SALT LAKE CITY -- “I am two of the things that it’s still okay to discriminate against in America: one is Mormon and one is fat,” former Congresswoman Enid Greene admitted last week on A Woman’s View. It’s not something you hear people declare every day, especially not on a 50,000-watt radio station. Not the part about being Mormon, of course. There are Times Square billboards about that. But the part about being fat.
Let me be clear that I do not see Enid as fat, and if you were sitting with her now, you wouldn’t either, but she’ll argue the point with you. “I am clinically obese," she said. "I can show you the numbers if you like, but I’d rather not.”
Why were we talking about this subject? Earlier in the week there was an article in the Deseret News about how obese girls face a tougher career path than thin girls do, and I wanted to know if the women on the show agreed with the premise. They did.
“I absolutely think it’s true,” Greene said.
Why then, if in her own estimation she is fat, has she had so much career success when other overweight women have not? “I never touted myself as Miss America. I’m the girl next door. I worked very hard to be the best I could be," she said. "And there are some professions where it’s not as big a deal. I was an attorney in a time when there weren’t a lot of female attorneys.”
What about in other fields? D. Wright, public relations specialist with the Murray City School District, said, “In education, I do not see discrimination based on weight. But I’m not arguing the premise. I think it’s sad, but true. I just don’t see it in education.”
Do we judge a person, an employee, a representative of a company based on whether or not she is obese much like we might judge her if she smokes? If she smokes, we might think, “Doesn’t she know how stupid that is? Is she the only person left in America who hasn’t read the Surgeon General’s report?” We might feel justified making such a judgment. We might even make it to her face. It seems no longer politically incorrect to judge a smoker. But an obese person? Can you make a similar judgment of an obese person? “I think it’s headed that way,” Greene said. “Companies are headed toward discriminating based on appearance.”
You know where else we discriminate based on appearance? Parenting. Carol Huff is the co-owner of Utah Word Girl. “My daughter has a condition where no matter what she eats, fruits or veggies, she gains weight. If we go to McDonald’s, and I buy her the occasional Happy Meal, people give me that look, like I’m being a bad parent. It’s so sad that we’ve gotten to the place where we have to be so judgmental.”
We are judgmental in the Play Place at McDonald’s, and of companies based on their hiring decisions, and most especially, of ourselves. “I feel like I spend every day maneuvering my life to avoid food!” Wright admitted. “Isn’t that disgusting? Am I not smarter than that?”
“When I was in law school,” Greene recounted, “I would reward myself with mac and cheese if I studied this long. This has been a problem all of my life. Now my problem is, Kneader’s opened down the street. What else am I going to do for comfort?”
A good question.
Women have been struggling with their weight since, well, forever, and now research shows that in addition to health problems and self-esteem problems and relationship problems, we can add career problems to the long list of challenges associated with obesity. Any one of those ought to provide a strong enough incentive to change our behavior. Any one ought to have the power of a Surgeon General’s report.
But it doesn’t. Because it’s fighting against comfort. And “[f]ood is the most primitive form of comfort,” said Sheila Graham.
But it’s not the only form.
Perhaps I will dedicate some time this day to the exploration of what else gives me comfort, what other than food. What else gives me solace? What other activities? What other experiences? “I could pick up my needlepoint,” Greene suggested, “or read a book, or watch a movie I’ve been wanting to see.”
“But those are all more fun if you eat while you’re doing them,” Wright countered.
This is going to take more time.