Body Size: The Last Acceptable Bias?
Inclusion and diversity (I&D) often focus on immutable characteristics, such as sex and race. But the real point behind I&D is to encourage the inclusion of a diverse set of viewpoints, backgrounds and experiences. These differences define us and they’re not limited to immutable characteristics. For example, a person's religion is certainly changeable, but it is certainly a defining factor in terms of who they are and how they think. Even if they were to change religion or cease being observant, their life has been shaped by religion.
Body Size: An Immutable Trait
Another example of a characteristic that is not technically immutable but has a major impact on the experiences of millions is body size. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly forty percent of the American population is obese. Roughly seventy percent are overweight (which includes the obese group). While it's not correct to say body size is immutable—many people are successful in changing their body size—it's extremely difficult for many people who struggle with obesity throughout their lives to make these changes.
In an article for BBC, Jane Mulkerrins gives an example of changing depictions of beauty and body image in American media. "It’s rare that a single TV moment can feel revolutionary," she writes. "But a scene in new US comedy-drama Shrill has been making grown women (and likely some men, too) weep with its joyful progressiveness. It comes when the show’s plus-size protagonist, Annie, played by Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant, attends a ‘Fat Babe Pool Party,’ along with her best friend Fran (Lolly Adefope)."
Mulkerrins says this scene, among other recent examples, is a rebuff to the entertainment industry's long-standing history of demeaning and mocking those who don't fit a superficial sense of what it means to be physically attractive.
Attitudes Toward Body Size and Implicit Bias
Attitudes toward body size offer interesting insights into the broader issues of implicit bias. "Weight, it seems, is the only stigma still deemed socially acceptable, and overweight people the only marginalized group deserving of public disapprobation," says Mulkerrins.
Mulkerrins mentions a recent study that looked at rates of implicit bias in simpler terms. The study showed that levels of implicit bias around issues like sexual orientation, sex and race are declining; however, body-related biases seem to be increasing. "This certainly seems to hold true in Hollywood," she writes. "In the last few years, it has made very vocal efforts to be more representative when it comes to gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation on screen; body diversity, however, is still lagging far behind."
Regardless of the issues that make us different, the point of inclusion is to ensure that all voices are heard. Inclusion affects the bottom line. Be inclusive!
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