3 strikes against curvy women

Fashion models in double-digit sizes? Christina Hendricks steaming up 'Mad Men'? We love our curvy girls. But let's not fool ourselves. Life, in general, is still easier for the lean. Yet another new study hammers home the reality that tall, thin women (bonus for weensy waists and long arms) are rated most attractive. And despite all the new science on the causes of obesity, it seems that a distaste for weight runs deep in the aquifers of the American psyche. Recently, in fact, it became clear just how dearly women pay for carrying a few extra pounds.

STRIKE ONE - Skinnier paychecks
Obese women earn about 6 percent less than thinner women for doing exactly the same work, according to Rebecca Puhl, PhD, director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University. "That wage penalty has been consistently documented," she says. "It's pretty bad." What's new is that males don't take nearly the hit. A study just out from George Washington University breaks down the penalties as follows: Among the obese, the annual cost is $4,879 for a woman and only $2,646 for a man. Among overweight employees, the numbers are $524 versus $432. "This disparity is attributable mostly to lost wages and absenteeism," the authors write. But Puhl notes that being stigmatized about your weight makes you much more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and to resort to unhealthy behaviors, all of which may impact absenteeism. "It's a vicious cycle," she says. "And women are the most vulnerable."

How much? Puhl's team published studies in 2008 showing that discrimination is not only three times more common in obese ladies than gents, but it starts at lower weights. "We're observing this around a BMI of 27 in women," she says, referring to a "body mass index" that would, for example, describe a 5 foot-5 inch person weighing 162 pounds. In men, discrimination doesn't start kicking in until they are at least a BMI of 35-same height but 210 pounds.

"Overweight people are already aware of being discounted in terms of fashion and dating; they know that physicians treat them more poorly," says Alice Domar, PhD, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Domar Center for Mind.Body Health. "And on top of that to be discriminated against at work? It's like hitting somebody when they're already down." Unfortunately Puhl's data shows that weight bias is only getting worse. "With the prevalence of obesity increasing, you'd think there would be more tolerance in society," she says. "There is not."

STRIKE TWO - Little help if you're fired
After working at Hooters for five years, Leanne Convery, 23, was told "to make her extra-small shirt and shorts fit more properly, or she would be terminated," according to the complaint she filed against the eat-and-party restaurant chain. A single mother in Michigan, she says she was given 30 days to lose weight. And she did-15 pounds, by her account. But at 4 foot-11 inches and 115 pounds, she was still fired for failing her weight probation. "The uniforms come in double extra small, extra small, and small," comments her lawyer, Michael Gatti. "People say, 'What do you expect for working at Hooters?' What you expect is to be treated decently."
At least Convery can sue. Michigan is the only state with an anti-weight discrimination statute. There's no national law to protect workers. "When we don't have legislation about this issue, it sends the message that it's okay for employers to discriminate," says Puhl. Whether Hooters will have to pay remains to be seen. The company has denied asking any employee in Michigan to lose weight, though it did say their restaurants occasionally "challenge employees about their image," according to Reuters. Convery is asking for $25,000 in damages.

STRIKE THREE - An obstacle to climbing the career ladder
The General Accounting Office recently reported that in 2007 women made up about 40 percent of managers. It was barely a nudge up from 39 percent in 2000. There's also-no surprise-a 19-cent pay gap, with women earning 81 cents for every $1 made by their male counterparts. Most depressingly, at this career level mothers fare worse, getting only 79 cents for every dollar fathers do. Another reason women don't advance is that they get discouraged, says Marie Wilson, founder and president of The White House Project, a nonprofit devoted to helping women attain leadership roles. According to groundbreaking research they released this year, she says, "women just aren't seen in a way that allows them to make progress. So they leave because they feel that they don't belong, or that they're not doing a good enough job."
As for weight? "Boy, to act like appearance doesn't matter would be terribly naive," Wilson says. "It's still a major issue. For years we've had to go around using our beauty to try to get up the ladder. The truth is, when women have real power, all this weight stuff will go away."

Hey ladies, have you ever been discriminated against for your weight?

For more unfair curve balls...
Can a Nail Salon Charge a Fee for Fat?

Should Curvy Girls be Banned from a Club?
Are Doctors Biased Against Overweight Women?

[Photo Credit: Thinkstock]