Weight a minute

-Hannah Mead, MCPP Intern, 2008

Having long since sworn off G-rated animated films, I haven’t seen WALL-E. But the UK’s Telegraph reports:

WALL-E has garnered rave reviews for its satire on consumer culture, in which future humans are depicted as a group of obese gluttons who never leave their padded floating arm chairs.

But one group is not amused – the swelling ranks of fat pride groups, who believe the film propagates anti-obesity hysteria comparable with the quest for the perfect body by the eugenics movement in Nazi Germany.


Research published in April by Yale University’s Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity suggests they might have a point. It found that one in eight people now complain of weight discrimination, up from one in 14 a decade ago. The report compared the impact on victims compares with racism and sexism.

OK, OK, OK. Let’s step back and think about this. Fundamentally, any choice involves discrimination. If I must pick one employee out of a field of dozens of competent applicants, I discriminate. I may discriminate based on education, experience, accomplishments, demeanor, verve, eloquence or whatever — this is all acceptable today.

What folks object to is discrimination based on something unrelated to the job at hand. While race is not relevant and gender rarely is, weight may be. Unlike gender, race, and even hair color (as a blond, I have faced my share of people assuming I’m dumb), weight is to some extent controlled by the individual regardless of genes. Certainly some folks have a genetic predisposition to more heaviness, but some amount of it is due to lifestyle choices — choices that may not fall in line with a business’s goals. Maybe employers shouldn’t choose an employee based on appearances, but we all know we have to look groomed and well-dressed for interviews. Why? It indicates care and respect. That may be unfair in some cases, but that’s part of an employer’s limited information about a potential worker.

My question is: What else will fall under unacceptable discrimination? Will we soon object to discrimination based on aspects that are entirely under an individual’s control? Will lack of promptness be rejected as a basis for employment decisions?

There’s no way to completely automate hiring decisions; part of it will always be based on personalities, first impressions, and assumptions. Sometimes we come up short on those, and often those quick judgments are false. But those quick judgments are also unavoidable — we can never know what’s really going on inside someone, so when we have to make decisions about them we must go on external evidence. And when people underestimate me because I am blond, that only makes it that much more satisfying when I prove them wrong.


2 thoughts on “Weight a minute

  1. Two Things:

    1- People, even those who have sworn off G-movies (What a shame!) should go and see WALL-E. It is an incredibly thought provoking movie if give it even the slightest chance.

    2- The creators of WALL-E, in contrast to the mass media, did not produce a movie about environmentalism or obesity. Those facets of the film are simply tools the creators used to tell their story, which is actually built around exploring human nature. The creators introduced a major reversal in making WALL-E, a janitorial robot, the most human thing in the galaxy. In fact, it becomes his job to restore humans to humanity. That is the central theme of the movie: how do we measure, lose, and regain our humanity?

    The film asks several other good questions as well. It looks at the role of technology and how that distances us from the natural world. It also communicates that love is more powerful than “destiny” in having robots contradict their programming to love one another. (If only A.I. could ever get that far!) There’s a lot more to the movie than many are giving it credit. Check out more of the story here: http://www.worldmag.com/articles/14127

  2. From MichiganVotes.org (http://www.michiganvotes.org/SearchLegislation.aspx?Keywords=prohibit+employers)

    2007 House Bill 4927 (Ban employment decisions based on family health status )
    Introduced by Rep. Kathleen Law on June 14, 2007, to prohibit an employer from making employment decisions based on the health or illness of an employee’s family member, or asking a current or prospective employee about this except for a health insurance claim or for employee leave purposes.
    Passed in the House (58 to 50) on May 15, 2008.

    2007 House Bill 4926 (Prohibit employer policies on body type or fitness )
    Introduced by Rep. Hoon-Yung Hopgood on June 14, 2007, to prohibit an employer from having a policy against employing an individual on the basis of an individual’s body type, degree of physical fitness, or other physical characteristics, to the extent that these are not an “established, bona fide occupational requirement,” or that they impair an employment activity or responsibility.
    Passed in the House (57 to 51) on May 15, 2008.

    2007 House Bill 4887 (Ban employment decisions based on credit history )
    Introduced by Rep. Fred Miller on June 7, 2007, to prohibit an employer from making employment decisions based on an individual’s credit history, unless a good credit history is an established bona fide occupational requirement of a particular position.
    Passed in the House (57 to 51) on May 15, 2008.

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