Massachusetts

‘This Big Secret': How Size Discrimination Impacts 2 Boston-Based Influencers

There are currently no laws or regulations to protect people from size discrimination in Massachusetts

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Lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban size discrimination in Massachusetts, something that social media influencers and advocates say continues to negatively impact people's work, health and other areas of their lives.

The proposed legislation, An Act Prohibiting Body Size Discrimination, would prohibit weight and height inequities and incorporate education programs for students as well as health and business professionals.

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Size-based bigotry often manifests in medical settings, "Plus 1" podcast host Linda Ayrapetov and plus-size model Constance Smith told NBC10 Boston Wednesday.

While struggling with an eating disorder, Ayrapetov said, doctors praised her weight loss and urged her to continue to eat less and workout more. But she said she wasn't eating enough and was over-exercising, and it was unhealthy.

"To me, that's negligent care. And that's discrimination right there," Ayrapetov said. "Although a lot of people participate in it, people really like to pretend that it's not happening, you know? It's kind of like this big secret, but we notice when people are fat and we don't like them for it, and we pretend that it's all about their health."

Before the bill was filed on Beacon Hill, Ayrapetov said size discrimination was difficult for people to grasp as a concept. Smith said the law would be particularly helpful in her line of work as a Black woman in the fashion industry.

When she's presenting herself at castings, Smith said, it's not uncommon to hear, "I don't like your skin color. I don't like the texture of your hair. I don't like your weight."

It's kind of like this big secret, but we notice when people are fat and we don't like them for it, and we pretend that it's all about their health.

Linda Ayrapetov

"It's mind blowing because it's like, we're pushing for inclusivity and people being their own person and, when someone is doing that, they're being mocked for it," Smith said. "I already have to deal with my race as a main factor. Now I have to worry about my weight and how it affects where I'm working and just my day-to-day life."

There are currently no laws or regulations to protect people from size discrimination in Massachusetts, and the Bay State is not alone. Michigan is the only state in the entire country that prohibits body size discrimination. Some municipalities across the nation have adopted similar policies, including New York City.

Massachusetts Sen. Rebecca Rausch emphasized the significance of the legislation, pointing to her own experience with body size comprehension as a dancer early in life and then later studying it as a law professor and legal scholar.

"It's just so important for a whole variety of reasons," Rausch said Wednesday. "Whatever your construction of beauty happens to be is not a legitimate reason to discriminate against someone in health care, or education, or employment, or any of the other settings that we're talking about in this bill."

Rausch noted that the bill has a long history in Massachusetts. The first version was filed by then-state Rep. Byron Rushing in the 1990s.

New York City is the fashion capital of the U.S., but it has only one brick and mortar vintage store that caters to plus size customers. That’s Plus BKLYN in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Owner Alexis Krase talked to NBCLX storyteller Ngozi Ekeledo about why she opened the store out of “necessity” and what it means to the people who shop there.

Rausch said that the fact that the language has been adjusted over the years and society has become more accepting and understanding of different body sizes gives her hope that the bill will pass.

"I believe we are seeing this groundswell of attention and support from people like Linda and Constance and many organizations," Rausch said. "And so because that social shift is happening, I think we're also seeing a stronger level of support to pass this bill because the fact that it is still perfectly legal to discriminate against someone based solely on their body size now seems a little more surprising and a little less acceptable to continue and to perpetuate."

The bill is currently in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, but a hearing date has yet to be set. All bills must be reported out either favorably or sent to study by Feb. 7, 2024.

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