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This article first appeared on SHE'SAID' and has been republished with permission.
Nothing brings on waves of stress and nausea quite like the word ‘interview.’
Even if it’s a job you’re confident you’re qualified for, we’re given a million different pieces of information that often seem to contradict themselves. Your resume should only be a page long, but it really should be extensive so you look well qualified. Be extremely formal with the people you’re interviewing with, but don’t be too formal because you want to make them laugh. Show up extremely early just in case something happens on your way, but don’t show up too early otherwise you may look desperate for the job. Answer the questions you’re given honestly, but also make sure to give the answers you know they want to hear, even if it means you have to tell a white lie.
It’s stressful. It’s so, so stressful. And it’s even worse when you know the cards are stacked against you the second you walk into the interview room.
That’s the fear I always had about being interviewed while being a fat woman.
Most of the jobs I interviewed for were very visible positions. The receptionist at a country club, an executive assistant to a CEO, and the legal assistant for an attorney who often found himself needing my help in the courtroom. All of these involved me being visible to clients and customers, and my being fat was both always and never a factor.
There are laws against refusing to hire someone for being a lot of things – a person of color, a woman, pregnant, or your age. We all know these are reasons why people aren’t hired of course, they just give more creative answers; “You’re qualified, we just aren’t sure your personality fits in well with our team,” or, “I’m so sorry, we decided to promote internally instead.” As a woman, I’ve been on the receiving end of some of these excuses, and I know they come about tenfold for people who happen to fall into plural categories of discrimination.
When you’re fat no one has to make up any excuses.
Most employers will make up something nice to say because society generally frowns upon being bluntly insulting, but there is no law that says you can’t discriminate against someone for being fat. It was never a factor on the record, but I’ve definitely been passed up for jobs because of it anyway.
I remember going in for an interview at a law firm. It was me and one other girl, she was traditionally pretty with long blonde hair and also seemed to be incredibly friendly. We had a good chat in the waiting room before she went in, and then I was called in after.
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We were asked to transcribe an audiotape that consisted of the attorney’s notes from his meetings that day. I finished in record time, and the assistant who was handling our interviews told me I was the fastest transcriber they’d had in, “But I wouldn’t get your hopes up honey, he likes them thin and blonde.”
She gave me a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, likely thinking she was saving me some time by letting me know in advance that I wasn’t really in the running, and left me sitting there dumbfounded. I never got a call back.
A few years earlier I was working the front desk at a country club. I’d been there for about a year, I knew everyone and greeted each member with a smile, but I knew our membership was dwindling. The neighborhood around us was crumbling in value and people weren’t hanging on to golf club memberships during a recession. To try and shake things up we got in a new general manager, and they met in a conference room right by my desk. I could overhear him suggesting we put someone more “traditionally pretty” at the front desk to lure in more customers. Two weeks later I got a “promotion” that consisted of a fifty cent an hour raise and a move to the back office.
I’ll never know exactly how many interviews I’ve been on that I haven’t gotten specifically because I’m fat, but I’m willing to bet it’s more than just the one.
I can’t wear the same cute outfits other women wear to interviews, and despite being well qualified, I’m often assumed to be clumsy and bumbling because of my size. It’s the trope of fat people we’re used to seeing on TV – we’re jolly, red-cheeked folks who are constantly eating cake and tripping over our own feet. It’s frustrating to know that when I go into an interview, it’s my size that’s being weighed over my qualifications. I try not to think about how many raises I was passed over for just because I wouldn’t look as pretty behind a desk as one of my coworkers.
Fat women just have to be better. We have to be twice as qualified, three times as confident than we actually are, and perfect in every way. We can’t nervously spill water down the front of our shirts, leave a lipstick stain on a glass of water or trip on our heels – we have to be flawless from the moment we walk through the door.
My personal strategy is to be aggressively myself, because I’m certainly not going to be able to compete if they’re looking for someone who can sit on a board room chair without needing both arm rests – I’m only going to make it if they want someone like me. It probably means I’m being passed over for more jobs, but at least at the end of them I’m not left wondering if my resume wasn’t long enough, or if my jokes fell flat. At the end of the day I know I was me, and that’s all I can really offer.