Floating armchairs, mug shots and IVF: the “fattism” debate
|June 7, 2012||Posted by Georgie Tindale under lifestyle|
One of the unavoidable obsessions in our politics and culture is weight and obesity. This even extends into the animated films we show our children. The film Wall-E has been dubbed as “fattist” by many self-dubbed “Fat Pride Groups” as a result of its portrayal of future humans as obese, consumerist, gluttonous people confined intentionally to floating armchairs and dependant on robots to heave them back onto their chairs after a spillage. Although many see this merely as a comic satire of our consumerist natures, for campaigners this highlighted the issue of what they see as “fattist” discrimination found in the media and even the medical world. Some campaigners used the examples of doctors who feel unhappy offering medical treatment such as IVF to women unless they lose weight.
The Telegraph cites research from Yale University’s Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity that suggests that “one in eight people now complain of weight discrimination, up from one in 14 a decade ago.” For many other people, this so-called ”discrimination” can be seen as simply the only way to raise awareness of the health issues associated with obesity. To use one example, I would argue that because of the vastly increased risks and decreased success rate associated with IVF in obese women it is common sense to encourage them to lose weight before embarking on a treatment with an already low success rate. The main question on this issue is: when does common-sense tough treatment descend into unjustifiable “fattist” discrimination?
In our society it seems impossible to escape issues of weight and self-esteem, especially where our treatment of overweight and obese people is concerned. The recent trashy documentary My Big Fat Fetish took a different approach to obesity and, unlike most fat-busting programmes, such as The Biggest Loser and Supersize vs Superskinny, obesity and the overweight body were presented in a generally positive and even sexual light. Many of the so-called “big beautiful women” were actively trying to gain weight, not lose it. The concept of “fattism” is a fairly recent one, but unfortunately verbal or physical abuse of overweight people is well-engrained in our culture. To many people this is seen as the last form of acceptable prejudice – aside from perhaps “gingerism” – that remains in our society, owing to its associations with laziness, self-indulgence and a lack of self-control. For many campaigners and overweight people this issue is one which cannot be overemphasised as it can have severe consequences.
A recent study by the University of Manchester showed that obese women are “more likely to receive lower starting salaries and to be discriminated against when applying for jobs” than women in the so-called “healthy” BMI range of 18.5-24.9. To reinforce this, Susie Orbrach writing for the Guardian calls “fat” a “moral category tainted with criticism and contempt” and even goes as far as to suggest that “fattism” is due to people projecting over-consumerism and their desires for an indulgent lifestyle on the presence of fat itself. But how do we best approach this issue in our society as it is? Do we take the tough approach of David Cameron and encourage people to lose weight, saying that those who do not are creating a society of no self-discipline, or do we treat it with more caution, in order to avoid the possibility of appearing discriminatory ourselves?
An anti-obesity campaign from Atlanta, Georgia uses provocatively sullen mug-shots of children with slogans such as “Stop sugar-coating it Georgia,” “Warning. It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not,” and “Warning. Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line.” It is easy to see how some overweight people would take offense to this blunt and accusatory approach to weight management, especially as according to the national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “these ads lack a message of what should be done to ultimately solve the problem.” Although I wouldn’t class this kind of campaigning as discriminatory or “fattist,” the lack of a positive, constructive message about how to target obesity seems to be a waste of the $50 million budget given to the Strong4Life campaign. This seems a far cry from the Change4Life campaign introduced by the NHS a few years ago, which despite its slightly baffling colour scheme has some well thought-out advice and advertising campaigns on how to cook healthier food, live a more active life, and drastically reduce the likelihood of becoming overweight as a result.
It is obvious that the melodramatically dubbed ”obesity epidemic” – to which has countless websites and books are dedicated – is by no means halting as a result of these measures from the government, with slightly mangled statistics from the Guardian claiming that over 80% of men will have BMIs in the overweight or obese region by 2020. Consequently, it is clear that “fattism” is unlikely to go anywhere either. According to the BBC News Magazine, a businesswoman called Marsha Coupe was herself a victim of severe abuse as a result of her weight in 2009. She was verbally abused and called a “big fat pig” by another middle-aged woman before being kicked and punched viciously for the crime of using two seats in a train carriage. Ms Coupe said, when referring to overweight people, that “the normal rules about behaviour, respect and common courtesy don’t apply to us.” This incident is not an isolated one, and it is an appalling truth that until the attitudes towards overweight and obese people change this “fattism” will be a part of our culture whether we like it or not. On a more optimistic note, we can hope that more campaigns like Change4Life and a more positive approach towards our own health and the health of other people will encourage a more responsible approach to this issue, and will curb the unhealthy problems of obesity and discrimination in the future.