Is your image hurting your career?


Being overweight or sloppily dressed is worse for your career than being a poor performer.

I’m not saying this is fair, I’m saying it’s true. So manage your weight, and manage the image you project at work, and you’ll do wonders for your career.

If you doubt that your image can inhibit your career, think about this: According to a 2005 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, good-looking people make more money than average-looking people for doing exactly the same work.

Before you get up in arms over how unfair it is to discriminate against people who are overweight, consider that there may be some rationale behind it. If you’re overweight, you’re probably not exercising every day. But regular exercise increases peoples’ ability to cope with difficult situations in the workplace and, according to University of Illinois kinesiology professor Charles Hillman, might even make people smarter.

And the same self-discipline we use to make ourselves exercise regularly and eat in moderation carries over into other aspects of our lives. This is probably why, in a study from Leeds Metropolitan University, people who exercise regularly were found to be better at time-management and more productive than those who don’t.

So don’t kid yourself that if you do good work it won’t matter if you’re overweight. It’s sort of like people who have messy desks: The perception is that they’re low-performers, poor time-managers, and not clear thinkers. This might not be true at all, but the only thing they can do to overcome the perceptions of their coworkers is clean their desks.

What makes this information particularly troubling is that so many people say they can’t make time to exercise and eat right because they need to work instead. In fact, if you’re overweight, you should probably put aside some of your work, accept that you won’t be performing as well at the office, and manage your image more closely by going to the gym.

That’s right — get rid of that perfectionist streak, do a little less work, and use that time to make yourself look better. People will perceive that you’re doing better work anyway. So instead of rationalizing why you can put work ahead of taking care of your health, start acting like a healthy person. Go to the gym at lunch, or leave work at 5 to hit the gym. Reorganize your schedule to make health a priority and your coworkers will respect you for it.

Here’s something else: Dress like you care. Building a strong brand for yourself is the only way to create a stable career in today’s workplace. You’ll change jobs often, and what influences your ability to get new jobs most is the image you convey. People judge that before they judge one word that comes out of your mouth.

I didn’t have a weight problem when I owned my first company, but I did have an image problem — I was younger than almost everyone, and my mentor told me my age was creating problems. So I hired an image consultant to drag me around town and spend lots of money until I looked more grown up.

I still worry about image issues today — everyone does, no matter where they are in their career. It’s just that today I worry less about looking older and more about what shirt is right for an appearance on CNN. The point is that issues of image are ongoing in a career that matters.

So don’t be overweight and don’t dress carelessly. These are just as detrimental to your career as doing your work poorly. And if my bringing this up makes you angry, consider being more forgiving, because anger is a risk factor for obesity. Besides, forgiveness makes people more resilient to difficulties because it’s about seeing the world in a positive light — which is, of course, also good for your image.

71 replies
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  1. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    I have read the other posts you have linked to in this article and I understand it is not fair, but alas, it is true. That does not mean that you won’t receive comments suggesting ‘how dare you’ etc.! Such is life.

    Now losing weight really is a matter of more than just time, willpower and exercise. This makes me wonder whether by not allowing and indeed enabling (read: funding) overweight people every possible avenue to lose weight, is the government encouraging weight discrimination? Just an ideal thought from an obesity-focused-thesis-writer.

    As an aside, I also have an idea for a post, Titled “How to receive a million comments generally bashing the writer, irrespective of content?”, it would be a one-line post, which suggests that one write a column and publish it on Yahoo Finance. :-)

  2. JC
    JC says:

    Hi Penelope, I really enjoy your entries.

    I agree with what you wrote. People do judge on looks and presentation. It’s not because they’re evil, it’s just because they’re people. I’m sure everyone does it.

    Even though I know about this, I’m still guilty of showing a bad image of me. Sometimes I dress sloppily. My desk is always a mess. I do think I get away with it because I’m very comfortable with myself and my work performance is exceptional. But when the time comes, I do play the game and make sure my image is correct.

    And just like you wrote, people should recognize this and try to improve their image in some way.

  3. Ralph
    Ralph says:

    You are incorrect about the perception of clean desks: I’ve worked at three large companies now and the perception of a clean desk is the same: the individual does not have enough work to do.

    In regard to exercise, be careful not to do to much (i.e. run 5-10 miles per day) or else you’ll be too tired at work to do work.

  4. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    Penelope, you may be risking your neck by pointing out the unpleasant truth, but it is the truth regardless. Our local newspaper ran an article in the Sunday paper last month about the tough time recent grads are having when it comes to finding a job. I find this a little bit hard to believe, since the economy is doing pretty well right now. Besides, I’m a fellow Gen X’er and we both remember what it was like to REALLY have a hard time finding a job as a new grad! (And walking uphill to school both ways, etc.)

    Anyway, on the front page they showed a picture of a young woman with an accounting degree and oodles of debt, who couldn’t find a job, and the girl was huge! Not just overweight – totally obese. And NOWHERE in the article did it address that. But how could it have not been completely obvious to anyone reading the story and seeing the picture? The employer doesn’t want to have to widen all the doorways and upgrade the elevator, okay? Not to mention the health insurance costs and possible absenteeism. If that makes me sound cruel, well sorry, but it’s just silly to ignore the obvious and pretend it doesn’t make a difference.

    * * * * * * *

    I really like this example, Jo. Thanks. The way the media ignores this issue bugs me so much.


  5. MJ
    MJ says:

    I second the dissent on clean desks. I’m in a law firm, and if your desk is clean, you don’t have enough work to do, and since we generate revenue by billing clients for work, little work = your head is on the chopping block. Managing the mess into discrete piles or a row of files showing how huge your backlog is works better, but clean = short timer. Some higher level partners have clean desks, they are generally the ones so high that they no longer do work – they just delegate it – or they are the guys no one can understand (who do little work, play computer games, and will soon be forced into retirment when their buddies are no longer on the Board).

    I hate to agree on the weight issue but I do. A past firm didn’t make an offer to a candidate who was only “eh” anyway, but also showed up huge and sweaty with his shirt coming untucked and pants falling down. Oh well…

  6. Jonathan Fields
    Jonathan Fields says:


    Totally agree on the impact of exercise and health on job performance and ability to excel. In fact a 1996 study on NASA employees found that while the productivity of non-exercising office workers decreased 50% during the final 2 hours of the day, exercisers worked at nearly 100% efficiency all day, leading to a 12.5% difference in productivity between the two groups. (Fielding, J.E., “Getting Smarter and Maybe Wiser”, American Journal of Health Promotion, Volume 11, 1996)

    Multiply that out over hundreds or thousands of employees and decades of work and the impact is staggering.

  7. Kathy S
    Kathy S says:

    I agree with the looks/healthy argument. I see it all the time. The most important thing is hygene and the second is being a regular weight. Another reason these people don’t make as much is because if they don’t care to take care of themselves in the morning do you think they’ll care to ask for or try for a raise? No.. they’re lazy and don’t put in the extra effort.

    I don’t agree with the neat desk argument. From my experience, the more someone made, the more messy their desks were. I think it goes along with .. the more messy someone’s handwriting is, they more they make (ie:doctors). I can’t explain it..

  8. Milena
    Milena says:

    Our looks have a lot to do with our success in life – there was a voice teacher in my undergrad studies who insisted that as long a particular student was under her tutelage – they were to be impeccably dressed at all times. Even going to the gym or grocery shopping – no mismatched t-shirts and sweats.
    She emphasized eating right and working out as essential, not only to maintaining good looks, but energy to sustain a career in music. Learning to survive extensive touring, gigs, auditions, all the while keeping the mind, body, and voice fresh at all times was her goal.
    Her students always stood out – they always looked professional and believe it or not, usually sang even better than most!
    Discrimination based on looks is prevalent in the opera world – the old paradigm of the heavy opera singer bleating out Wagner is gone. Opera audience development increasingly relies on sex appeal (just look at the advertising for Michigan Opera Theater in recent years) to grab the attention of younger audiences and singers are realizing their faces and bodies sell as many tickets as their voices.

  9. E
    E says:

    The real desk isssue is – don’t be gross. Don’t have old dirty cups or food wrappers or dust piling up. There is a difference between “clean messy” and “dirty messy.”

  10. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    It’s interesting to also consider how lifestyle factors help keep people obese and under-appreciated.

    Case 1: Studies repeatedly show that lower income individuals are far more likely to be obese and that this is the result of cheap foods typically being calorie-rich and nutrition-poor. For societal reasons, the overweight have a more difficult time gaining employment and promotions. Thus someone who is struggling with low-paying jobs and a weight problem is likely to continue with both of those struggles.

    Case 2: An obese person with a desk job must work “extra hard” to overcome the stereotypes mentioned above. As a result, they are more likely to spend additional time sitting at their desk and are also more likely to feel highly stressed. Inactivity and stress are known contributors to weight gain. Thus white-collar worker who is overweight and trying to improve their image through desk work is unlikely to garner much success, as increases in weight will offset the importance of any accomplishments.

    Someone in a Yahoo comment made an excellent point: a review of the wealthiest knowledge workers quickly shows how few of them are obese (although some may be overweight). The question then becomes are they of normal weight because they have the wealth and leisure to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Or do they have wealth and leisure because they are healthy? Given how much better I feel and perform when I take pains to maintain my health, I am inclined to believe that wealth and health are at least reinforcing, if not directly correlated.

  11. Quasar9
    Quasar9 says:

    “It's sort of like people who have messy desks: The perception is that they're low-performers, poor time-managers, and not clear thinkers. This might not be true at all, but the only thing they can do to overcome the perceptions of their coworkers is clean their desks.”

    It;s even worse when these kind of people become managers or administrators. Because of their insecurities they tend to discriminate against people who are sharper and smartly dressed – clearly they feel it will reflect on them and their performance – so they tend to hire people who are either sloppy too or at least slow scatty brained – to feel good about themselves and their inadequacies.

    Now, not all larger people are unfit, unreliable unsmart, sloppy, overeaters or even untidy – but as a rule of thumb – well let’s face it, lack of discipline in one area is NO guarantee of ‘wise’ discipline in any other. Of course they may pretend to be more motherly – you know try to be mothern hen – lol!

  12. MS
    MS says:

    I can attest to this firsthand. I started my career in the typical nerd uniform (jeans, whatever t-shirt was around, tennis shoes) When I had to follow a more professional dress code for a project, the reactions of my coworkers changed noticeably for the better.

  13. Aimee
    Aimee says:

    Okay, I get it – I’m never going to succeed if I’m fat, now can we stop having articles every other day about it. Also, some of us struggle with out weight despite a good diet and excercise. I walk 3 miles 3-4 times a week (with my 20lb work bag at 4 miles an hour) and eat a much healthier diet than my roommate but I’m still 6 sizes bigger than her. It’s not neccessarily a lack of discipline that causes people to be overweight, thank you very much.

  14. JM
    JM says:

    I agree to an extent, but here’s the rub, at least for me: I have been unemployed for roughly a year. My weight problems are primarily caused by a hormone imbalance with which I was diagnosed ten years ago. I alternate between walking and jogging every other day, and while my diet certainly could use some improvement, it could definitely be much, much worse. However, no job means no insurance, and I cannot possibly afford the medication I need to manage the problem out of pocket. So, while it may be a fact that being overweight negatively affects one’s employment prospects, it’s wrong for you to outright defend the practice with the assumption that everyone who has a weight problem is a nasty, sloppy, lazy person. It’s discrimination, plain and simple, and there is no excuse for it.

    This practice is contributing to the obesity epidemic, not helping it at all, as poorer people have poorer diets as the cheapest foods are most often those which are worst for you. Shame on you for defending a practice which is harmful to the well-being of so many.

  15. Jim Castro
    Jim Castro says:

    I have three comments on JM’s post:
    (1) Employers don’t want to hire people with chronic illnesses. Saying you are overweight because of a hormone imbalance doesn’t help you at all.
    (2) Hormone imbalance or not, weight gain is a matter of how many calories one takes in vs. how many are burned. Don’t use a hormone imbalance as an excuse. See a doctor about a program for achieving a healthy weight. It won’t be fun, but you can do it.
    (3) P.T. didn’t say fat people were “nasty, sloppy, lazy” people. You said that. She said being overweight was destructive to one’s productivity and image. It is.

  16. Deb
    Deb says:

    I agree that a sloppy appearance may not help you land a new job or help you get a promotion. After 25 years in corporate America, I am absolutely sure that shirking your job responsibilities is definitely not going to get you anywhere either. In the real working world (in which PT obviously hasn’t spent a lot of time) you better work long and work hard or you will be sent packing…fast!! Dressing appropriately is very important, but it is not the be all and end all on the road to success. Working hard and doing your job well is much more important. Quite a lot of young people today are much more concerned with how they look then about how much they are contributing on the job. Whether my coworkers are fat or thin, ugly or pretty, young or old, I really could care less. What I do care about is if they are getting the job done and done well. It is really a matter of work ethic not appearance. PT (and others) seem to enjoy making disparaging remarks about the appearance of other people. I have always assumed that only people with low self esteem problems of their own feel the need to belittle others. PT has acknowledged having an eating disorder in the past which goes to show her own low self esteem issue. Sad that she would use her own issues with food/weight as a reason to bash the overweight among us in what is supposed to be a Yahoo Finance article.

  17. JenK
    JenK says:

    Penelope –

    As someone who is much larger than normal and won’t consider weight loss surgery until the 5-year survival rate gets above 99.9%, I have sien thoughts on mitigating the problem.

    1) Exercise. Doesn’t matter if you lose weight. You will have more energy, you will feel better, you will have more confidence. These are all good.

    2) Pick a field where lookism is less. The software field likes to believe in meritocracy – that it’s the work, not your looks. No, it doesn’t always succeed at this. But being fat affects you less in software than, say, in corporate law.

    3) Groom thyself. (Otherwise known as, “They expect you to smell bad. Don’t.”) Never mind if the team lead bikes to work and doesn’t bother showering. You be completely clean. Keep the hair neat, shave what needs shaving, use deodorant, trim and shape nails, et cetera. A little light perfume or aftershave is okay but keep it very light – you don’t want them to think you’re trying to cover something up.

    4) Wear clean, appropriate clothes that fit you now. If part of your job is crawling under lab desks, be ready to do that – without a plumber’s crack or having to readjust everything when you get back up. If you’re going to a client meeting, pull out a blazer. Make sure everything fits, no tears, buttons are present and button, et cetera. Look put together.

    5) Pay attention to proportion. If your measurements are 57-50-60, then a short-short hairdo is going to make your head look small in proportion to your shoulders. A perm or longer cut will give more balance. Ties may need to be extra-long, jewelry should be bigger, et cetera.


  18. Blake Simas
    Blake Simas says:

    I have recently made my way back to the office / corporate world after a work from home stint. Before getting the new job and I went out and blew $1000 on a new wardrobe. It was a lot of money for me to spent, but looking back it was such an important investment. I don’t have “what will I wear today?” syndrome anymore and actually look forward to getting dressed each morning. Some clothes came from Nordstrom, others from the Goodwill, more still from eBay. Regardless, they all fit well, can be mixed together to for a great looking, professional outfit and are easy to clean and keep up.

    Also, I am lucky enough to work for a company that promotes healthy employees and has an in-house gym. I work out daily during my hour long lunch and believe the endorphins from the workout keep me going all afternoon long. I have never felt healthier, or sexier. I am sure that the self confidence I have recently gained will lead to a promotion. As the saying goes, “When you look good, you feel good.” When you feel good, it translates to all aspects of life.

  19. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    I think dressing like a slob is worse than being a little chunky. You can have the perfect body, but if you look like you just rolled out of bed, you’re going to be seen as a slacker. You can be a litle chubby, but if you have clothes that fit well and are appropriate for your work environment, you’ll be okay. There are so many fat people these days, you’ll probably just seem like you’re one of the team.


  20. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    I used to work with a VERY heavy lady who always looked really cool. She had a stylish haircut, wore big earrings and vintage-style glasses, and she dressed in colorful, coordinated outfits. I thought she was delightful and looked more professional and well-groomed than a lot of thinner people. She was involved in a lot of civic music and art groups, and I don’t think her weight held her back much. She kicked butt as an employee. I’m thinking out loud here, just wondering if maybe the way extra weight penalizes people is in the way it affects their self-confidence?

  21. Quasar9
    Quasar9 says:

    Hi Aimee,
    it is not so much about what ‘size’ you are
    but about how you carry yourself.

    One can be large & heavy, and graceful & dynamic
    even a kickass football player or wrestler
    One can be large & heavy, confident & assertive
    and a darn good corporate manager …

    but I’m sure in the US, just like in the uk, you have certain large & untidy people who get into certain positions – and gather around them a team that doesn’t make her/him uncomfortable – by discriminating against anybody that is tidier and/or smarter (in appearance: body & mind).

    And then you have many who at least make an effort on their appearance (dress code) but you just know beneath the clothes, they are incomfortable with themselves (or where they are at) – and their desk usually reflects their sloppiness. But then again who knows how some people get some jobs – really the best person that applied?, the best out of a poor bunch?, quietly slithered up the corporate pole?, conveniently built her CV while her colleague was on maternity leave.

    If Men tried this sh*t – we’d be accused of discriminating against women in the workforce, but I think you ladies have been quite adept at positive discrimination over the last 50 years.

  22. JenK
    JenK says:

    Pirate Jo –

    Being fat definitely can affect self-confidence. Partly it’s being put down by others, but often it’s by being put down by yourself.

    There was an interesting 2-year study that put a group of obese women on a “Health At Every Size” program (emphasizing exercise and good nutrition regardless of weight loss) and a control group on a standard weight loss diet/exercise program.

    At the end of two years, both groups were about the same weight as when they started – but the HAES group had maintained significant improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and “almost quadrupled their moderate physical activity.” The dieters who completed the study (42% dropped out) had not. And: “The non-dieters demonstrated significant improvements in self-esteem and depression at the end the study, while the diet group demonstrated a worsening in self-esteem. The dieters’ depression levels initially improved but then returned to baseline.”

    More info: (source of the quotes above)

  23. JC
    JC says:


    The software field is not immune to lookism. I was hired by a prominent software company in May. During the interview process it came down to me and another woman…they picked me. After recently inquiring why I was chosen over the other candidate, I was told it was because of my looks. We both were qualified for the job, but in the end fit trumped fat. I could easily be offended, but the truth is i’m not, I got the job and I have the brains to back it up.


  24. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    “I worry less about looking older and more about what shirt is right for an appearance on CNN.”

    I think I’ve watched all of your videos and enjoyed every one. But the only “shirt” you wore that I remember being attractive was the Chinese collared model at the luncheon.

  25. JenK
    JenK says:

    JC –

    I didn’t say it was immune from lookism, just that there’s less than in some other fields. Note I also advised making the most of your looks (whatever they are) regardless of size et cetera. :)


  26. Regina
    Regina says:

    I agree with those who say that the degree to which looking good and dressing well plays a key role in career success varies depending on the industry one works in.

    I work in Public Relations/Communications and it must be one of the most looks intensive industries in the world outside the beauty/fashion/entertainment worlds. My boss told me point blank: “We cannot be fat, that’s why I want all of you to exercise regularly.” And yes, a pretty face, fit body and well-groomed looks do help when you need to charm your clients and the media.

    Having said that, I’ve just recruited a new PR exec who is – to put it mildly – on the heavy side but she can get the job done, works hard, is willing to learn, has a pleasant, easy-going manner with clients and makes an effort to dress well. So it’s not always about weight issues but almost always about grooming issues.

  27. Fish unable to swimming
    Fish unable to swimming says:

    it’s a very good article. a man’s imagin will have a great infulence on his future. never say that’s unfair. facts are so.

  28. d
    d says:

    Didn’t you write this column like two weeks ago?

    As someone else noted, your obsession with weight gets tiresome.

  29. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    I have seen it both ways with clean desks versus messy desks. But, more often than not, a clean desk is viewed as you don’t have enough to do.

    I alway dress professionally- even in environments where you can wear jeans on Fridays, I usually wear the same style of clothes as I do the rest of the week. I really don’t care about dress down days. Big deal.

    The overweight thing is unfortunate. In my own situation, I am overweight, and I walk a few miles everyday, eat around 1200 calories a day, and am a fast and accurate worker. I have a college degree and a professional license. But, I would guess I probably am penalized because I am overweight. I talked to my doctor about my weight situation and he wanted me to go on some no carb diet, but I don’t really eat that many carbs. I worked with a nutritionist and she found nothing wrong with what I was doing , or what I was eating. They did a metabolic resting rate test and found that I should be eating 2000 calories a day. The theory was that I wasn’t eating enough. Ok, so I tried eating more, and I didn’t lose any weight, and I didn’t gain any weight either. So, what in the world am I supposed to do??

  30. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    If you are eating below your BMR, you are forcing the homeostasis in the body to adjust to a new low which is why you are not gaining weight or losing weight. When you up your intake to your BMR, same thing applies but now hopefully you have more stamina.

    The fat-but-fit thing is unresolved in medical and biological research. If your stats (not just BP, resting heart rate but also body fat %) are fine, your fitness is good (you can walk so many miles) then the weight thing is not a medical issue. BTW body fat % and bone strength and body shape all benefit from regular weight training under supervision. Weights also enhance the lean mass of the body, which is a good thing healthwise.

    However P is writing about the social manifestation and alas, that is a problem, even in America where a good 2/3 of adults are overweight now.


  31. finance girl
    finance girl says:

    I suspect the people out there who are overweight and/or sloppy with their grooming and clothing will 1) rate you poorly for this article and 2)throw a bit of muck your way.

    I have yet to meet an overweight person who has a healthy lifestyle (read: is physically active and eats in moderation).

    I have met more people than I care to think about that just let themselves “go to seed”.

    Anybody can live a healthy lifestyle and groom themselves well and dress in clothes that are flattering.

    It doesn’t take money it takes initiative and having respect for yourself (not to mention those around you that interact with you).

  32. Flying Squirrel
    Flying Squirrel says:

    Please stop using thyroid problems as an excuse for being obese. This is rarely the case. I know because I had a thyroid cyst, was hypothyroid, had my thyroid removed and was paranoid about gaining weight. Talk to your endocrinologist. If your thyroid was causing you to become obese, it would also be causing a multitude of other physical problems. Thyroid disease is easily controlled these days with the right dose of medication. No doctor would ever accept that the primary reason you are obese is because of your thyroid.

  33. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Seeing all the _wisdom_ in the comments here about how weight is gained and lost so easily, I wonder why I wasted 4 years trying to study it!

    I also think I should send a link pointing the Surgeon General’s office and HHS to this discussion, so that they can stop spending (wasting?) money on programmes like WIN, WeCan! and so on which inform people on how to manage their weight. Clearly everyone knows everything there is to know.

    I am amazed to see how much vitriol is directed at overweight people. No wonder the workplace is how it is! Hateful and moralistic towards overweight people.

    But, of course, when Penelope discusses it, ooh!

    Bad Penelope! Discussing the obvious…

  34. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Here is something more to chew on. Pew Research noted last year that “Americans See Weight Problems Everywhere But In the Mirror”.


    I am no fat acceptance promoter. My lens is purely health related.

    But this I know.

    If the workplace has to change – more fundamentally than changing one’s wardrobe – then the change has to come from people who work there – thin or fat.

    With close to 2/3 of Americans now overweight, I do not think many are in a position to cast the proverbial first stone.

  35. klein
    klein says:

    I guess, if you are a person who cares more about others’ perceptions of you that actual factual information about you.

    Of course, this blog is dedicated to changing oneself, so it makes sense that you would put that info here.

  36. noasalira
    noasalira says:

    So, the thin anorexic bulimic chainsmoker egotistical shallow intellectually unprepared cheater dressed like a hooker, etc. person isn’t going to be perceived better than someone who is overweight?

    The fact that a person is underweight/not overweight really doesn’t imbue them with magical qualities, nor does it indicate discipline and control that would so effectively carry over to their work in a way that would make these statements in anyway useful.

    People discriminate against people for many reasons — some would add hair texture, race, hair color, accent, skin color, height, ‘ethnicity of name,’ etc. to reasons people ‘justifiably’ should be considered ‘less capable.’

    Generally it is a certain type of person that seeks to set use such factors to decide who is ‘less’ than they are — and the goal is usually to find another way to elevate themselves and disregard their own inherent flaws (which are likely actually problematic).

    Unfortunately, it really does seem to be women who will inflict these superficial standards on other women — a hold over from the habit women have of competing against one another based on looks.

    Some women simply carry this behavior into the workplace and then try to pretend it is not the same petty mindset they exhibited in high-school. Because society has determined largely that men aren’t going to be solely or predominately judged by their looks, this issue of being ‘too large’ means you aren’t a good worker, aren’t as intelligent, is definitely a by-product of more women entering the workplace.

    Some women have never learned to truly depend upon their intellectual abilities, and so they still need to compete based on looks — and therefore dismiss some people based on looks. Some women use their looks to inflate their (own perception of their) work capability — and want to find ways to dismiss competitors.

    No one thinks you are smarter because you are thin — they may find you more attractive but they are still pretending you are smarter.

    Overweight doesn’t automatically equal sloppy, less intelligent, unproductive, poor worker — and being thin doesn’t mean you are disciplined, intelligent, etc.

    Stop the anorexia ideology — the thinner I am the more I am in control, disciplined, etc.

  37. Matt
    Matt says:


    Okay, let’s start by saying that I have a “web” crush on you, and think you’re beautiful. Now that the disclosure is out of the way, here’s my .02.

    You are so right on this piece. The funny thing is though, it’s only rated an “average” instead of the five stars it deserves (even sans my bias).

    The reason for this IMHO, you said what everyone knows and feels, but the truth isn’t easy to swallow.

    Keep it up Girl. Excellent writing.


  38. brewtul
    brewtul says:

    While many of these responses are full of wishful thinking, the bias against the overweight is more than just cultural — it is genetic. Men and women are biased to find physically fit people more attractive because that fitness generally confers greater reproductive potential. For women it means they are more likely to bear healthy children (obese women often have dangerous problems with out of control diabetes and blood pressure during pregnancy and have dangerously large children). For men it means that they are likely to be free of heritable diseases and also to be better providers for their young offspring.

    If that bias has filtered into the workplace it is not through shalowness or “anorexia ideology” but rather because we are genetically programmed to feel it. In fact, it is a testament to the power of social influence OVER genetic predisposition that allows us to be so tolerant of obesity (and any other outward signs of ill health for that matter).

    Think about it this way. If we as a culture had absolutely no discrimination against obese individuals we would, presumably, have more obesity and less long term survival. The average obese individual (defined as BMI over 30) has a life expentency of 10 years less than non-obese individuals. Researchers have estimated that poor diet causes more preventable death than alcohol and tobacco combined. And obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, strokes, uterine cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and on and on and on.

    Make no mistake, obesity is not simply an “invdividual difference” like hair color or eye color. It is a very visible sign of poor health. I doubt there will ever be a time when we as a culture stop discriminating.

  39. d
    d says:

    something struck me–better late than never.

    you’re saying that being fat is a bigger career handicap than being openly gay?

    do you think deeply-ingrained cultural prejudices run harder against fat people or gay people (hint: which group’s members often get the poop beaten out of them in random acts of violence)?

    Health, you say? Well, the gay-haters would trot out AIDS and a host of lesser-known but otherwise unpleasant health problems associated with certain types homosexual activity.

    Gay OK, Fat not? Dream on.

  40. d
    d says:

    sorry–i’d meant to make a final point:

    brewful says that we as a species are essentially programmed, genetically, against perpetuating obesity.

    well, again, if that’ s relevant, what should we say to homosexuality? by its very definition, such behavior is incapable of getting passed down to future generations.

  41. Mike Hobart
    Mike Hobart says:

    Well this one was obviously going to get a big reaction (41 comments so far…) but I guess that didn’t surprise you.

    I’ve always liked that sign you see in novelty shops that reads “A Clean Desk is a sign of a Sick Mind” !

  42. Paige
    Paige says:

    While I agree that obesity may be a sign of poor health, it is not the only sign. The girl who skips lunch to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes but fits in a size 0 is probably less healthy.

    As a recovering anorexic/bulimic myself, I can see through this article. It smacks of your need to justify your obsession with weight through the best way you know how – careers. Whether or not you are right or wrong, or whatever the statistics show, the way you go about discussing this issue (which you do on a regular basis) is acutely condescending and alienating to some of your readers. You can make a point without being this way.

    Do you ever ask yourself why your tone gets so nasty when you talk about this? I suggest taking a closer look at yourself and then reading this article again. Can you read between the lines like I can?

    * * * * * *
    Hi, Paige. I think that I agree with a lot of what you wrote. There is no way to blog every day if I am not working on my own issues through the blog. I mean, that’s the only way to keep things interesting. So, for the most part, the topics I write about are the ones I have trouble with myself. These are the topics I think about all the time, trying to get my arms around. The blog is a place that I work on my hardest stuff, hopefully in a way that inspires other people to work on their hardest stuff.


  43. yomama
    yomama says:

    D – in regard to your 2nd comment…exactly, that’s the point…it is very relevant and true.

    nice comments by JM and JenK. Suzanne’s comment is quite amusing

  44. Mary Baum
    Mary Baum says:


    It’s taken me a couple of days — actually weeks, because it has come up before, multiple times — to figure out what I wanted to say to you on this subject.

    Because so far, you have treated it differently from other workplace issues. You haven’t said, here are five things to make it less of an issue, or how to finesse it in an interview.

    You have said, make it go away. And you’ve said, make it go away my way, which is by going to the gym an hour a day. And controlling your eating. Especially, do not eat candy.

    It’s been hard to keep reading your column and your blog knowing how much you hate fat people. Of course, you’re not too fond of boomers, but we’ve found common ground on that score before — I’m the one who brings up how much our generations have in common.

    So here are some observations, loosely based on the idea that fat is often in the eye of the beholder.

    Observation 1. Last Tuesday at tennis practice I looked three courts down and noticed a new player. True to your study results, the first things I noticed were her weight — she’s almost as big as I am, which is a size 2x skirt — and her clothes — she was wearing navy shorts and a red shirt, not exactly the latest tennis fashion.

    Half an hour later, though, she and I were on the same court doing a serving drill, and, Penelope, this woman has the most beautiful, traditional serving motion I’ve seen in 30 years! Her overheads have that same stroke too — the kind developed over years of practice. As we talked afterward, it turned out she had once layed tennis at the same numerical level as a teaching pro — 5.0 for those who care.

    Observation 2.
    In your article and all the comments above, we never did define overweight or obese. For all I know, you might get hysterical when you hit a size 12.

    Some of the comments sounded to me as if they were describing someone who weighs 300-350 pounds or more.

    For the record, I wear size 18 pants and weigh about 200 pounds. The highest-profile financial analyst in St. Louis, the one that gets quoted on NPR every time the markets hiccup or there’s a merger is probably twice my size. The headhunter who would most like to place me somewhere usually sees me in tennis clothes.

    Finally, I’m sure you know better than anyone that it’s possible to look as much as 30 pounds heavier or thinner depending on how you dress for business — hell, I can do ten just by wearing tennis clothes the fit — and an awful lot of folks are clueless about how much someone else weighs in any case.

    Now then . . .

    Here are some thought-starters for a column on how to mitigate the stereotype:

    1. Since the stereotype is that fat folks don’t exercise, I would think it would help to make sure people know you play a sport, especially if you’re good at it. But don’t give the impression the sport is more important than the work.

    (I have had trouble with this one but am pulling back into balance. My favorite lack-of-discipline story: the time last year I couldn’t say no to three tennis games in a row — that’s four and a half hours on the court!)

    2. Dress extra-well, and use those tips for creating the long vertical line: top, pants, shoes all one color, single-breasted open jacket or cardigan in a contrasting color.

    3. Ditto for grooming.

    4. Energy and enthusiasm! Fat people are supposed to be lazy, so you be the first one up out of your chair, the first one to the door, holding it for other people — you get the idea. If your feet hurt or you’re otherwise in pain, that’s a medical issue. You deserve the right care and proper pain relief, but do NOT discuss it at the office unless you know someone else has it too. Same with chronic fatigue.

    (BTW — chronic pain and fatigue, and neurological disorders in general, are direct contributors to obesity. The specific culprits: sleep deprivation, pain (sugar is a painkiller) and most of the meds.)

    5. Just like the thin kids — get out there and work with the peeps! You’ll never get anywhere hiding in your office behind your computer.

    * * * * * *
    Hi, Mary. Thank you for taking the time to post this comment. The information here is useful and informative. You make a nice point about how it’s good to give people ways to solve their problems beyond just go to the gym. I am probably not the best person to write that stuff, but you do a good job. So this is a nice addition to the blog. Thank you.


  45. PJ
    PJ says:

    Some great info here thanks.
    For those who cannot obtain private health insurance and are between jobs there is guaranteed issue health insurance available. It is fully HIPAA compliant so counts toward pre existing conditions. The rub is that there is a 12 month wait on pre existing conditions and there are caps on what it will pay. Certainly better than nothing though.

  46. Karen
    Karen says:

    Columns like this one condone stereotyping and prejudice. You should be ashamed! Being overweight does not make you sloppy or stupid just as being thin and attractive doesn’t make you smart and organized. Nor does it give you flexibility, many people have one hour for lunch and by the time you hit the gym, shower, drive back and forth you’ve exceeded your hour. Or they have kids to pick up from day care. You are assuming that everyone has free time and minimal obligations which is NOT the case. You should be encouraging people to evaluate each other based on intelligence, ethics, personality fit and effectiveness because those are the only things that should count in the work place. Why don’t you try promoting helpful values and solutions instead of approving harmful stereotypes.

  47. K Davis
    K Davis says:

    Hi, Paige. I think that I agree with a lot of what you wrote. There is no way to blog every day if I am not working on my own issues through the blog. I mean, that's the only way to keep things interesting. So, for the most part, the topics I write about are the ones I have trouble with myself. These are the topics I think about all the time, trying to get my arms around. The blog is a place that I work on my hardest stuff, hopefully in a way that inspires other people to work on their hardest stuff.


    Yeah, but working through your “hardest stuff” in a column for Yahoo Finance is a bit unprofessional and comes across as moralistic.

  48. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Just wanted to make a comment here- I am currently unemployed and I am overweight. I am 5’4 and around 200 pounds. However, I have a large frame and some muscle, so I am not all flab. I wear between a size 16 and 18 in pants, and medium size tops. Fortunately, (knock on wood) weight has not appeared to be an issue in getting a job offer. I was just given a job offer today for a temp position. Granted, I am not an insanely huge person, and I am sure that helps, but at the same time, I am not some skinny little nothing. I think because I am in accounting, and in a field that requires skill and attention to detail, that these are things that are valued more than whether someone is overweight or not. I can say that if I am ever in a position to hire someone ( I have been in situations where
    make a recommendation), I would focus on 1) is the person interested in doing the job 2) do they have a good attitude, 3) Do they have the skills needed to do the job, and if they are sort some skills, do they have the ability to learn the job.
    Granted, if someone came in wearing shorts, and a sweaty t-shirt, versus being dressed business professional, or business casual, that would influence me. However, I think about the movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness” and how circumstances forced the main character to show up at an interview wearing paint spattered pants and an undershirt. But, he was able to show his ability and that is probably what really should matter, but I realize that most people are focused on looks because that is how our society is.

  49. KaiKushman
    KaiKushman says:

    I thought this response was great:
    Overall: 5/5 I am so fat and sloppy, this article really spoke to me. I mean I am a mess. 4ft 9in and 290 lbs! I always thought that I was useless, but now that I know everyone else thinks I am, including my boss, It really makes me aware that my brand is useless. Yesterday, I wore a mu-mu (sorry for the spelling I am kinda stupid too, fat cells and sloppy cells are blocking my ability to think) and got wierd stares. I thought the wrinkled, floral patern on my clothing that also doubles as my curtain at home would be a hit at the office, but most of my call-center patrons stopped talking to me. During my smoke break, did I mention I was pregnant?, I was halfway through my mid morning marlbro, leg of lamb and Krispy Kremes (YUM!), when I realized I needed to find a new way in life. And the best way was to re-invent my brand. So I hired an image consultant. This person really helped me get in touch with who I should be, rather than who I actually am. She informed me, much to my surprise, nobody cares about my productivity or other redeeming qualities. Lesson one, find out what people really care about. What did I find, well I am still learning, but I realized nobody likes or cares about a sloppy, fat person. That made me feel real out-of-touch, and a bit suicidal, but this is where my image-consultant really helped. She informed me, that she herself once had problems with her image. I couldn’t believe that she could relate with my struggles. What she did from there was create a useless, made up job that showed other people that all they need to do to be successful in life was fake it. So, long story short, I have had plastic surgery (paid for with a credit card), changed my wardrobe to the latest craze, and stopped really caring about anything other than how other people percieve me at all times. Thanks Coach!

  50. kat
    kat says:

    this article was incredibly judgmental….and i’m not going to waste my time responding to a self-absorbed woman who wants everyone else to conform to their ideal… not everyone has blonde hari blue eyes and is 50 lbs!!!

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