Wait, Mark Zuckerberg is ripped? Isn’t he the scrawny CEO who famously invented Facebook from the Harvard dorm room that he seemingly never left?
Not anymore. The obsession with being fit and thin in the workplace is on the rise, with tech moguls like Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos showing off their washboard abs and the use of drugs like Ozempic for weight loss becoming an increasingly common dinner conversation. At the same time, a range of studies and statistics show that discrimination against individuals on account of their weight prevails.
The dichotomy of obsessive fitness behaviors and weight discrimination illuminates how “fatphobia”—the aversion, hostility, or disdain for people who are overweight—persists, resulting in unequal opportunities for success in the workplace.
Roughly 42% of people in the U.S. are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a new paper published in the American Journal of Public Health compares the prevalence of weight discrimination in the U.S. to that of racial discrimination.
Weight discrimination affects women the most in the workplace. Eleven percent of human-resource executives said an applicant’s weight had factored in their decision to hire them, the Wall Street Journal reported in July on a spring survey. Women considered obese earn $5.25 less per hour than women considered a normal weight, according to a 2014 Vanderbilt University study.
The weight-wage penalty is less consistent among men, but across the board, employees who are overweight or obese are paid less and more-often overlooked for promotions.
State and city governments are taking action to reduce its effects in the workplace.
The stigma around weight
Obesity is a medical condition, considered a disease by many organizations, involving having too much body fat. Obesity increases the risk for other diseases and health problems like heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, according to Mayo Clinic.
There are many reasons a person may have trouble losing weight. Some are genetically predisposed to obesity, while others have underlying health conditions that cause them to gain weight.
Still, fatphobia runs rampant. People with obesity are often blamed for their weight and are stigmatized as lazy or lacking in willpower. And the common perception persists that body shaming can be justified if it motivates people to adopt healthier behaviors.
New York City passed a bill in May, banning weight and height discrimination in employment opportunities, housing opportunities, and access to public accommodations, alongside race, gender, age, religion, and sexual orientation. The new law will go into effect in November 2023.
“It shouldn’t matter how tall you are or how much you weigh when you’re looking for a job, are out on the town, or trying to rent an apartment,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said at a bill-signing ceremony. “This law will help level the playing field for all New Yorkers, create more inclusive workplaces and living environments, and protect against discrimination.”
Similar bills are being considered in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Michigan, Washington state, and some cities like Washington, D.C. already prohibit it.
Buff CEOs and Ozempic
Meanwhile, over-the-hill leaders in the corporate sector are entrenching a standard of physical fitness difficult to achieve without major resources.
“I think the pandemic and work from home really created the opportunity for C-Suite executives to focus on their fitness,” Mark Cuban, a businessman and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, told the Wall Street Journal.
Forget yachts and Rolexes. The ability to squeeze a workout into an already-packed schedule may be the new bragging rights, Cuban said.
For instance, Meta’s cofounder and CEO Zuckerberg took up the martial art of Brazilian jiujitsu during the pandemic, winning gold and silver medals at a tournament in May.
More recently, he participated in the Murph Challenge on Memorial Day, named after a Navy SEAL who was killed in action in Afghanistan. The workout entails wearing a 20-pound weighted vest and completing 100 pull ups, 200 push ups, 300 squats, and a mile-long run.
Zuckerberg finished the challenge in under 40 minutes. Then he told his 12.3 million followers about it on Instagram.
Other tech and finance elites and Hollywood celebrities are using certain drugs to promote weight loss.
The most popular of these is Ozempic, a drug used to help lower blood sugar in people with Type 2 diabetes. Ozempic contains an ingredient called semaglutide, which stimulates insulin production and reduces appetite. It is most often prescribed to people who are obese or overweight.
“This is a Hollywood drug,” Patti Stanger, star and producer of the reality show The Millionaire Matchmaker, told the Wall Street Journal. “Everybody I know is on it,” Stanger added.
The FDA has not approved Ozempic for weight loss, but people are getting their hands on it nonetheless. Without insurance, the drug costs about $900 a month. It’s sister drug, called Wegovy, has been approved for weight loss and without insurance costs over $1,300 for a 28-day supply.
Elon Musk tweeted in October that he was taking Wegovy and fasting in order to lose weight. A few months earlier, he had experienced an onslaught of fat shaming after a shirtless picture of him standing on board his yacht next to the muscular celebrity talent agent Ari Emanuel surfaced.