On 3 May this year I posted an article about the nine protected characteristics of the Equality Act, asking why stop at nine.
Today I read an article on an NHS Choices website about doctors who discriminate against overweight people, entitled “Is your doctor fattist?” In its text, it explored the issue I recently discussed of unconscious bias, stating that “Explicit (conscious) feelings were judged by a direct question. More importantly, implicit (unconscious) feelings were judged by a web-based series of tests. Studying implicit feelings is arguably more important as many people may have deep-seated opinions, which, for reasons of social pressure, they are unwilling to admit to others (and possibly themselves)”.
The findings of the research suggest that doctors have a strong implicit and explicit preference for thin people, which the article goes on to explain is no different from the general public in society at large.
We do not have to be too clever in our searches to see what people are saying about others who are overweight. This is an example I found. “To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroin addict slumping in a chair.” Mike and Molly Show – Overweight Couples on Television – Marie Claire.
Is this the truth we all have deeply ingrained in our unconscious selves?
I remember in a group I was part of some years ago there was one person who was quite overweight and physically unattractive. When she joined, I recall with some embarrassment my initial reaction, which today I am not proud of. Now I understand I was responding to my unconscious bias. However, as I got to know her, I realised that she was one of the most beautiful people I had ever met; deeply sensitive and caring in the extreme. She demonstrated to me never to judge a proverbial book by its cover, a first hand lesson in tackling personal prejudices.
Over those months of sharing with her, and hearing her story, I became aware that she had lived an almost completely anonymous existence, as no-one had ever given the time or space to get to know her. As such, she was always the “unattractive fat one” who, unsurprisingly, never said anything. In group discussions, she became a pivotal character, with an opportunity to share, for the first time in her life.
How many beautiful people have touched our lives without us ever noticing? If doctors, as a small cross section of society, are prejudice against overweight people then presumably we all are. Not a very pleasant or reassuring thought. What happens in your workplace?