Retail's prejudice against the obese

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by esquire., Apr 16, 2005.

  1. esquire.

    esquire. Senior member

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    I found this article, and its so funny. I love how the retail trade group's spin is basically "Oh, we don't discriminate against our obese shoppers. We treat all our customers poorly." And, they wonder why their industry is in trobule?

    Obese Shoppers Say Clerks Not Helpful

    By JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press Writer
    HOUSTON - Even though she's been a model, an author and small-business owner, Catherine Schuller said some sales clerks still only see her as an overweight woman who is out of place in their stores.

    "I was once in a store and asked for the plus-size section. The clerk said, 'Why would I know that.' It's like I was insulting her," said Schuller, who runs CurveStyle: Reshaping Fashion, a New York consulting firm. "I tend not to want any help from sales associates."

    A small Rice University study details some of the unpleasant experiences of women like Schuller and other overweight shoppers. The study suggests sales clerks subtly discriminate against obese shoppers unless they think the customer is trying to lose weight.

    But the world's largest retail trade association said the study proves only that some sales clerks are rude.
    The research, conducted over five years, was done in three phases and focused on a large Houston mall. The shoppers visited smaller stores; no department stores or restaurants were included.

    In the first phase, 10 white women played the role of a customer in four scenarios: casually and professionally dressed average-weight shoppers, and casually and professionally dressed obese shoppers. Those posing as obese participants wore a prosthetic that made them appear to be a size 22.

    The obese shoppers reported greater levels of interpersonal discrimination, with the ones casually dressed facing the most rejection. The subtle forms of discrimination included less eye contact, more rudeness, hostility and unfriendliness, said
    Eden King, one of the study leaders.

    "That kind of subtle discrimination is more challenging and potentially more harmful," said King, a Rice graduate student in psychology.

    In the second phase, seven women acted as either obese or healthy-weight shoppers. They also carried either a diet cola or an ice cream drink and told store employees whether or not they were trying to lose weight.

    Obese shoppers with the ice-cream drink reported the greatest amount of discrimination, King said.

    The third phase of the research involved interviews with 191 white women, who were not involved in the study, about their shopping experiences in general. Obese women said they faced more discrimination, spent less time and money in the store and would probably not return.

    But Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C., said he doesn't think the study clarifies whether the store employees were actually discriminating against the obese shoppers or whether they were just rude across the board.

    "Discrimination happens in all walks of life, and it's wrong," he said. "If this behavior is happening, retailers want to know."
    Krugman said the women carrying drinks might have been treated poorly because the store may have forbid food or beverages.

    However, Chris Crandall, a psychology professor at the University of Kansas who has tracked attitudes toward the overweight for the last 20 years, said the Rice findings are typical.

    "To reduce anti-fat prejudice, we have to tell people how much the problem is due to genetics and physiology and how it has less to do with willpower," he said. "But that flies against the American way of thinking about things."
    Allen Steadham, spokesman for the International Size Acceptance Association in Austin, said the study's findings should be a call to action.

    "Overweight people feel embarrassed when discriminated against and they want to forget it. "We as consumers have to connect with the businesses and make our needs known," he said.
     
  2. StevenRocks

    StevenRocks Senior member

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    There is certainly a lot of discrimination against the obese in retail.

    To be continued...
     
  3. Bergdorf Goodwill

    Bergdorf Goodwill Senior member

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    Almost everyone is prejudiced against the obese.

    It's aesthetically unpleasant and unhealthy.

    There's a big difference (yeah, yeah) between being a bit overweight and being obese.

    It's simply not a characteristic that is thought of favorably. So long as there is no active, persistent, egregious discrimination ongoing; I fail to see a problem.
     
  4. StevenRocks

    StevenRocks Senior member

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    They still are consumers and deserve basic respect.  They're not getting it from what the article reads and from what I've seen while shopping.

    If you're not obese, or don't know anyone who is, you may miss the active, persistent, egregious discrimination that is, in fact, occouring.
     
  5. armscye

    armscye Senior member

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    Pop Quiz, class. By the most conservative of estimates, chronic obesity takes a whopping nine years off your life, morbid obesity even more (hence the term morbid). Plus, as proven above, even those who are being paid to talk to the obese don't enjoy doing so. Only a vanishingly small number of cases of obesity involve glandular or congenital causes. Taking all of these facts into account, is the answer to this problem:

    A. Sensitivity Training for apparel sales staffs
    B. Mandatory use of prosthetics to enlarge all ciitizens to Size 22, thus leveling the playing field
    C. Choosing slimming colors and styles with the aid of a caring and discreet sales consultant
    D. Ingesting less, exercising more, and actually enjoying your look in the mirror
     
  6. lisapop

    lisapop Senior member

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    ...and an insatiable affinity for Twinkies and Ding Dongs.
    Grayson
     
  7. Horace

    Horace Senior member

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    My dear sir,

    if I may: they're human, and so deserve our respect. Consumer is an accidental category (humanity is a profound one) and should give no one any rights outside of economic ones between buyer and seller.
     
  8. guitone

    guitone Well-Known Member

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    Whatever our opinion of obesity is, if we think it unhealthy or unpleasant, it does not mean that we can judge and treat others with disrepect. Yes, it is natural for those of us who work hard to keep ourselves in shape to cringe, but it is not nice, respectful or a trait I want to pass on to my children..I am as guilty as the next in my internal displeasure of seeing an obese person, it does not mean I have to like it or make excuses for it.
     
  9. armscye

    armscye Senior member

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    Hmm. Two enthical conundra I'm struggling with here...

    Is a person who chronically abuses certain substances through over-intake to be treated differently depending on the substance? If it's whiskey, we correct, we don't respect. But if it's pizza, we should show "tolerance" and be "nice."

    Yes, the effects of whiskey over-indulgence show up quickly-- as innocent drunk-driving deaths and workplace absenteeism. But the effects of pizza overindulgence are ultimately perhaps just as pernicious: premature death, as well as a "passalong" propensity for one's innocent children to be obese.

    I am definitely not advocating governmental interference here, but I question whether civility requires me to keep silent in the face of "carbohydrate abuse."

    Second question: Assume I am engaged in the profession of aiding people with their appearance, by working at a clothing store. When an obese person whose appearance is immune to improvement arrives, is my integrity better served by affably peddling clothing that can't improve the un-improvable, or by pointing out to the substance abuser that "I can't enhance your appearance when you are in that condition, sir."?
     
  10. johnw86

    johnw86 Senior member

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    I believe the matter can be handled something like this:

    When a shopper, any shopper, enters a store to purchase goods or services, that shopper deserves to be treated with the same respect accorded to other shoppers.

    Ultimately, it is up to the consumer to decide whether they wish to purchase the item; if you have placed it for sale, it's not your decision (in a normal retail environment) to decide who gets to buy.
     
  11. v0rtex

    v0rtex Senior member

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    More negative discrimination, or less positive discrimination?

    To put a different spin on it:

    * People who are more attractive (yes, meaning slimmer. Clinical obesity is not attractive by any standard, and no amount of lobbying is going to convince anyone otherwise) recieve preferential treatment and are stared at for longer by sales clerks.

    * People who are seen to be making an effort to improve their lives are seen in a more positive light than those who are either oblivious to or deliberately ignoring their potentially dangerous physical condition. This is a good thing, drive and ambition should be rewarded.

    People are entitled to a basic level of service, but the article never claimed this wasn't recieved - just that people go out of their way to help attractive women. Not exactly Nobel Prize winning research.
     
  12. Panzeraxe

    Panzeraxe Senior member

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    I'm suprised that researchers actually needed to conduct a study on this - obese people, rightly or wrongly, get treated poorly as most people perceive them to be lazy, unmotivated people that they would not wish to be associated with their store. It's somewhat akin to yours truly being denied admission into Marquee on a Saturday night because he's there with 2 of his college buddies but having no trouble getting in when he's got a hot blonde on his arm.

    Its life...

    Panzer
     
  13. Brian SD

    Brian SD Moderator

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    It is natural in western society to feel this way. As westerners we naturally admire characteristics that represent ambition, motivation, independence and willpower, while shunning those that represent laziness, low-class (not necessarily low-wealth), or embody a fear that we feel we may inevitably become. An obese person is more or less seen as "a problem of society" by the average American.

    It is difficult not to see someone as lazy who is obese when there are many resources available in this country (quite affordably I might add) that can improve your appearance. As pointed out already, overweight is a different argument completely than obesity, which is seen by many (including myself) as a prime example of low self-respect. Salespersons are not immune from basic discriminations. It is difficult to respect someone who allows themself to be unrespectable.

    I was at In-N-Out one time and saw a customer arguing with a worker, because she wanted the grease from the meat poured on top of her bun . The worker refused to do so, but the woman still insisted that other In-N-Out's had done it for her. I mean come on, I understand that fatty foods can taste great (I was enjoying a Double Double myself), but that to me shows zero restraint.
     
  14. gorgekko

    gorgekko Senior member

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    I'm not immune from making my own value judgments either -- coming home from work yesterday afternooon I saw a woman that was truly obese and I made some unkind mental comments about that fact -- but I'm a little uncomfortable about that statement. Outside of a brief stint as a deli boy during part of my high school years I've never worked retail but I do know that although you may not respect a customer, you don't disrespect them either simply because you don't approve of their physical appearance. If a clerk can help someone with their needs, cool, if not, also cool. But openly disrespecting someone because they're overweight tells me the clerk is an ass and needs to be struck with a copy of Emily Post's Etiquette. I find it ungodly that some of the men here -- no names -- who praise refinement in their clothes would tacitly argue away a lack of refinement in manners.
     
  15. StevenRocks

    StevenRocks Senior member

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    Sincere apologies to Horace for using the term 'consumer' in my previous post. Charge it to my acute lack of free time to post.

    I think Gorgekko is correct. There is no excuse for discrimination, in retail or otherwise, especially from people who consider themselves as refined and evolved as this forum's participants.
     

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