I just recently got a new job. In fact, I’m just starting my third week at the office as you’re reading this. I am comfortably the fattest person in the office. Out of 50 people, there are only about 3 of us who could be truly classified as plus size (one man, and two women). It’s a primarily sales office, and there tends to be a particular culture that manifests it’s self any time sales is involved. You tend to get a lot of former athletes. Sports metaphors abound. And appearance matters.
When I was getting ready for my interview, one of my former coworkers remarked on how I was dressed and the fact that I was doing my make up at my desk before I left. At that office, the dress code was … remarkably relaxed, even by Oregon standards. As in, yoga pants was a perfectly acceptable choice of clothing. So while I didn’t go quite that far into relaxed attire, I definitely dressed casually and didn’t bother wearing make up to work. I don’t wear make up normally anyway. So the former coworker just couldn’t understand why I was going to such pains to get ready for the interview. In sales, appearance matters. How you present yourself matters very much. If I can’t sell myself to the person who is interviewing me, how can I expect them to trust me to sell products on their behalf? So I have to meet certain expectations that the interviewer will subconciously have for me, one of which is professional appearance. For men that simply means wearing the right clothes within a fairly narrow range of what’s considered appropriate, having good personal hygiene, and having their hair neat. Women have a much broader range of what can be considered acceptable, and thus spend more time thinking about whether their clothing choices are making the right statement on their behalf. They also have to consider how they style their hair and what signals that style sends. Then there is make up and all the subtle nuances that can shift the message from “professional” to “oldest profession”* with one misplaced brushstroke. Simply, it’s complicated for a woman to “look right” for an interview, and getting that part right likely has more to do with weather or not you get the job than anything you might have on your resume or say to the interviewer.
So with all of the difficulty of getting the nuances of appearance right as a woman, there are even more layers of difficulty as a fat woman. I also have to overcome the pervasive notion that fat people are fat, lazy, and undisciplined. So even though I normally don’t wear make up and don’t really conform to the traditional business suit dress code, I’ll go those extra miles when interviewing the job. I shouldn’t have to, but if it gets me past those hurdles, I’ll do it because I need to work to put food on the table and keep a roof over my head.
* As an aside, I mean no disrespect to sex workers. I’m trying to illustrate the perceived unsuitability of a person for a job based on a stereotype of appearances.