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Does ‘body talk’ affect performance at work?

ASU psychology professor studies the benefits of an inclusive workplace

ASU psychology professor studies the benefits of an inclusive workplace. Photo: Brooke Cagle via

August 23, 2019

Everyone wants to be appreciated at work, and inclusive and culturally diverse workplaces are more innovative and outperform competitors. But what about inclusivity with respect to weight? 

Arizona State University’s Marisol Perez recently spoke at the Arizona Women Leading Government 2019 conference on her research about body image in the workplace. Haylie Smith, a former undergraduate research assistant to Perez and ASU alumna Cherese Mead also presented.

Over 35% of adults in America are obese, and an additional 100 million adults are overweight. According to the CDC, approximately 75% of the adult population in America will be overweight by 2020.

At the conference, Perez discussed the importance of “body talk” in the workplace. Body talk is any conversation that mentions the body, including comments people say about themselves or about other people.

In her presentation, Perez said that 72 out of 90 executive women experienced negative body talk in the workplace.

“Negative body talk can impact leadership and performance,” said Perez, who is an associate professor of psychology. “In fact, body image concerns in the workplace prevent women from reaching their full potential.”

Perez recently completed a study on the impact of body talk in women executives. She found that over 83% of them said their performance in a presentation would be negatively impacted if they felt uncomfortable with their appearance. And, 87% of the women executives reported that feeling uncomfortable with their appearance would negatively affect their ability to represent their company at a conference or in a meeting.

When the same participants felt confident about their appearance, 57% reported feeling more confident at work. Over 28% said feeling confident in their appearance improved their work performance. 

Common phrases at the workplace like, “Does this make me look fat?” or “I’m going to be bad and eat this cookie,” sound innocent at first glance, but they really are examples of negative body talk and help to propagate harmful body shaming in the workplace.

Perez said there are many ways that managers can improve weight inclusivity in the workplace, such as by congratulating people for an accomplishment while simultaneously not discussing people’s bodies or weights at work.

“People deserve to work in a place where they are valued and appreciated for their accomplishments, ideas, and work ethic, and where their body shape and weight is irrelevant,” Perez said.

Related: What mothers should teach their daughters about beauty 

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