Sizeism is a Feminist Issue
To fire someone because they are pregnant, or deny them medical coverage because of gender identity, or turn down their housing-related application on the basis of religion is illegal in Canada, thanks to the protected grounds in provincial and territorial human rights legislation.
The list of human rights protections are extensive and include such elements of identity as age, gender, race, disability and sexual orientation.Human rights legislation offers protection from discrimination in the areas of housing, contracts, employment, goods, services and facilities, and membership in unions, or professional associations. However, discrimination based on body size is not covered under human rights legislation, and in Ontario, a campaign to prohibit discrimination based on body size is being led by Jill Andrew, a Toronto-based body-image activist and co-founder of the Body Confidence Canada Awards.In May, Andrew launched a Change.org petition to have size added as the 18th protected ground in the Ontario code.
According to Statistics Canada, one in five adults is classified as obese, which translates to approximately 5.3 million people who could find themselves on the receiving end of sizeism in the workforce. A 2015 literature review—conducted by occupational therapy researcher Behdin Nowrouzi at the Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health at Laurentian University, in conjunction with other researchers—confirmed that stereotypes associated with fat people are common.The stereotypes reported include the belief that overweight and obese people are more undisciplined, have lower job performance, poorer interpersonal skills and are unhealthy compared to employees considered not fat.Such views are embedded in North American society and lead to discrimination related to hiring, promotions and earnings—especially for women.The study concluded that “work-related weight bias needs to be viewed as a serious problem.”
According to research compiled by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, weight stigma negatively impacts the health care that overweight and obese adults receive.Although a significant body of research has shown that the majority of people are unable to maintain significant weight loss in the long term, doctors often view obese patients negatively and hold stereotypes of them as lazy, non-compliant with medical advice and lacking in self-control, according to a Rudd Centre policy brief.
People Andrew has interviewed report that doctors regularly attribute their weight to be the cause of their health concerns, leaving them feeling terrible. “They’d go in with a cold and be told to lose weight,” Andrew said in a CBC radio interview about her petition.One byproduct of weight bias is that patients receive less preventative health care, such as breast and cervical cancer screenings.
The U.S.is ahead of Canada in legislating protection against size discrimination. Six American cities and the state of Michigan have legislation that explicitly prohibits weight discrimination.In Canada, the European Union and Australia, obesity may be considered a disability in certain circumstances, but attempts to address weight discrimination under the umbrella
Jill Andrew, co-founder of the Body Confidence Canada Awards, is leading a campaign to have size recognized as a basis of discrimination in the Ontario Human Rights Code.