August 01, 2020

by Jade Fothergill
Did you happen to see the segment on a popular daytime programme recently where a fitness instructor claimed fat people are lazy and that life should be made as difficult as possible for obese people to ‘encourage’ them to lose weight?
It’s not the first time these types of views have been aired on hugely popular programmes: There were similar incidents in May this year when a ‘diet expert’ said live on air, “The reason this country is getting fatter is because we suffer from "I can't be bothereditis. The blunt message… is, if you are fat, you are on death row,” and in January when a discussion on whether overweight people should pay more to fly a fitness writer claimed, "fat-shaming is saving lives".

Would this kind of blatant discrimination against and bullying of any other group ever be given a platform? What is it about fatphobia that those who espouse it not only remain unsanctioned, but are actively given airtime, when anyone homophobic, racist or ableist would quite rightly be shunned and disregarded?

The difference, I would suggest, is the perception that fat people choose to be the way they are – that we are morally deficient, lack will power or determination – in other words it is our own fault. Invariably those who spout hatred against fat people claim they are merely concerned for our health, but a perfunctory dip into the science shows quite clearly that health and weight have no direct correlation; that it is perfectly possibly to be healthy at what society considers to be a plus-size weight and vice versa.

A 2014 study, published in Obesity Review and funded by the Brazilian Ministry of Education found that one-third to three-quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy, while about a quarter of non-overweight people are what epidemiologists call “the lean unhealthy”.

Research by Cambridge University released in January 2019 also concluded that we have far less control over our weight than many like to think: “This research shows for the first time that healthy thin people are generally thin because they have a lower burden of genes that increase a person’s chances of being overweight and not because they are morally superior, as some people like to suggest," said professor Sadaf Farooqi.

Until we can move away from patently false assumptions about what weight means for health fat shaming will continue to be the last acceptable form of bigotry. Unfortunately, even if we do manage that, I fear that there are still huge further strides to be made in the dismantling of the beauty standards, toxic diet industry, ableism and misogyny that further feed into this ugliest of phobias.

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