Being overweight and getting a job.

My younger sister recently had a friend, whom she’d met on the internet, stay with our parents for a couple months. I’ll call her Mary. Mary is from Arkansas and decided she wanted to live in California, so she worked out this deal with my parents where she rented out the spare room for a below-market rent while she looked for a job. The agreed upon two months came to an end last week, and Mary still didn’t have a job, so she moved in with another friend. She seems pretty depressed about the whole thing.

Mary’s residence in the house overlapped with my own by a couple weeks, and I spent some amount of time with her. She’s about 25 or 26, she has a BA, she’s intelligent and very well-spoken. She’s also morbidly obese. I would guess that her weight is in the 375-400 lbs. range.

My dad is of the opinion that the reason she’s having so much trouble getting a job is that she is so overweight. He thinks that maybe in Arkansas, she didn’t stand out so much, but here in California, it’s more noticeable. But I think that this has a lot to do with him being annoyed at her for eating his food for the last two months (she is definitely overweight because her eating habits are terrible, not because of [or not solely because of] her genetics). The Arkansas v. California thing also bugs me - my parents are pretty provincial. But maybe they have a point, I don’t know.

For the record, Mary wants to work in the social service sector, but I think at this point, she’d take anything. She went on a number of job interviews, but never actually got hired for anything. In fact, my sister tagged along with her at a temp agency interview, chatted with the temp agency lady and she ended up getting a job, which Mary seemed to be really depressed about.

What do you think? Is my dad right, or is he just being a jerk? Or am I being naive, and there is widespread discrimination against hiring overweight people?

It really depends where abouts in California she is to determine whether or not her appearance is that much of a stronger factor than it was in Arkansas. In Newport Beach, I might I agree with your dad. . . in Bakersfield, not so much. Hollywood vs Modesto, same thing.

Just a quick Google of “Obese employment” brings up all kinds of articles and studies talking about obese folks being discriminated on in the work place and even just at the hiring stage, all due to their weight. It’s not some imagined thing. I mean, I think the key thing is that your friend isn’t just fat (a 250 lb woman, for instance), it sounds like she’s obese to the point where there are probably complications from it. She may be young, but if she has to struggle to walk around (which, at 400 lbs, I’m not sure how she wouldn’t. . .), that certainly makes an impression- fair or not- on her employer.

And I say all that as a fat girl myself, so it’s not some hateful discrimination I’m spewing. At least, that’s not my intent.

Absolutely people can be and are discriminated against for their weight. I think it’s worse the heavier you are. Some people have such intensity of disgust and hatred for very fat people based only on their weight, that they can barely treat them as human.

That said, I have an intelligent and well-spoken but socially awkward friend who weighs 400 lbs, moves very slowly because of it, and smells funny (not terrible, but it’s noticeable) and she’s had no problem staying employed through college, and now afterward. She is still looking for a ‘real’ job to use her degree for but has gotten and held a lot of other jobs in the meantime. Right now she is working full-time at Macy’s.

Ouch. I’d be depressed, too.

Yes, yes, yes. Ask any fat person, and I imagine you’ll hear of several examples.

Employers may be afraid of a negative public image, broken furniture, having to make special accomodations, or may just not like to be around large folks. Since it’s not a legally protected class, they don’t have to worry about an “acceptable” reason.

Whatever problems or opinions your dad has concerning her in other respects, I think he’s dead right about the job thing.

There are things that have to be considered regarding weight/size, like needing special office equipment, simply being unable to do things, or appearance/hygiene (some people are so large they can’t clean as well) if public interaction is part of the job. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a factor in her not getting a job, but it’s also true that a lot of well-qualified people are still out of work. It took me 8 months to find a job, and I’m in an area where the economy has been considerably better than much of the country.

250 pounds is not “just fat” by any measure, it’s obese, and in fact for anyone under 5’7" it’s considered extremely obese. (obesity starts at 155 pounds for a 5’ woman, 190 pounds for a 5’6" woman, etc.).

“Just fat” for a woman around 5’3" would be more in the range of 150-160 pounds. My how our perceptions of fatness in America have been skewed.

Are you sure she is the 375-400 lb range? I don’t mean to impugn your weight-estimating skills, but that is very, very large, particularly for someone so young.

I would tend to think it is a discriminatory thing. After all, if someone is that overweight, they clearly don’t care that much about their health, and will likely be missing a lot of days due to sickness, depression, and all kinds of other things that all things being equal, may equate to a poor employee. In a job market like this, a very obese person is not going to do well against other even less qualified candidates, because there is a feeling that she won’t perform. I would say the same thing if you are one of those people who grows overly long nails that inhibit your ability to type and or do certain tasks. If you showed up in an interview like that, I would naturally hold that as a strike against you.

My only thought is that she should volunteer to get her foot in the door and if she is truly awesome, they may offer her a job. But at least if she is still going to look for social work, she can do so and have practical experience on her resume rather than a growing history of unemployment. At least that way, she may stand out as more experienced than the otherwise equivalent normal weight candidate.

Sometimes being hugely obese can make one look older than they really are.

So it could be a combination of fat-hatred, ageism, and how her personality is perceived in interviews. If any hint of depression is apparent, then that alone could be doing her in.

Perhaps she should look at jobs with places like West at Home. I’m not sure if you have to do a face-to-face interview, but my sister has a job with this company–which hires people to do things like activitate cell phones and credit cards from the comfort of their own home. My sister gets paid $10 an hour and can set her own hours. It’s a great set-up for stay-at-home mothers. My sister hasn’t had any complaints.

She could also gain even more weight and get on disability, like Homer Simpson did.

Yeah, I could definitely be off, but I’m also aware of how difficult it is to estimate someone else’s weight. But I’m pretty sure I’m in the ballpark - I’m a terrible TV voyeur and I’ve totally watched stuff like Too Far For 15, where they weigh people on TV. She is, in fact, very, very large, and while she doesn’t seem to have trouble moving around the house or anything, long walks are impossible. My sister took her to San Francisco and apparently it ended poorly. In fact, the original plan was that she and my sister were planning on moving to San Francisco (my parents live in the burbs) and to be honest, I think Mary would have a very difficult time navigating the hills.

Oh jeez, slow your roll. Obviously, you are most certainly technically correct. That said, you see lots and lots of 200-250 lb women on the day to day, going about their business, and you surely don’t blink an eye because there are oodles of them. And yes, that’s certainly because we Americans sure are fat. That said, a 400 lb woman is a lot more rare and would thus stick out significantly more, that’s what I mean.

Yeah, weight may be A factor, but I wouldn’t assume it’s the only one, or even the most significant one. The economy still sucks ass. All seven? eight? temp agencies that I’m registered with completely ignore me, even though I check in every week and specifically apply to various job postings that I qualify for. I can go months without work (I think the last project I had was in July, and this was for a consulting firm, not the temp agencies… I don’t think I heard from any of them at all between April and the beginning of October).

I’m not overweight, so it has nothing to do with that. I haven’t checked unemployment figures recently, but I think they’ve been slightly worse than average here (Chicago), but I don’t know what it’s like in CA.

It’s one thing to get your foot in the door; it’s quite another to stuck in it.

Can you ask your sister how one would go about perhaps getting set up with West at Home? Being a mostly housebound gimp, it would come in handy to be able to actually work. So many work at home jobs are scams =( and medical transcriptionist is just not going to happen in Connecticut - doctors are going to the dictation programs and doing it all in house =(

Being overweight isn’t keeping her from getting a job, but it’s not helping.

As others have pointed out this downturn in the economy is now being called “The Great Recession.”

What’s happening now is instead of a job with two or three qualified people applying, you have a job with 10 or 20 qualified or OVERqualified people applying.

This means that other factors are coming into play.

If this overweight lady had skills an employer would normally hire her, rather than take a lessor skilled employee.

But now employers have it made. They can pick and choose. So ask yourself if you have 10 people ALL EQUAL in every way to do a job, who are you gonna pick?

She’s gonna have to go in all smiles and convince the employer she would be the most pleasant and happy employee to have working there, because now everything else will be equal in terms of skills.

Salary isn’t an issue, 'cause positions are budgeted for, and if you take less, so what? It’s not like the hiring person or boss gets the extra money.

It’s all gonna be about her personality at this point.

I’m fat (over 220 pounds and I’m just over 5 feet tall) and I have never been without a job. I currently work in an office as a secretary, and my previous job was the same position (I quit, wasn’t fired). Prior to that, I started in the business I’m in now as a receptionist, which I always assumed you needed to be attractive to do.

So it might not just be the weight that’s an issue.

Hell I weighed 240 when I was working in construction. I flabby as hell but I had muscle going on underneath. I was spry I guess, but I got lots of work at that size before, in education and secretarial work. I think a lot of it is how you carry yourself though. I’ve noticed a lot of my overweight sisters try to will themselves smaller by pulling in shoulders and looking down, and being especially sappy sweet and girly. I carry myself like a gangly tomboyish kid, which i suppose throws people off since I’m a 250 lb 40 year old woman. :wink:

400 lbs is frightening. My mom only weighed 320 at her highest and it pretty much killed her. At that weight I imagine it must be hard to walk at all.

I don’t think there’s a lot of doubt that attractiveness helps professionally. For all the “Fat hater” blather, discrimination on the basis of attractiveness is generally unconscious.

However, in this economy, two months looking for a job is not at all remarkable.

Without knowing Mary, her job search habits, or her qualifications it’s impossible for me to even hazard a guess as to why she hasn’t found a job - for all we know her Arkansas accent has lost her a job - but right now it can be damned hard for people to find jobs no matter what they weigh.