Weight discrimination is a civil rights issue. Here’s what Massachusetts can do about it.
Imagine a company you’ve worked at for years suddenly fires you, and it has nothing to do with your performance. The company explains that you’ve gained weight and they don’t want you on staff. You feel ashamed, powerless.
In Massachusetts, this is completely legal. I have read stories of countless residents who have been blatantly discriminated against because of their weight in complaints that they filed through the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Folks described harassment from supervisors and coworkers; some were driven to resign; others were passed over for jobs because of their weight.
Stories such as these are more common than we’d like to imagine, and this painful reality has harmful effects on people’s health. Experiencing weight discrimination has been linked to depression, anxiety, eating disorder symptoms and many health conditions. Self-described fat writers have written extensively about their harrowing personal experiences with weight discrimination and its detrimental effect on their mental health.
Attention on banning weight discrimination, as well as hair-based discrimination, has been growing nationally. It is unjust, unfair and it’s a neglected social justice issue, but lawmakers have a chance to make Massachusetts the first state in nearly a half-century to make body size discrimination illegal.
This session, state Rep. Tram Nguyen and state Sen. Rebecca Rausch introduced a bill prohibiting body size discrimination. The act is straightforward – it adds weight and height to the list of identities (such as race, gender, etc.) already protected by anti-discrimination laws. As an advocate with the Harvard Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, I have been fighting for its passage and hope to see lawmakers move it forward this session.
Lawmakers must take action so not one more person in the state has to endure this type of egregious mistreatment.
Rachel Plummer, Wendell Street
The writer is an advocate with the Harvard Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, a recent Master of Public Health graduate of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the director of programs and public policy at Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee.