Unfortunately, I never got around to putting up the billboard I hinted at in my last column. (The one advertising my services as an employee to some fat-friendly business.) I have, however, had a rather adventurous two months!
I imagine that the pursuit of a decent job, with acceptable salary and responsibilities, is one of life's biggest stressors for anyone, but even more so for fat people. The few times I have been unemployed have sent me into the lowest ebbs of self image in my life. When I am unemployed, I assume that no one will want to hire me because I am different-because I am fat. I assume that no matter how suitable I might be otherwise, potential employers will discount me because of my double chin and 72" hips. When I've been offered positions in the past, no matter how unsuitable the pay, or how demanding the work, I knew my answer would be "yes," because I didn't know when (or if) I might get another offer.
I have to admit that this job search started off on a much more positive note because I am now armed with a degree, but those old feelings still creeped into my mind. I just knew I wasn't going to be good enough.
I was wrong.
I began this job search on a Sunday morning, armed with a highlighter and the classifieds. After weeks with no success, I expanded my search by taking a test for a professional entry-level position with the state. The fear of encountering size-related issues hounded me every step of the way. I say "the fear," because more often than not, my fears were unfounded. My job search turned out to be far more size-friendly than I anticipated. Yes, I had some strange interviews and yes, I encountered a chair with arms at each and every interview. I dealt with it by perching on the edge of the chair.
The interviews were never so long as to make it unbearable.
Although I wasn't offered every position I interviewed for, it was clear that the people who interviewed me were not judging me solely on my weight. I haven't yet figured out the rhyme or reason of selection procedures, but my experience has told me that if someone looks at you blankly and just grins during the interview, you aren't going to get the job. Don't count on being hired by anyone wearing orange makeup either. But just because you go into an interview coughing, with runny eyes, having a bad hair day, wearing a dress with the price tag still attached under the arm....well let's just say they called a few days afterwards to offer me a computer programmer position. I found out later that each of the three people who interviewed me had been given copies of my cover letter, transcript, and resume, and that each of them had chosen me as the best candidate prior to the interview.
There was one catch to the job offer: It was contingent upon me passing a drug screen, background check, and physical.
"Elizabeth Fisher," the nurse called out as she scanned the waiting room. I nodded as I got up to follow her into the office. Unfortunately, the chair came with me. (It had arms and deciding this wasn't a good situation for activism, I had wedged myself into it) I sat back down quickly and held the arms down as I pried myself out, and followed her back to begin my ordeal.
First stop was a drug screen. I dutifully produced a urine sample and brought it out to the technician, who put some sort of test stick in it, and, after a moment said "Your sugar's fine," to which I replied, "And what does that mean?"
"That you're not diabetic." I did wonder (silently) if she gave that pronouncement to everyone, or just fat people. After all, this was supposed to be a drug screen, not a diabetes test, but again, I was on my best behavior so I didn't ask.
Next stop was the physical. "Hop up on the table and I'll get your blood pressure," said the medical assistant I eyed the table suspiciously and gingerly stepped on the pullout step, only to have the whole back end of the table leave the floor. The "thud" as the table hit the floor shocked her more than me. She held the back while I got on again, and proceeded to measure my blood pressure. This 180/120 reading she announced was alarming both because I am already taking medicine to lower my blood pressure, and because I'm afraid this will cause me to fail the physical. She leaves the room, and returns shortly, saying apologetically, "I thought I had the right one." I breathed a sigh of relief that it was a defective cuff, and not a defective me that was causing the problem. With the correct cuff, the reading was within normal limits.
The rest of the exam was without incident. As I was walked to the front desk, I asked the nurse how the exam had gone. She said everything looked fine to her. I told her I was concerned about them finding some reason to reject me because of my weight. "Oh no, that would be discrimination," she said. I wanted to hug her. I thanked her and left, giving a little whoop of joy when I walked out of the building.
After getting word that I had passed the physical with flying colors, I began worrying about putting together a wardrobe, and about what the chair at my desk would be like. Pulling together a wardrobe quickly was difficult. I couldn't have done it so quickly without my wonderful fat friends who pitched in, offering their clothes and helping me decide what to order.
The chair turned out to be a non-issue as well. The head of my department met me as soon as I arrived on the first day, to let me know that he wanted to buy me an appropriate chair, but he had waited because he wanted to let me pick it out. I now have a chair that supports up to 500 lbs. It measure 26" across, and it has arms on it that actually fit me! My immediate supervisor, also without making a big deal of it, arranged to have an armless chair in her office so that I could be comfortable there.
What I learned from this job search is that, while my weight is a part of who I am, it is not all I am, and it is not the measure by which my worth as an employee is judged. If you are a fat person facing a job search, my best advice is to expect good things to happen, and they just might. ß