes of these otherwise talented women is unsettling. Lauded as heroes when they shift a few kilos, they are seen as, well, big fat failures when they don’t. And this alignment of form and function isn’t the sole preserve of the entertainment world, either.
Recent US studies show that overweight women across many sectors earn 12-15 per cent less than their non-obese counterparts, while also struggling with a lack of promotions and wrongful terminations. And that’s if they can land a job in the first place.
“Many times individuals affected by obesity have expressed a reluctance on the part of a potential employer to hire them based on their physical appearance,” said James Zervios of the Obesity Action Coalition. “The employer may feel that the candidate will miss work due to health reasons or will not be able to perform job duties. All of this makes it difficult for individuals affected to find employment.”
Though worker health and public liability is an issue frequently raised when discussing the impact of a literally expanding workforce, it’d be more convincing if the same obloquy were applied to those popping down for a cigarette every hour or chugging down 10 cups of coffee each day. Workplace health initiatives should be applauded but there is more that could be done when it comes to protecting the rights of those whose size extends well into the double digits.
“Obesity discrimination is the last acceptable form of discrimination. An individual in the work place must be judged on their intellect and not their size,” added Zervios. “Size has no relevance regarding an individual’s workplace capabilities. We wouldn’t judge or discriminate based on any other disease; therefore, we should extend the disease of obesity the same respect.”
Anyone who disagrees need only look at the comments made by Kyle Sandilands last week to see a very real example of someone aligning a woman’s weight with her professional ability. Not exactly a ripped Adonis himself, his diatribe shines a light on the gendered double standard when it comes to weight and the workplace. With women expected to fall into line while men are free to punch another few holes in their belts, Carina Garland, a gender and cultural studies lecturer at Sydney University, says it’s due, in part, to the fact that men have historically been the breadwinners whereas a woman’s status was dependant on her looks and ability to find a husband. Though times have changed, we are still experiencing the hangover of these outdated values.
“Despite shifts over history, women are still looked at and evaluated in relation to the way that they look more than men are,” she explained. “This scrutiny is not just about a woman’s body, but about the values attached to it. A non-normative body invites questions about why it is that the woman being scrutinised doesn’t conform to a particular model of femininity or beauty. There would be a range of reasons why women’s appearances are the way they are, but often negative values that imply laziness or craziness are attached to this scrutiny.”
But while physical appearance remains a determining factor for some employers when it comes to hiring, recruitment experts say there has been a positive shift in recent decades and it’s gradually becoming a non-issue.
“It is expertise, not age, body shape, religion or any other discriminatory factors that determines success … If clients choose to be selective based on physical appearance, they may actually miss out on the best applicant for the role,” said Nigel Heap, Managing Director of Hays Recruitment. “We believe things are improving on this front and that it simply comes down to education for both employers and candidates.”