Federal-level legislation outlawing discrimination based on one’s body size is currently non-existent. In fact, Michigan is the only state with a law prohibiting weight-based discrimination. Failing to include body diversity in DEI efforts ostracizes certain community members and contributes to the unfair idealization of specific body types. Inclusion goes far beyond adding plus-size models to marketing campaigns. We must develop store designs, product displays, office spaces, and other initiatives accessible to all sizes, shapes, and abilities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 73.6% of Americans are overweight. Yet weight discrimination and weight bias are often part of daily conversations, and thin body ideals are regularly emphasized in workplace wellness.
Recently, Sage Franch, founder and CEO of learning and development platform Crescendo, led a briefing for Open to All corporate partners on body diversity and inclusivity. Franch, who works with companies to help embed DEI initiatives into their daily working culture, said implementing body diversity and size diversity within company culture is an essential part of inclusion.
Implementing body diversity means broadening definitions of body inclusion beyond fatness and removing the notion that there are certain characteristics that are more associated with an “optimal” body. Body diversity initiatives must include size, height, weight, limb differences, and disabilities. Otherwise, we find an echo chamber for messages that thinness is wellness.
Some companies have started including larger bodies in marketing, which is a good start. But a true body diversity initiative goes beyond imagery. It means removing body bias from the hiring process and making sure all employees can work and move comfortably in their professional environments. For retailers, it means creating an inclusive in-store experience for both workers and customers.
That means stores, offices, and bathrooms must be accessible for all people. Though addressing body diversity is often a long journey of learning, it can start with something simple like replacing armchairs with benches at event spaces. Franch said a good start is thinking of body diversity as an accessibility opportunity. Companies should look at whether all employees and customers can operate comfortably in the conditions provided. It is impossible for people to feel like they belong when they are physically prevented from taking part.
The good news is that a diverse staff and strong body diversity initiatives can help ensure messaging and spaces don’t contribute to employees and customers feeling othered. After all, true body inclusion is the absence of needing to ask for special accommodations.
As with all DEI efforts, body diversity must include more than just words and marketing. It means making workspaces and retail experiences truly inclusive for everyone. As with all diversity measures, employers who embrace body diversity have a leg up on talent and retention of employees.