Did you know that people judge others’ competence based on their weight? And that affects whether they hire and how much they pay. Shocking, isn’t it? And this bias is mostly felt by women who are already battling that biased glass ceiling.
First impressions really do count
We are bombarded with images of what successful people look like, how they behave and how they think. And these images are loaded with bias around ‘ideal’ and ‘attractive’ body types. In addition, we will all have grown up with messages about weight which affect our beliefs. The mere fact that we have the word ‘overweight’ in our vocabulary suggests that there is an ideal weight.
This weight-bias, which is often unconscious, affects perception in the work place. And it is apparently worst at the point of interview, possibly because people make snap judgements based on appearance where they have no familiarity of the person’s skills: Invisible judgements such as ‘if you don’t have the time and energy to look after yourself, then how will you have the time and energy to be an outstanding teacher and leader?’
If you are in leadership role required to present outside of the school, in a pastoral role required to meet with challenging parents or a supply teacher, then you could also be a victim of ‘quick judgements’. As humans, we are wired to make a judgement about someone new within seconds and then we look for evidence to confirm that judgement.
For example, if your shirt button has come undone, the person you are meeting will either decide you’ve put on so much weight your clothes don’t fit, that you’re careless or that you’ve had a hectic morning and you’ve not noticed you missed a button in your hurry – the difference in judgement being their perception of your weight through their belief system.
As a manager, if you have a democratic or laissez-faire style of leadership, your colleagues will perceive that in different ways and when overlapping with a belief system around weight they may interpret that style as laziness.
Weight inversely influences salary
Confidence issues compound the problem
From personal experience, I found my confidence levels changed as I put on weight. I became more self-conscious about what I was wearing. I became a victim to that common fear that so many people have where they constantly wonder what others are thinking about them. I felt I had to work harder to get recognition for my abilities and believe I was less likely to be considered for promotion.
What can you do?
This culture of body shaming and weight prejudice should be tackled alongside every other form of discrimination – in law and in the work place. However just like Cheryl Sandberg who urged women to ‘lean in’ while waiting for policy and systems to address gender bias in the workplace, women can decide whether to challenge, create or change the bias in their everyday life.
Challenge: When you look around you, how many female members of your senior leadership are overweight? Is that a statistic that needs to be addressed? How can you ensure your school hiring policies and practices don’t discriminate but hire the best woman for the job?
Create: Develop a strong brand image by investing in quality clothing with a fashionable and flattering cut and design, rather than the ‘baggy look’ so often worn to hide an expanding waistline. Add to that an edgy hair cut, on trend accessories, bold use of colour and walking tall, you will build your own confidence and undermine the stereotype that people don’t care about their looks as they gain weight. Create that look that makes you visible, recognisable and unforgettable, your brand that says this woman means business.
Change: In the UK 58% of women were designated ‘overweight’ in 2015. I can’t find statistics to see how that relates to job types, as that would provide more light on how come we have ended up in this situation as a society. For example, we know chronic stress creates weight gain and many teachers and leaders suffer from chronic stress. Aside from any health perspective, if you don’t want to be that person, be that statistic or earn less than you’re worth, you don’t need to resort to an extreme diet, you can review your lifestyle and work out the behaviours that are contributing to your weight gain. In the first place keep a diary which will allow you to monitor your eating patterns, sleep and stress patterns and work out the most important habits to change for greatest impact.
If you would like support to get you back on track and kick ass in your world again or would like support to get your body and confidence back to smash the glass ceiling, message me here on LinkedIn or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss how I can help you transform your thinking.
Or you can register for my next 5-day Mindset Reset to Think Yourself Slim – five days of loving kindness and gentle habit change to get you inspired and motivated.
Why is changing our habits so difficult?
Our habits are a sum of all our behaviours that we have learned in our life and they are now on autopilot. There are a lot of them in our unconscious mind to get us through our day efficiently and effectively. Imagine if we had to stop and think every time we did a behaviour – as if everything we did was new!
Most of our habits are invisible. And the longer we’ve been doing them the more ingrained they are. It is only when part of our programming is not helping us achieve our goals or is sabotaging us that we start thinking in terms of breaking a habit.
Only it’s difficult to break a habit, it’s much easier to build a new habit or change a habit.
The more we do a behaviour, the more it goes on autopilot. Our unconscious mind learns behaviour through repetition – intended or not. We can rewire your brain with new behaviours by conscious repetition – lots of repetition – for the new neural pathways to form. And if we stop doing a behaviour, the neural pathway weakens over time.
Science hasn’t come up with an exact answer of how long it takes to embed a new habit. If you Google it, you’ll find claims of 21 days, which appears to be a misunderstanding, and a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology by Phillipa Lally et al participants took anywhere from 18 to 254 days to get a new behaviour to become automatic. That’s on average a couple of months to firmly root a new behaviour, doing it regularly and repeatedly.
All behaviour has a positive intention (even if it doesn’t seem that way at times). Therefore identifying that key driver of the old habit and mapping it over to the new one, making sure you fulfil that intention still, will make the new habit more successful.
- ‘Know your why’ for any change you want to make. It has to be important to you and meaningful to your life or you won’t succeed. If the words must, need or should are associated with your habit change, it’s unlikely to be successful as that’s about pressure from outside of you.
- Know what reward the habit you want to lose gives you so that you can design your new habit to give you the same reward, just in a different way.
- Notice what the trigger is for the habit you want to break and design your new habit to start before that trigger can happen.
- Consider the barriers to the change you want to make and plan your strategy to overcome them. Sometimes we may have competing values when we’re trying to make a change and that may be a barrier to our success, for example, if you want to go to bed earlier to ensure you get enough sleep and can control your sugar cravings, know what stops you from going to bed earlier and plan how to interrupt that behaviour. For example, I have to tell myself it is okay to leave my work until tomorrow and that I will get it done more quickly first
- Make small changes to start and gradually build on those changes in steps, gradually letting go of old habits.
- Visualise the desired new habit and exactly how it happens in your day. The unconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between real and rehearsed, so we can keep visualising, rehearsing it in our mind, to perfect it and help our unconscious learn it.
- Often a thinking pattern or value is sabotaging our ability to build a new habit. Notice your inner chatter – the excuses you make to yourself for not carrying out your habit change as you planned. Thoughts like ‘tomorrow…’, ‘it’s because …’ ‘I’ll just …’ Decide on a new thought to think instead. This is about commitment to yourself, so if you’re struggling, ask your future self what is best for you.
- Be kind to yourself rather than beating yourself up when you have not done something perfectly and ask yourself what you have learned from the feedback. It is only ‘failure’ if you give up.
- Set up a system to remind yourself and to reward yourself and so that you can see the progress you are making. A chart on the fridge or a habit tracker app – our brain loves the dopamine hit we get from seeing our success.
Eventually you will forget the effort it took to create that change and your success becomes invisible.
A word of warning is to remain observant and self-compassionate as the neural pathway for the old behaviour is still there and can trip us up, for example when we’re stressed, tired, or in a hurry. Or during a lockdown, stuck at home in a pandemic!
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (1926)
If you would like help changing a habit, get in touch. NLP has some tools and techniques that allow us to make change more rapidly. These are most effective if the change you are wanting to make is congruent for you.
If you would like help with your food or eating habits, register for my 5-day Mindset Reset – five days of loving kindness and gentle habit change to shift your relationship with food.