Speaking Out

As A Plus-Size Woman Navigating The Workplace, I Want You To Know This

. 9 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
As A Plus-Size Woman Navigating The Workplace, I Want You To Know This

The holiday season is upon us! Despite the nightmare that 2020 was (I’m looking at you, Dalgona coffee trend), there’s a sense of hope in us that 2021 will be less saddening. We’re powering through – wearing Santa hats to work, sending Secret Santa gifts, celebrating work anniversaries and farewells on Zoom, and bitching about our coworkers only during our designated lunch breaks. It’s truly amazing how much resilience human beings have shown this year.

When I look back at 2020, I can think of many things I wish would have happened differently. I wish I’d have been able to move cities to join my new workplace. I wish I’d had more time to spend with my partner. I wish my parents would’ve fought less on who could clean the house better.

But the one thing I feel relieved about is the fact that I didn’t have to be physically present at work at all times. 

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy working out of an office space. In fact, I like it more than working from home. But when I think about how much this year has affected my health and altered my physical appearance, I can only be grateful that I didn’t have to be on the receiving end of backhanded compliments, unsolicited advice, and shaming.

It’s the life of a fat woman that I’ve got a temporary break from.

Are You A Plus Size Woman Navigating The Workplace? 

I’m a quintessential fat girl. I’m big, apple-shaped (I checked), broad, and unable to find good clothes for myself in the market because it doesn’t exist for people like me.

Like any other fat woman – health issues notwithstanding – my life, too, is riddled with gyms, nutritionist appointments, and well-wishers who claim that I would be happier if I lost weight.

The bias against people like me carries itself into the workplace. Without any knowledge of my underlying health issues, water cooler talks turn into sessions on how I should eat this and drink that and inhale whatnot to ‘get into shape’. My multiple tiffin boxes are open for scrutiny (“wow, you eat a loooot of salads and nuts, haan!”). The amount of food I eat is either too much, or too little. Some think I am dieting and come to save the day by asking me to accept myself, while others express their happiness because I am finally taking care of myself.

There is no winning. Regardless of the intent, as a fat woman, I am a project in the eyes of the straight-size population. I need to be fixed.

Fatness is seen as something that needs to be fixed. There’s a compulsive need among people to not get fat. Many people spend their money, resources, and sanity to run away from fatness. People like me become cautionary tales; the ugly ‘before’ to the trimmed down ‘after’. 

Why Are Women So Afraid Of Being Fat?

Can you imagine Neerja Bhanot to ever be a plus-size woman? Does it sound absolutely ridiculous? In my conversations with flight attendants (at reputed airlines), I was told that companies simply do not accept women who exceed their BMI range. Why? “Because flights cannot take a lot of weight.”  This ridiculous argument (have you ever paid a ton of money to carry extra baggage in your flight?) indicates that fatness isn’t just about self-care.

If the issue of fatness were just about me taking care of myself, why did conversations around my body make their way to work? 

Because fatness is as cultural a problem as it is medical: it represents laziness, sloppiness, sickness, and incompetence. And no one would want that in the workplace; not in the least from a woman, who is already at a disadvantage.

I'm A Plus-Size Woman Navigating The Workplace. Here’s What I Need You To Know
I’m A Plus-Size Woman Navigating The Workplace. Here’s What I Need You To Know

Studies conducted in the United States showed that fat people are less likely to get jobs and good health insurance because there’s a bias against them. Yes, you read that correctly. Bias against fat women especially runs so deep that traditionally ‘feminine’ jobs such as a receptionist, flight attendant, and fashion retail worker are also out of reach. There goes my dream career of saving lives mid-air and telling people what to wear!

Fatness has deep associations with femininity. In many cultures, a big body is celebrated on a woman, assuming that big bodies are better capable of sustaining pregnancies and childbirth. On the other hand, the imagery associated with fatness – laziness, sloppiness, messiness – is considered deeply unfeminine. Feminine women are dainty, clean, pretty, and most importantly, they take up less space – the opposite of fat bodies. And we all know what happens to women who take more space than is socially assigned to them.

In a nutshell, fatness is unacceptable, unless it’s in a context that appeases the male gaze.

Here’s What Straight-Size People Should Know About Being Around A Fat Person

The thing to know is that fatphobia is as real and structural an issue as sexism, racism, or casteism that needs to be taken as seriously as any other, because it can have grave consequences on a person’s physical and mental health. It’s not an individual’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem!

That said, here’s what fat people want straight-size people to know about their lived experience, in case you didn’t already know:

We’re aware of how fat we are

Yup, we do. We’re told it every waking moment. Some of us even own mirrors and shop for our own clothes! To be constantly reminded of it, especially at work, is completely unnecessary.

It’s best not to mention our size at all. Or anyone’s size. You don’t have to bring up our weight gain or weight loss.

Let’s talk about our accomplishments instead. And our life experiences. Anything that doesn’t make our size the central topic works for us.

Not all of us have health issues, but we’ve all been given unsolicited advice for it

Womp – did you know that?! While some of us might be fat because of an underlying issue, many of us don’t have a reason for it – and it’s not necessary that we should.

Some of us are fat just because, and it’s no one’s business to tell us what to do with our weight.

We’re not okay with anyone talking about our bodies unless we specifically bring it up. No advice is good advice!

We experience life a lot differently than you

Remember how you said at that one office party that I should ‘take the plunge’ and go ask out the cute guy in IT? And that I was being too shy? It wasn’t exactly shy – it’s just that fat people aren’t generally considered attractive. It’s a common consensus; it’s what we’ve been conditioned to believe.

So while I may not have a problem walking up to a guy and asking him out, the guy may think I’m weird for expecting anything other than a ‘no’.

It’s not as easy for us fat folks to put ourselves out there without the nagging feeling that someone dislikes us for our body or thinks we’re ugly, even if we don’t think that about ourselves.

I'm A Plus-Size Woman Navigating The Workplace. Here’s What I Need You To Know
I’m A Plus-Size Woman Navigating The Workplace. Here’s What I Need You To Know

Please take our experience of microaggressions seriously

When I say that I wasn’t picked to represent the company in a photo shoot because I’m fat, or that a guy looked right through me because he didn’t consider me attractive, please don’t dismiss me by saying that I’m “being too sensitive” and that I’m the only person who is conscious of my size. Believe us when we say our size was a problem for them. It almost always is. You may not get it because you’ve never lived in a body like ours.

We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves; we’re mad that we’re invisible while also being so visible.

Not all of us think fatness and beauty are mutually exclusive

“You’re not fat; you’re beautiful” is a tired, silly statement that many of us don’t believe. We can be fat and beautiful. Those can exist in unison. Similarly, if we call ourselves fat, please don’t correct us by saying. “You’re not fat, you’re just curvy/plump/healthy”.

‘Fat’ is just an adjective; it’s not an insult, especially if we’re using it on ourselves.

‘Plus-size’ is a retail term; many who aren’t comfortable with calling themselves ‘fat’ use it. And that’s okay. 

Please talk about the ‘fat tax’ as much as you talk about the ‘pink tax’

We get it. You’re super duper annoyed that you had to pay tax on your sanitary napkins and you had to shell out too much for a razor because it’s a ‘woman’s brand’ and it’s pink. But there’s something you don’t see at all – the ‘fat tax’ that fat folks have to pay for simply existing. Our clothes are doubly priced; our options are extremely limited. We don’t get clothes in our size, which means we have to take twice the effort and often even get clothes made in our size. We are encouraged to hire personal trainers at the gym at extra cost.

We’re expected to shell out more with every inch that we gain. Many of us don’t even get activewear in our size – for a society that shames us for not exercising enough, we don’t even have exercise outfits that fit us right.

We’re always paying more than you.

Please don’t give us backhanded compliments 

“You have such a pretty face.” “You have a wonderful personality.” “I love healthy women.”

We’ve heard this before, and we’re tired of hearing it!

You could leave the compliments on our physical appearance completely out of the conversation; if you must, you can just call us attractive and leave it be.

It works well not to point to a specific part of our body. No one likes hearing a backhanded compliment; it’s only the insult that sticks.

I'm A Plus-Size Woman Navigating The Workplace. Here’s What I Need You To Know
I’m A Plus-Size Woman Navigating The Workplace. Here’s What I Need You To Know

Many of us have wonderful personalities

This isn’t a brag (okay, maybe a little); there’s a valid reason behind this.

Almost all fat women are body-shamed growing up, which forces them to develop their personalities to be taken more seriously.

If you were to look beyond their size, fat women are actually pretty darn cool – we’re funny, witty, intelligent, and many of us are deeply empathetic as well. We’re great to hang out with, so please get to know us!

We’d like to rightfully get some of that spotlight 

Popular culture is full of stories with the token ‘fat friend’ – the nerdy, underconfident, weird side-kick to the pretty, dainty, feminine heroine. It annoys us that we’re represented that way.

We have awesome redeeming qualities as well, and it sucks that we have to keep proving it. So, if you could, please pass the mic and give us the spotlight every now and then!

We are complete persons with loving relationships and fulfilling careers

Please don’t think of us as sad sacks who care about nothing except our weight. Life is so much more than that. Some of us are trying to get rid of the conditioning; others are fortunate enough to have been successful!

Regardless of our size, we’re complete human beings with the same kind of ups and downs as the rest, and many of us don’t think our weight is an issue.

Please don’t make it an issue; we’re fine without it!

If you’re a straight-size person reading this, remember that fat people’s experiences are valid and real. Thin privilege – the structural advantage you have because of your size – allows you not to see our experiences. If we’re being treated unfairly at work because of our size, don’t hesitate to speak up. We all love a good ally. And, of course, don’t be the person who causes the problem!

To all my fellow fat persons – did I miss something in the list? Something that straight-size people should know about? Tell me in the comments!

You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career Community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.