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Does Being Overweight in Business Mean People Take You Less Seriously?

20/08/2014 15:14 BST | Updated 20/10/2014 10:59 BST

I have always been overweight and have always 'suffered with it'. When I say suffered, I don't mean like you do with a serious illness, just that it is always there like an ingrown toenail or toothache. I always thought I was a 'bit overweight' but it seems from a couple of recent job interviews and drunk MDs that it is actually offending some people and it could potentially hold back my career progression or growing my business. I enjoy good food and drink, and the problem is simple as Billy Connolly once put it, 'There is more going in than coming oot'. So, mea culpa.

The reason I am telling you this is to pose the question of 'Could being overweight mean that you are taken less seriously as a professional?' and 'How could you prove that?'.

I applied for a job a few years ago and I got down to the last few candidates. I was very excited as it was a 'big brand' and at the final 'papal nod of the CEO' stage he began to ask me what I thought was an odd line of questioning. It started pretty early into what became the longest half hour of my life. "So Mark, have you always been overweight?" he asked. A little stunned I said "Er yes" and then explained a few reasons for this (knee issues, lack of exercise/time, bad diet etc). plus I threw in some self deprecation stating that "I was more than aware of this" as "I bought the trousers and shirts and saw the numbers on them" and that "Ironing did take me longer than the average guy". I hoped that this jokey approach would steer us towards more marketing led waters. However, unperturbed he continued. "So, were you chubby as a child?". I am now thinking that my alarm is going to go off and it's Saturday, phew. But no, this is real. More "ums" and "ahs" from me and were and onto question three. "So, will you be doing anything about your weight if we employ you?". "I have scales and we can do a weekly weigh in". The silence, my red face and me looking at the floor thankfully does move us onto a little bit more about the company culture, my role and their expectations of me. At the end of what felt like two very different interviews, he shakes my hand and says "I will be watching you and checking in on your progress...". Does this mean the job or my waist size? I am now unsure. Leaving the interview punch drunk (like the scene from Lock, Stock and Two smoking barrels where Nick loses all the money, Iggy Pop's 'I wanna be your dog' is now ringing in my ears) I make it home to have the "You'll never believe what just happened conversation" with my wife.

This is not an isolated incident by any stretch as on another occasion I was on a senior team trip abroad with a company and after a few drinks the MD of the company started having 'chats' with each of us and basically giving us his opinion on us as people (Red flag HR!). Before long it's my turn to be banged to rights. He was a recent weight loser and like ex-smokers, there is nothing worse than that as they feel it is their right to judge and huff and puff about how they "don't know how you can do that to yourself". More comments came from the fuelled up MD of "I don't know how you can live like that, I mean look at you, how can you be happy?" and "you really need to sort yourself out".

I do mainly work in food and drink brand and marketing as a consultant, so it is for me an occupational hazard (that's my excuse anyway) and diets are hard to stick to, however I do know that I need to do more. Lately though, there has been the complete opposite of the situation where I 'won a job' partly due to my size. An Italian client proclaimed happily "Mark, I like you because you are big" (here we go again I thought). He then said "You cannot be an expert in anything if you are under 200 pounds". "You are hired!".

So, go figure. But I wondered if anyone else had experienced this or if people feel that being overweight made you less of a professional or a candidate to be taken seriously. I welcome your thoughts and comments.