-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.