Fat people in American society are often discriminated against in their jobs and forced to degrade themselves publicly, sociologists find. "We treat people who are fat as handicapped people but we don't give them the sympathy that we give to other handicapped people," according to Dr. Ardyth Stimson of New Jersey's Kean College. "In other words, they're completely rejected and blamed for their handicap. And they're expected to participate in what we sociologists call their own degradation ceremonies. "In other words, you're supposed to stand there and say, 'Hee, hee, hee, don't I look awful? Hee, hee, hee, isn't it funny I can't move around?'" she said. In some instances, the mental anguish of fat people is so severe the effect it has on their lives far surpasses the medical complications that could arise as a result of being fat, she said. If fat men and women were treated as equals, their self-esteem would rise and they would probably lose weight. Stimson and a colleague, Dr. Jack Kamerman, are studying fat people and their role in society. Some cities, Kamerman said, set overweight limits for teachers and if you exceed that limit -- 25 percent above what the insurance tables define as healthy -- you are fired. He also said there have been other studies that found fat people do not get promoted as easily and do not advance in a company. Stimson recently completed a study of 40 women, and while none was even remotely medically overweight, she said 39 felt they were fat, and it caused some of them trouble in their everyday relationships. America has become so weight conscious, she said, that 40 percent of all Americans are now considered overweight. She said there is something wrong in a socielty when that percentage of people are considered to be abnormal. The stigmatism is so pervasive, she said, that if you are overweight, people no longer think of you as a doctor, lawyer or a teacher but as that fat person. Who suffers more, fat men or fat women? "A tall, heavy man is actually in an enviable position because he will get quite a bit of peer respect automatically. A tall, heavy woman might as well get under her tent and stay there," she said.