It is legal to discriminate against me in Aotearoa New Zealand. Even though research clearly demonstrates that fat people are discriminated against in educational, employment, and housing, settings, New Zealand hasn’t legislated to make it illegal. In fact, very few places around the world have provided protection for individuals from facing discrimination based on their size.
The Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Acts in the state of Michigan, USA, prohibits discrimination based on weight and height (in addition to the usual categories of race, sex, nationality, etc). A handful of cities across the United States, including San Francisco and Washington, D. C., have also passed laws against weight discrimination. In 2012, a parliamentary group in the UK discovered that 1 in 5 people in Britain experienced weight discrimination and called upon adding appearance-based discrimination to the Equality Act 2010. The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut has found that legislating against weight discrimination is popular across many countries, including Australia.
I’ve advocated for this at my own place of employment, and hope to soon work at possibly the only employer in the country that includes physical size in its EEO policy. But most fat people do not work in such conditions. Research shows that fat individuals are less likely to be hired, less likely to be promoted, and less likely to earn the same pay, as their non-fat co-workers (this is especially true for fat women, and even more for fat women of colour).
It’s almost certain that this conversation will be derailed by those who believe that fat people should be treated like second class citizens. Because they believe that real or perceived (or even future) health status is a pre-requisite for citizenship. They believe that fat people should experience shame, and have bias used against them in their daily lives, as maybe that’s the key to weight loss (suggests no evidence ever).
Living as a fat person means experiencing daily micro aggressions. For example, I avoid morning tea because of the inevitable “I’m so fat, I shouldn’t eat that” and “I was bad last night; I had dessert and a cocktail” conversations from those around me. Every time I turn on the television, log online, or wait at the bus station, I’m likely to be presented with fat hate. Everywhere I go, I’m reminded that I’m a bad person who must make bad choices and isn’t holding up my part of the social contract.
Fat people don’t owe you anything. We don’t owe you apologies. We don’t owe you excuses. We don’t owe you erections. We don’t even owe you health.
What fat people deserve is the opportunity to access evidenced based healthcare and outlets for safe and shame-free activity. We deserve to live in a country where our physical size cannot be used to discriminate against us in employment settings. We deserve the same rights as non-fat people. And we also deserve the dignity to lead our lives without shame and prejudice.
Regardless of your personal feelings about fatness, fat people, or obesity, legislation to protect against weight discrimination is a social justice issue that people of all sizes should expect from this government.
Cross posted from Stuff.co.nz