This research examines how neoliberal health beliefs amplify expressions of prejudice and acts of discrimination. Specifically, I investigate whether health promotion programs foster organizational cultures that legitimate the expression of anti-fat attitudes and contribute to increases in weight-based discrimination in employment decisions.
In this study I use an experimental design to examine whether overweight and obese employees face an additional weight penalty when evaluated for employment at companies that offer and promote employee health and wellness programs. Findings from this study indicate that when an applicant is portrayed as fat she is evaluated more negatively and is less likely to receive recommendations for hire than when she appears thin. Evaluators in this study also offered lower starting salaries when the applicant was portrayed as fat and were less optimistic about the applicant’s ability to move up in the company.
Findings from this study also suggest that weight-based discrimination is amplified in organizational environments that endorse employee wellness as a corporate value. The applicant who appeared fat was rated as less competent, less disciplined, and less productive when evaluated for a company with an employee wellness program than when evaluated for the identical company without a wellness program. The fat applicant was also seen as less hirable and less capable of leadership positions and promotion when evaluated for the company with a wellness program.
These findings suggest that health promotion beliefs motivate evaluators to use assumptions about body size and behavior to make judgments about the work ethic and abilities of others. By examining the beliefs and attitudes that generate and motivate weight-based discrimination this study provides a key insight into the findings of previous studies that document the pervasiveness of fat discrimination across a variety of domains. This research also contributes to the study of stigmatization, stereotypes, and discrimination processes within organizational settings and proposes new applications for the prejudice justification and suppression model.
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