Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Fat for purpose

reposted from:

The comments are better than this article.

Fat for purpose

Even though they're ridiculed and discriminated against, not all overweight people want to conform to the notion that thin is beautiful

November 20, 2007 9:00 AM

Fatness has become synonymous with unhappiness. If you are overweight you are not allowed to feel confident: it's against the rules. You're not even supposed to step outside without strapping down your effervescing gut with an elasticated waistband, because fatties don't look or feel attractive. They dress badly. They have greasy hair. They smell like stale chicken wings, body odour and warm fats, and they are lazy. There are no studies to corroborate this, of course. This is the archetypal fat person, the one that would exist should the world spontaneously combust and a superior life force begin to piece together society using the remnants of Gillian McKeith's brain with cuttings from tabloids and women's weeklies.

The front-page report that

almost two thousand people are too fat to work,
according to documents released by the Department for Work and Pensions for 2006-2007, will further fuel the belief that fat people are the scourge of society, addicted to daytime TV and flaky pastry. Despite this being a relatively small percentage of the fat population in the UK, anyone with a spare tyre, whether working or not, will be considered one of the wobbly masses "working the system" and claiming the £4.4bn that rightly belongs to the thin people who earned it.

There were individuals receiving incapacity benefit for a number of reasons, including migraines and acne, but it is the overweight who are considered morally repugnant: fatties have no integrity, their "condition," if it can be called that, is something to be highlighted and shamed rather than sensibly addressed. The article is illustrated with a photograph of the hanging belly of an obese woman, tightly covered in grey sweat pants and a white shirt, inciting the physical revulsion that we are conditioned to feel by the rotund. A lot of fat people work, and work well. What the departmental figures fail to recognise is the number of people actively discriminated against in the job market owing to the fact that they are porkers, and the media prefers to perpetuate the concept that fatties don't work because they don't want to rather than because they can't get employed. It should also be pointed out that to claim incapacity benefit you have to be assessed, and fatness is one thing that you just can't fake.

I am a fat woman and have never resisted that definition. I feel that to do so would endorse the idea that there is something inherently wrong with me, rather than society. I wouldn't say I am particularly insecure about my weight; no more so than someone with a big nose, or oddly shaped head. The greatest problem has always been impolite comments from those who believe that as a fatty I am public property, and owed a verbal pummeling. I refuse to let this influence me, especially since I have no problem with the way I am. This is my biggest crime.

We live in a culture where our ability to adhere to the rules of self-perfection is considered directly proportionate to our success, especially for women. Glossy magazines daily boast images of the emaciated size zero beauties littering celebsville, and while we can't emulate their lifestyles, their look has become achievable, and costs nothing at all (just your health). So being overweight indicates a lack of self-control, something that can only be remedied by substituting your penchant for doughnuts with delicious mung beans.

If you are clinically overweight and not stringing up the noose, you must not admit it. This must be hidden under the bed like a shameful secret, shrouded in years' worth of chocolate wrappers and crisp packets. To raise your bingo wings in the air as a bleary eyed request for help is considered responsible: you exist on the fringes, yes, but at least you realise that you are "aesthetically displeasing" and want to change. However, refusing to allow your weight to impinge on your life means that you will be subject to unyielding pressure from the dieting industry and a media machine intent on making you recognise the error of your ways. To be content when you are different forces society to question its rules of acceptability, and as the anomaly you have to be obliterated before anyone else realises that it's possible to think outside the box. You are depressed being overweight because thin people say so. And if this is not true, then tough luck because everyone still thinks so.

A report last week claimed that those taking the weight-loss drug rimonabant, sold in the UK under the name Acomplia, have an increased chance of developing psychiatric problems. In the study, carried out at the University of Copenhagen, more than 4,000 patients took part in four medical trials. Those taking the drug were 40% more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. The drug was not licensed in the US over fears suicide rates would increase but in the EU has been approved as a prescription only medicine. Although you may end up eating your own hair, and carving your weight loss along your arms with a butter knife, it is an effective method of shedding those unwanted pounds. People are opting to take this medication because the prospect of becoming mentally deranged is considered far more appealing that living as a "wide load," and so what does this say about the status quo? If a woman has starved herself to the point of death owing to the pressures to be skinny then she is referred to a cognitive behavioural therapist, with the psychological aspects of her condition validated. If someone is very fat, however, the possibility they may have underlying issues that have precipitated their weight problem is ignored simply because, unlike anorexia, the results of obesity are less glamorous. Fatness is considered nothing more than the ugly result of gluttony, and so nobody cares that a weight loss drug could seriously damage a fatty's mental health because they will look better. In many respects it's considered a public service.

Overweight people are not acceptable, an attitude which has permeated the national consciousness. The word "fat" is invested with negativity, considered a derogatory term used as an insult, as opposed to the word "thin" which invokes images of beauty and perfection. Some people are genetically predisposed to be overweight. Others may be miserable, prone to comfort eating. Either way, the claim put forward by Weight Watchers and endorsed by celebrity culture - loose weight and feel great - not only creates, but also enhances existing insecurities, in addition to placing unrealistic expectations on the power of weight control. Yes, many women who loose weight are much happier, but many who choose not to lead perfectly normal and fulfilled lives. You don't have to be thin to be happy, and you don't have to be fat to be unhappy. It is time emphasis shifted from pressurising people to loose weight through public humiliation, to supporting the idea that it is possible to be successful and cheerful even if you are the wrong side of 15 on the scales.

There are health implications to being overweight, and of course, support should be accessible to those who want and need it. We shouldn't encourage people to be fat, but it is counterproductive to claim that the only way you can be happy and get the promotion you want is by banishing your muffin top, because some of us just cannot do it. Considering that many people are overweight, shouldn't we foster an all-inclusive society, rather than making every fat person feel like a grotesque beast of burden and assuming they are trapped in a neverending cycle of binge eating and depression? What will this do other than foster generations of teenagers and adults who lack the confidence to even step outside without being shrouded in a black cagoule?

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