Monday, September 12, 2011

Squeezed Out of the Job Market For Your Body

"Fat Chance: It's Not Easy For Obese Workers"

Only the luckiest fat person, perferably with a Kennedy Surname attached to his background ever escapes the weight discrimination of the job hunt. While any job search is fraught with rejection, a fat person's experience is radically different. Many end up in jobs well below their educational or intellectual level. While I managed to get a few professional positions in teaching and social work, I had to take the ones few others wanted, and apply for hundreds of positions to get even those. After a teaching lay-off, staring out over the Arby's counter and barely able to stand the hours required, my future grew scarier and scarier.

Looking back, my inability to economically survive did impact my health very badly. Raised to be upper middle class but becoming a member of the welfare class with none of the skills to survive, I was sunk. Life became a series of milk crates, broken down cars, illnesses where the ER had to suffice, embarrassing rags for clothing that were always outgrown. The year I was unemployed and on the cusp of homelessness, with nothing to eat in the fridge ironically was when the weight gain began.

My later job where I moved to a behemoth metro city all alone knowing no one there, of being a low paid residential counselor to violent youth from the ghetto while I lived in a bad neigborhood in a roach infested apartment is the job that capped the acceleration of the destruction of my health. Daily abuse and scary confrontations just to get a paycheck. I wrote an essay back in the 90s about that job, and will share it here soon.

It does something very bad to someone's mind, when they worked hard to get through college, working in the dorm cafeteria 20 hours a week, with 21 hour credit loads, who doubled up on jobs to keep the bills paid, to see it all crash, and come crumbling to the ground. Your dreams of finding a niche in the world, where your mind and talents are honored smashed into multiple shards. While one art teaching job gave me a taste of being able to use creativity and do some good, even with a student of mine winning a national award, the time was too short, as it was grant based and the money ran out after three and half years.

To state that obesity equals poverty belabors the obvious, how many fat people have spoken to an enthusiastic potential employer over to the phone only to be crushed the minute they walk in the room? There was one time when inquiring about a regular teaching job, I asked "Why did you not hire me?" and they told me, "You never could be volleyball coach!". At that job I had failed the state medical exam too.

No place is more hard on fat then the work-world and now with the employers shaking thier heads over out of bounds health care costs with fat hating greedy insurance companies included, it's only going to make things harder. Even thin women feel the pressure to take in their lunch of rice cakes, or a yogurt cup, while saving more heavy food for the return home. Diet programs like Weight Watchers infiltrate the workplace pressuring even people ten pounds overweight to lose. Those who get fat are derided for "not taking care of themselves". During my weight gain at the residential counselor job, no one told me to "go to a doctor', I was yelled at for not hiding the bald spots on my head good enough and for gaining weight and demoted to night shift.

More subtle forms of discrimination can take the form of under-handed comments, lack of promotion, placement away from fellow workers and customers or having responsiblities peeled away by top managers. It all underlines a reverse pecking order of who's fired, hired, noticed and promoted. After all runs the prevailing logic, aren't the corpulent good-for nothing masses lazier, slower and stupider then their normal sized counter-parts. Aren't they unacceptable health insurance risks?

There have been many studies out there detailing how fat literally costs people money, and if they are now discriminating against older workers and other's in the work world how much harder should it be now? With the new depression economy, it's got to be worse. Even in the 90s, scores of lean as racing dogs people with new cars in the parking lot and "more professional appearances" then my own with nails and hair-dos I could never afford stared down at me, like a worm, while slamming the door shut that led to middle class stability.

I grew up upper middle class, clueless that my mid-sized fat father's extreme mathematical skills and computer genius is what kept him employed at higher levels and that my more humanities and artistic mind was not as valued. For me the work world, turned out to be hell on earth, and 60-70 hour work weeks of piecing endless too low paying jobs together--2 and 3 jobs even overlapping at a time to keep the bills paid, got tougher and tougher. When I listed everything I did for a living pre-disability life, one of my friends was in shock, it ranged from Arby's counter person, salad bar prep and cook, factory worker, home health aide, substitute teacher for 5 years--this one combined with other jobs, day care worker, art teacher in an alternative school, part time legal secretary to the last three year's stint as residential counselor with violent teens. Just reading over the list, I got exhausted.

My favorite jobs? Being the salad girl, and the art teacher, both jobs, I got to make something up that was new, the salad girl job I made up recipes in the halcyon 80s and was bright eyed and busy-tailed about my future, the art teacher job, lesson plans and art lessons.

Looking back, I realized, I lacked self care skills, just being told to be the most hard working bee was not enough. Work hard, but not working smart. The pressures never let up, and well like any other human being, especially given none of these jobs offered real health insurance, my health started to crack. When I think back on my days, of throwing up on the way to work due to anxiety, fear and breathing problems, and hiding asthma nebulizers in my car under my teaching desks hoping no one would discover how really sick I felt all the time, looking back at this, sometimes I am incredulous. Who can blame the employers for desiring a healthy employee but what other options did I have at the time?

I found out fast, good grades and intelligence didn't matter, social skills and looks did. Perhaps life would have been easier if I had chosen work, that was less socially demanding, where focusing on something more paper oriented and less people oriented would have been useful for my life. Before I was disabled, I went to paralegal school [this was post-bachelor's] but was unable to finish due to illness, I wanted to be put in front of a desk and given mountains of paper work where mind would matter over personality and looks. Getting a job teaching with too many health problems just wasn't going to happen.

Even when I worked in temp agencies, with college degree in hand and the ability to type, they shunted me off without fail to the factories, never the office. This was not my imagination.

Fat really is a class marker today, and often times, the fat alone is enough for them to shut you out. If you are a fat person reading this, go to vocational school and find something where you can work for yourself. Pave a path where you are not dependent on the system. Also realize there are places more friendly to the fat, working class and rural areas, are more open to you then conform or else corporation land. The challenges out there are real.