What is Sizeism?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Sizeism is a form of discrimination that is based on the size of the person or persons who are being discriminated against. This type of discrimination can take a number of forms, ranging from refusing to hire someone because he or she is too short to treating overweight individuals with disdain. In some regions, laws are in place to prohibit this type of discrimination, but sizeist attitudes are often deeply ingrained in society, which can make fighting sizeism very difficult. In some situations, a person's size might be an important aspect of his or her job, so a preference for someone of a certain size might not be considered discrimination.

Sizeism involves stereotypes, such as the belief that all fat people are lazy.
Sizeism involves stereotypes, such as the belief that all fat people are lazy.

This form of prejudice can be based on height, weight or both. Humans are an incredibly diverse species, and individuals can have a wide range of sizes. Depending on where in the world one is, people might have a tendency to be especially tall, slender, short or plump, and many societies have internalized attitudes about certain sizes, which might be manifest in discrimination against those sizes. Sizeism also might occur when someone believes that his or her size is superior to that of other people.

The idea that taller students are better at playing basketball is a stereotype based in sizeism.
The idea that taller students are better at playing basketball is a stereotype based in sizeism.

Like other forms of discrimination, sizeism isn't always explicit. It involves the perpetuation of stereotypes and the attitudes that support those stereotypes, such as the idea that all fat people are lazy or that all tall people are good at playing basketball. Sizeist attitudes can also take the form of expressions of physical disgust when dealing with people of certain sizes. Often, people are not aware that they are behaving in a way that might be considered sizeist, and sizeist attitudes often slip past without mention, even among people who are otherwise aware of harmful prejudices.

When someone makes a judgment about someone or refuses to hire someone on the basis of his or her size, this might be an example of sizeism. It can also manifest in the form of language; terms such as “beanpole” for tall people and “fat pig” for people who are overweight usually are sizeist epithets. People who are overweight often suffer from discrimination because of attitudes that are held in many cultures, but they are not the only people who experience sizeism.

For someone who wants to combat sizeism, recognizing his or her own prejudicial thoughts or discriminatory words and actions is often the first step. Analyzing the behavior of others and being unafraid to question people's attitudes also is important. As in the case of other “-isms,” education and explanation of why sizeism is offensive to many people can help lead to cultural changes in attitudes and actions.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Relating someone's size to their character is an ugly act of size terrorism - you have no clue what someone's values/personality is if you don't spend time with them on a personal level and be considered a close friend. People's bodies are "their" business. Talking about other people's physical appearance is crude and ugly and belongs with the lowest of the low.

Unfortunately when it's commonplace for media (internet/social media, television, etc.) to pass comment on people's looks, it sets a precedent for dumb people who generally aren't capable of critical thinking to take on these behaviors in their day-to-day relating with others.


It becomes increasingly difficult in American society not to be swayed by sizeism when one considers the high obesity rate that is having a dramatic impact on the cost of health care.


I believe that modelling is the ultimate act of sizeism. Parading people of a very specific size and implying that they are the perfect example of how someone can or should look in clothing seems sizest to me.


But it's not sizeism when a fat person refers to someone skinny as Skeletor, lollipop, anorexic, twig, stick, bag-of-bones or yells "go eat a sandwich!" No, they just rattle on about thin-privilege as if that makes it perfectly OK to hurl insults. It doesn't. It's still a form of sizeism.


How does this kind of discrimination translate to a job that is completely or partially based on one's appearance such as modeling or acting? Surely sizeism is unavoidable then.

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