Back to All
Bent out of Shape: Shame, Solidarity, and Women’s Bodies at Work

Bent out of Shape: Shame, Solidarity, and Women’s Bodies at Work

by Karen Messing
  • feminism
  • health
  • science

Award-winning ergonomist Karen Messing is talking with women—women who wire circuit boards, sew clothes, clean toilets, drive forklifts, care for children, serve food, run labs.

What she finds is a workforce in harm’s way, choked into silence, whose physical and mental health invariably comes in second place: underestimated, underrepresented, understudied, underpaid. Should workplaces treat all bodies the same?

With confidence, empathy, and humour, Messing navigates the minefield that is naming sex and biology on the job, refusing to play into stereotypes or play down the lived experiences of women. Her findings leap beyond thermostat settings and adjustable chairs and into candid, deeply reported storytelling that follows in the muckraking tradition of social critic Barbara Ehrenreich.

Messing’s questions are vexing and her demands are bold: we need to dare to direct attention to women’s bodies, champion solidarity, stamp out shame, and transform the workplace—a task that turns out to be as scientific as it is political.


Karen Messing, author

Karen Messing is a professor of biology at the Université du Québec à Montréal, where she does research in partnership with unions and women’s groups. She was trained in ergonomics and genetics. She is an internationally-known expert on occupational health from a gender perspective. Her 2014 Pain and Prejudice: What Science Can Learn about Work from the People Who Do It was translated into French, Korean and German. She has won numerous academic and non-academic awards, most recently the Yant Award from the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the Order of Canada (Officer Level).


  • ...many other working women still experience deep and pervasive inequality that enhances their risks for occupational illness and injury. Messing, a biologist and ergonomist at the Université du Québec à Montréal, probes the experiences of women in low-paid and low-prestige jobs: cleaners, poultry plant and assembly line employees, food servers, and personal support workers, among others. While much of her book focuses on occupational health and safety in Quebec, her research and analysis are broadly relevant."; "In the end, solidarity with working women must come from all women, and this message is one of the most powerful in Messing’s book. - Pearl Eliadis, Literary Review of Canada Link to review

Rights Holder

Rights Holder: Between the Lines



rights sold: French, Korean

rights available: World

Additional Information

age range: Adult

number of pages: 276

publication date: 04/05/2021

Original language of pub: English

Materials Available: finished book