Bill targets size shame

Thursday, March 06
BOSTON — The schoolyard reprimand is familiar to adolescents, but if one state lawmaker has his way, the lesson — that jokes about fat and short people hurt more than feelings — would be heeded by more than just children.

In a legislative briefing, Rep. Byron Rushing, D-Boston, detailed his bill to add height and weight to the Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws.

"Discrimination based on height and weight is part of a culture in this country," Rushing said. "It is the only thing, almost, that you can publicly make jokes about and don't have to apologize."

In Massachusetts, if someone claims discrimination at work or in housing, it must be proved to a court that the weight or height is a disability. This method is usually unsuccessful.

Opposition lines up

The bill faces tough opposition. Some legislators worry that the law could lead to excessive legislation against other perceived forms of discrimination.

"There are a lot of things that people could consider discrimination," said Rep. Denis E. Guyer, D-Dalton. "I mean, I don't have much hair on my head, why not baldness or left-handed people? I'd consider myself someone who is height- and weight-challenged, so I'm sympathetic. But at what point do we say enough?"

Rebecca Puhl, director of research at the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, presented data showing the harsh discrimination faced by overweight Americans.

"There are significant research studies in the past several years reflecting weight discrimination in the workplace," Puhl said. "It's very common for overweight employees to face inequitable hiring practices and lower salaries than thinner individuals."

Ellen Frankel, the 4-foot-8 author of "Beyond Measure," told the gathering of the trials facing short people.

"Heightism is the discrimination of people of short stature," Frankel said. "In this case, males have a harder time. Men who are 6 feet 2 inches or taller receive 12 percent more for a starting salary than shorter men with the same education and qualifications."


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