When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie revealed he underwent Lap-Band surgery last month, it instantly fueled speculation that it was at least in part about his 2016 presidential aspirations. True or not, there are valid reasons to consider that weight loss as a powerful tool in helping him to the highest office in the land.
All you have to do is look at the people who hold the highest positions in private companies. According to a 2009 study, just five percent of CEOs in the U.S. were obese (with a BMI over 30).
If you drop down to the overweight classification (a BMI between 25 and 29), there is a dramatic difference, but only for male CEOs. The 2009 study estimated between 45 and 61 percent of top male CEOs are overweight. Only five percent of overweight CEOs are women.
What would account for such a major gender gap? Women already fight an unfair uphill battle for wage equality, so one can probably safely assume a significant double standard in how men and women with weight issues are perceived.
“It appears that the glass ceiling effect on women’s advancement may reflect not only general negative stereotypes about the competencies of women, but also weight bias that results in the application of stricter appearance standards to women,” said study co-author Mark Roehling, Michigan State University associate professor of human resource management.
The general public sees weight as a major barrier for everyone. A 2012 study by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 95 percent of Americans feel obesity will lead to discrimination.
But if you want to get a more accurate picture of the career difficulties for the obese, take a look at how the people who do the hiring act. A 2012 study of 127 HR professionals found that they “underestimated the occupational prestige” of obese people. Obese women got the worst of it. To make it even worse, they also overestimated the prestige for people at a normal weight.
While discrimination is a major problem in career in advancement opportunities for obese individuals, many may not even give themselves a chance due to a lack of self-esteem and confidence. Besides the obvious reasons of fitting into the aesthetic ideals and expectations of our society, there are well-intentioned campaigns that may do more harm than good.
Some Obesity Campaigns Do More Harm Than Good
There was a study last September that asserts public health campaigns stigmatize the very people they are trying to help. People were surveyed in the US, UK, and Australia about some of these campaigns. The one they felt was most stigmatizing was the Australian campaign titled “Childhood Obesity is Child Abuse.”
Is there maybe some philosophical merit to that assertion? Possibly. But making those parents recoil in a defensive manner won’t make the desired goals any easier.
People who struggle with obesity fight a two-pronged battle against discrimination and self-esteem demons that make it even more difficult to exhibit the confidence to succeed. It’s not impossible to find career success while still being overweight or obese, but in an ever-competitive job market, it’s an extra hurdle none of us should have to climb.