‘I Didn’t Get A Raise The Year I Gained Weight’

Whether we like to admit it or not, appearances matter in the workplace, and can even impact pay and career progression. In her research on women and weight-based employment discrimination, Alexandra Griffin suggests the issue is so severe that it could explain the wage gap:

“…weight-based discrimination, which affects nearly two-thirds of women, is part of the explanation of the wage gap affecting women.”

Although many of us would like to believe it’s not as pervasive as Griffin suggests, studies indicate this isn’t just a fad. We spoke with a woman working in the financial services industry who feels that her career ups and downs are largely correlated to her weight. Here is her story:

I’ve always struggled with my weight—I’ll be the first to admit it. But for me, the most frustrating part of my fluctuating weight has always been seeing how differently I am treated depending on what end of the scale I happen to be near at any given time.

When I started my first job out of college as a Client Relations Manager, I was a bit overweight.  But, I was great at what I did, and our clients loved me, so no one ever said anything. During my annual review, my work ethic, accuracy and diligence were highlighted as my strengths. The following year, after losing 20 pounds, I received a raise, a promotion, and that year’s annual review used terms like “approachable” and “great client-facing skills.” Maybe it was just a function of another year of experience, but I did find it odd my work ethic and diligence were not included.

Of course, I had no cause to complain—I looked great, was advancing within the firm and making more money. Who in her right mind would balk at that? I enjoyed the benefits as long as I could. People complimented me on my appearance at work, invited me to meetings and social events, and took me to meet clients, even though I was the most junior person on the team. I felt great, and truly thought I was moving up because of my abilities. It never occurred to me my weight had anything to do with it.

Until I gained it all back, and then some. I was repeatedly asked by my boss and colleagues if I was “still working out” and offered a variety of unsolicited nutrition and exercise advice. One evening at happy hour, I expressed my frustration that everyone seemed to be excluding me from important meetings to one of my male colleagues. He then proceeded to tell me, as politely as he could, that “You just don’t seem to be taking care of yourself as much anymore…” I looked down at what I was wearing, and realized he wasn’t talking about my attire. Trying not to sound hurt, I asked if he was referring to my weight, and he admitted he was.

I fought back tears of both anger and humiliation. On one hand, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but on the other, I didn’t exactly disagree with him.  I didn’t like how I looked either, which just added to the subtle implication that it was completely my fault my career was going nowhere. If I’d just “taken care of myself” I’d be at the top of my game.

Then, as if what he’d revealed wasn’t enough, he went on, in what I think was an attempt to motivate me, to tell me “You know what you need to do. If you can get yourself back in shape, you’ll be unstoppable. You’ll have these guys wrapped around your little finger.”

Photo: sunsetman/Shutterstock.com

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    • la

      It’s completely unacceptable that your colleague said anything to you. It makes me sooo mad. I gained some weight at my last job and one of my friends at work said one of the other people was going around talking about it. That person also kept telling me how to diet and exercise, so I informed him that I knew just how to lose weight given that I was anorexic and bulimic 2 years before and had to meet with a nutritionist weekly, and I would appreciate if he would let me handle my own body. I said it nicely, but he got the picture and stopped. I think there are ways of dealing with it besides blatantly saying something to them, and besides letting it destroy your self esteem. At the same time, I can see how each work environment is different. I’m sorry you’ve had such a crappy experience, it’s not fair, and it should never have happened.

    • CW

      If you are in a job where you need to present a polished image to your clients, then staying fit is part of that. Maybe the issue wasn’t handled as tactfully as it should have been, but it is a legitimate concern. My husband’s boss told him to replace his shoes (something I had been nagging him about for a while) because it was detracting from his professional appearance. I don’t see that as fundamentally any different than encouraging someone who has let her figure go to get back in shape. Both take away from the polished look that the individual needs to project when interacting with clients.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jess.mccloskey Jess McCloskey

        Are you kidding? You genuinely don’t see any difference between someone buying a new pair of shoes and someone losing twenty pounds or more?

        I cannot even imagine what line of work you could possibly be in, if you have such questionable reasoning and observation skills.

    • L

      ugh. it breaks my heart reading this. i work in a field where at my stage physical appearance has almost nothing to do with whether you will succeed, everyone is a lot more concerned with the contents of your brain…however a former colleague of mine has been jobless for nearly a year, and i firmly believe that the fact that she’s severely obese has a lot to do with it. Like it or not, its hard to ignore someone’s physical appearance. I myself am a bit overweight still, and am pretty glad that I have at least a year to lose the extra 15-20 lbs before i have to move on from my current position and interview at others.