New Jersey is taking an unprecedented step as it tries to outlaw discrimination in all its forms. While federal law bans discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, ethnicity/national origin, and sexual orientation, New Jersey is taking it a step further by banning height and weight discrimination. The Garden state hopes to set an example as it presents a new bill in the senate that will allow legal action against discrimination on the basis of height and weight. So far, in the United States, only Michigan law prohibits discrimination on the basis of weight.
Height and Weight Discrimination
Studies have repeatedly shown that perceived weight discrimination can result in individuals having low self-esteem and cause psychological distress. Psychologist Rebecca Puhl, PhD and a professor at the University of Connecticut once told the American Psychological Association that “weight stigma is damaging to both emotional and physical health, and it decreases quality of life.” Also, research suggests that percieved weight-based discrimination has just as much of an impact as true and intentional weight-based discrimination.
Heightism is a social issue that often affects everything from annual income to romantic relationships. In 2020, Chinese researchers found that a person with above average height had better annual incomes. People with lower height have been found prone to feelings of paranoia and inferiority. Daniel Freeman of Britain’s University of Oxford, who led a study on height discrimination stated that “being tall is associated with greater career and relationship success. Height is taken to convey authority and we feel taller when we feel more powerful.” In his experiment, when people’s height was virtually reduced they felt inferior and caused them to feel overly mistrustful.
The New Jersey Bill Against Discrimination
The new bill has been proposed by Andrew Zwicker, a state senator representing Middlesex County, who recommends an amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) so that it can also count height and weight discrimination in its characteristics. In Michigan, weight discrimination has been banned since 1976. New York State has repeatedly mulled over outlawing weight discrimination since 2018 but no law has been passed till date.
Height and weight discrimination does not affect employment opportunities, but also results in social exclusion and inferior health care. New Jersey lawmakers want to outlaw discrimination in all its forms as research clearly points out the negative impact of discrimination on physical and psychological health. In an interview, Zwicker stated that “Discrimination can take on many different forms, sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit. We focus so much on discrimination based on physical disability, as we rightfully should, but there is a more subtle type of discrimination based upon body size and shape.” He hopes to outlaw discrimination both explicit and implicit to build a better, inclusive society.
If the bill is passed, height and weight discrimination in employment, education, housing, public accommodations, and public service will be illegal and attract heavy penalties. The bill is currently pending in the Senator Labor Committee and Zwicker stated that he hopes his colleagues across parties will support the cause. He firmly believes that legal action against discrimination is necessary to reinforce values of inclusivity, diversity, and equality.
Furthermore, he also said that he hopes “ this is not a partisan issue or something that’s considered — and I think completely inaccurately — part of this ‘woke’ or part of this ‘cultural battle’ that we’re having right now.”
The majority like to be evaluated over the work they do and would prefer it if their appearance did not affect their evaluation. To outlaw discrimination is to pave the way for people to reap rewards based on their merits rather than societal prejudices and biases.