Should We Have Legal Protection Against Fat Discimination?

Two sociologists make a compelling case for eradicating fat stigma. Even with legal protection, it's going to be a formidable task.

In 2002, Jennifer Portnic tried to start a Jazzercise franchise, but the company worried that a 240-pound woman might jeopardize the company’s reputation. Portnick argued that she was a perfectly capable aerobics instructor and brought a complaint before the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, which ruled in her favor.

Americans aren't just increasingly overweight, we're also getting less and less tolerant of overweight people. We attack people for gaining weight as if it's the result of a character flaw or a lack of personal responsibility. But no individual consumer can be blamed for the web of social factors that contribute to obesity—like health care, the environment, and the cost and availability of healthy food.

In an article in Contexts [PDF], sociologists Samantha Kwan and Mary Nell Trautner argue for an official stance on fighting fat stigma. What if we made weight a protected legal category and banned discrimination based on size­­ After all, they write:

the public health crisis of obesity might be better labeled a moral panic. [Scholarly] researchers argue that one can be both overweight and healthy. As such, they downplay waistline measurements, weight preoccupation, and fat reduction, moving to emphasize specific behavioral patterns and healthy lifestyles, not simple dieting.


Given our culture's overriding preoccupation with thinness as both a moral and physical ideal, it's going to be tough to get people to extricate the issue of weight from the issue of health, even if we make it law. Consider the extreme reaction to Michelle Obama eating a hamburger for lunch—just once—while trumpeting her "Let's Move" initiative. Imagine the backlash if she paired "Let's Move" with "Let's Accept Fat," too.

Photo (cc) by Flickr user sylvar

via David Leavitt / Twitter and RealTargetTori / Twitter

Last Friday, GOOD reported on an infuriating incident that went down at a Massachusetts Target.

A Target manager who's come to be known as "Target Tori," was harassed by Twitter troll David Leavitt for not selling him an $89 Oral-B Pro 5000 toothbrush for a penny.

He describes himself as a "multimedia journalist who has worked for CBS, AXS, Yahoo, and others."

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via David Leavitt / Twitter

Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows that the worst thing about the job, right after the pay, are the unreasonable cheapskates who "want to talk to your manager" to get some money off an item.

They think that throwing a tantrum will save them a few bucks and don't care if they completely embarrass themselves in the process. Sometimes that involves belittling the poor employee who's just trying to get through their day with an ounce of dignity.

Twitter is rallying around a gal named Tori who works at a Target in Massachusetts after she was tweet-shamed by irate chapekate, journalist, and Twitter troll, David Leavitt.

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via Haldean Brown / Flickr

In a typical work day, people who smoke take more breaks than those who do not. Every few hours they pop outside to have a smoke and usually take a coworker with them.

Don Bryden, Managing director at KCJ Training and Employment Solutions in Swindon, England, thinks that nonsmokers and smokers should be treated equally, so he's giving those who refrain from smoking four extra days to compensate.

Funny enough, Bryden is a smoker himself.

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