Dear Aunt Fattie:
I’m a college senior, about to enter the big wide job market, and I’m looking for some advice on how to handle my Ultra Super Special Body Shape.
You see, I look like I’m about 5-6 months pregnant, despite a complete and total lack of fetuses in my stomach.
I’ve got a fairly small frame, really, and all my weight goes to the front of my gut. No rolls, no back fat, skinny arms and legs, almost no boobs–and a protrusion right where my distended uterus would be if I were actually preggers. I’ve been working on accepting my body as is, practicing HAES, and just generally trying to dress well and treat myself well, but the upcoming job search is filling me with dread. While it may be technically illegal to discriminate against a pregnant woman, something tells me a lot of firms won’t consider that–they’ll just see that I’d presumably be on maternity leave in just a few months. The stigma against asking a woman if she is pregnant won’t give me a chance to refute said claims. How do I handle this in a professional manner?
-The Girl With The Imaginary Fetus
Dear Imaginary Fetus,
Aunt Fattie’s first suggestion would be a T-shirt reading “No, I’m Not Pregnant.”
Her first serious suggestion would be “no empire waists.”
In truth, this is a poser. It is reprehensible but undeniable that firms and companies are reluctant to hire pregnant women because they don’t want to immediately pay for an extended leave of absence. Due to both social and legal restrictions, you can’t solve this with words — they can’t ask, and it’s awkward to answer unbidden. And so, you must solve it with clothes. Aunt Fattie believes strongly in letting your fat hang out unmolested, but she believes just as strongly that there is a time and a place for compressing, restrictive garments. Previously, she thought these places were primarily “fetish” and “fetish-unaffiliated dress-up.” To this list, she will now add “looking un-pregnant for a job interview.”
We frequently choose to present ourselves differently at an interview than we would in our real life. Women who have never owned a suit go out and buy a suit, just in case they’re supposed to be wearing a suit. We tone down our makeup (or put it on for the first time), we take out our piercings, we try not to use the word “fuck.” Strapping some heavy-duty elastic (or heavier-duty boning) onto the ersatz bump is denying the fat, true, but interviews are all about that delicate tightrope walk: rejecting or downplaying the majority of your identity, while simultaneously shamelessly advertising your job-related attributes. It’s distasteful, it’s morally ambiguous, and it’s how these things work.
If you are in a more relaxed profession, you may be able to eschew the girdle and depend upon the kindness of strangers. But if it’s the kind of job where you know for a fact that you should be wearing a suit to the interview, it may simply be time to screw your courage to the Spanxing post. Once you’re hired, it doesn’t matter who thinks you’re pregnant, but it would be terrible to be denied a job because of your imaginary fetus. Almost as terrible as the fact that companies routinely deny jobs to actually-pregnant women despite it being blatantly illegal.
(Oh, and just so you don’t think that Aunt Fattie is suggesting that you go out in only shapewear: The idea of “flattering clothing” is often a racket, where the conventional wisdom is more focused on looking thin than looking good. But since there’s a viable reason here to hide your belly, Aunt Fattie will regurgitate the standard big-belly advice: wear your skirt or pants at belly button level, employ subtle vertical stripes, choose a short fitted jacket, and invest in tailoring. And truly, no empire waists.)
An aside, for job-seekers other than I.F.: Companies will also deny jobs to fatties, often based on similar reasoning — i.e., they cost more to insure and will take more sick days. (The first part is even true, as anyone who’s tried to get private insurance can attest.) Is it appropriate for everyone, fake pregnant belly or no, to try to appear slimmer for a job interview in order to avoid hiring bigotry? Aunt Fattie thinks it’s well within the understood rules for the shadowy game of Three-Card Monte that is the interview process. The attitude of the undercover fatty is the same as the attitude of the secretly pierced and tattooed: “You make me go through this charade to get my foot in the door, and buddy, I can play the game. But just wait until you hire me; I’ll blow this place wide open.” You do not, of course, then blow the place wide open once you get the job, at least not literally. But that psychological approach can get you through the distasteful rigmarole that is part and parcel of interviewing — even, I hasten to mention, at perfectly nice companies that are delightful to work for.
You shouldn’t have to hide your fat to get hired, nor should you have to remove your piercings, dye your hair, buy new clothes, or squeeze into uncomfortable shoes. But unless you’re lucky enough to be looking for work in the District of Columbia, which forbids discrimination on the basis of personal appearance, that’s what job-hunting in a patriarchy is all about. (Even in D.C., it may be illegal — like discriminating against a pregnant woman — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.) When you live in a culture that actively encourages and rewards discrimination, you have a few choices. You can approach situations that are stacked against you straightforwardly, refusing to compromise; that is admirable but, for most people, untenable. You can change course, and deliberately alter or narrow your goals; this works beautifully in some cases (“I refuse to date anyone who would want me to lose weight”), but in others (“I refuse to work for any company that wouldn’t hire me with visible facial piercings”) it depends greatly on your circumstances, your options, and your personal preferences. Or, you can play the game for a limited time, to a limited extent. All of these are live options; the choice is up to you. But Aunt Fattie thinks there’s no shame in wearing patriarchal underwear to face a patriarchal job interview, even as you support and work for social change in other aspects of your life.
Would similarly-shaped Shapelings like to weigh in with shapewear recommendations for I.F.? She’ll need something she can wear at least for a couple of hours and that offers particular support in the belly. If you can offer suggestions, we all promise not to judge you for your girdle expertise. Alternately, if you are roughly this shape and know from experience that all the girdles in the world won’t work, do please let us know. Aunt Fattie herself does not have this shape and may need some education in its ways. If indeed the feeble embrace of shapewear would barely mitigate the belly, the problem becomes even trickier, and Aunt Fattie can advise little beyond rocking the interview so hard that they have no choice but to hire you, fetus or no.
Finally, please remember: the “problem” in this case is not your belly, but widespread discriminatory hiring practices. Unfortunately, changing the latter is a huge project, and you shouldn’t have to go unemployed while it’s being undertaken. But even though Aunt Fattie’s advice involves hiding your belly, your belly is NOT the problem here.
If you’ve got your own questions on fat, fatphobia, fatshion, and fatiquette, send them to email@example.com.