There’s no data to prove size discrimination in academia, according to representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance, an advocacy organization, but there’s no reason to believe that academe is immune, either.
In the meantime, fat-studies scholars trade anecdotes. Linda Bacon, a nutrition professor at the City College of San Francisco and author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, shares one, from a search committee she served on. One overweight candidate applied for the position. She was at least as qualified as the other applicants, Bacon says, but she didn’t get the job.
“When it came time to discuss the lone fat candidate, one of my colleagues dismissed her by saying, ‘Well, she really isn’t the role model for someone who eats nutritiously, is she?’” Bacon recalls. “I was horrified. What it reinforced for me was that had this candidate had been up against a thinner woman similar in other aspects, or even with lesser qualifications, the thinner person would have gotten the job just by virtue of what she weighed.”
When Bacon attends NAAFA’s conference, an annual gathering place for fat people, she says she’s usually the only thin person in attendance. She says a good number of the attendees are academics.
“I’m struck by how many people in the room have Ph.D.’s, how many of them are incredibly brilliant, but they are underemployed and can’t get tenure-track positions,” Bacon says. “It’s got to be because they are fat. But how do you prove any of this stuff?”