The door opens. Our new professor enters. She is wearing a green, velvet suit that underlines her highly intelligent, witty, and capturing personality we will discover in a second perfectly. Also, she is super thin. “This is the woman I want to become”, my friend whispers in my ear while the professor introduces herself. She jokes about a video she made about her life, stating that she had three children, whilst working full-time and obtaining some academic degrees here and there, for instance, her two masters from universities such as the London School of Economics, which many IE students dream about for their exchange. Hearing all this, my friend whispers again: “After three children she looks THAT good? I wish I was that thin now!” It is sad to see how different my class, consisting of both women and men, reacts to a thin and successful woman like our new professor, in contrast to an overweight and successful woman, like our last.
“It is economically rational for ambitious women to try as hard as possible to be thin”, The Economist wrote on Dec 20th, 2022, only somewhat more than a year ago.
And, as a woman who herself has lived inside a smaller and a bigger body, I have discovered that, unfortunately, The Economist is not wrong, but why?
I asked my roommate why she thinks we as a collective society are so extremely prejudiced when it comes to the obvious correlation between a woman’s weight and her professional success. Interestingly enough, she answered that she believes that there remains a subconscious persuasion that health and professional ability go hand in hand. “Okay,” I responded, “but why do we then look at a picture of the most powerful people in today’s world, and see more than half of them being not only male, of course, but overweight as well?” My roommate was silent.
It is a fact that women and men are still measured differently in today’s working world, and this is rooted in the deeply interwoven system of misogyny, meaning a woman can work just as hard as a man, but as long as the factor of conventional attractiveness, which still equals thinness in most parts of the globe, is not fulfilled, a woman’s professional success will remain crucially limited.
So why don’t we solve this issue then? Enough women would be on our side, to address and boycott this issue, right? Unfortunately, we women are partially responsible for upholding this unfair treatment. In class, we debated if women had it easier or harder than men in the workforce, and a girl, who is actively investing a good amount of her time and energy into fulfilling the ideals of societal beauty standards, spoke up, saying that women can and should use their attractiveness and sex-appeal to influence men and therefore go up the professional ladder.
It’s so sad to see that we live in a society where young girls are gaslighted into thinking it is a compliment when a 50-year-old family father turns his head to catch a glimpse of their thin, childish bodies. Meanwhile he is walking next to his same-aged wife, and these young girls will not be able to escape their faith of becoming the wife of this 50-year old family father someday. Someday means the day when they have lost their sex-appeal, and their husbands again will turn their heads towards young girls walking by. So, women are only valuable for the patriarchal society when they are young, thin and nothing more than a sex object.
The only way to break this cycle therefore is to get uncomfortable, to stop feeding the brains of naive, young girls with books on “how to make a guy like me, how to always stay thin, how to always be valuable.” Instead, we need to educate them about mathematics, history, and languages, so this world, which is made for overweight men, stops suppressing overweight women because in 2024, it should be the brain and the character and the engagement that counts, and not the numbers on a scale.
Featured image: Illustration by Ana Leovy. Retrieved from Teen Vogue.