Campaigners in the Size Acceptance Movement want overweight people to have legal protection against discrimination, in the same way that the law now protects minority groups from work discrimination or hate crimes.
My first reaction to this kind of story is just to laugh. A bunch of fat people who want the law to protect them and their right to eat crisps! Whatever next?
But naturally, there is more to it if you sit and think for a moment. Let’s ignore those people who are fat because of a physical disorder, the majority that are overweight don’t have a healthy relationship with food because of some other psychological issue. They might be just eating junk food, or eating far more than they really need, or generally just using food as a comfort device. It’s true that many of the overweight people I’ve known have been quite solipsistic, withdrawn from regular society and activities because they found it uncomfortable to be on display, even to the extent that the activities they did engage in would be ones that could reassure them that they can do something useful without the need for other people – dog-training for example.
It’s not acceptable for society in general to treat overweight people with violence, as the commentator on the BBC has experienced, but it’s likely that people will pass judgement and comment on an overweight person. That’s a sad fact of life. This reinforcement that something is wrong doesn’t help a fat person to break out of the cycle of despair – it’s difficult to create self-confidence and the ability to live a healthy lifestlye when strangers give you verbal abuse in the street.
So I can see why there is a campaign asking for a social acceptance of overweight people. It used to be commonplace to use derogatory terms about people because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Clearly the campaigners want to get to a place where it’s no longer cool to derogate fat people, in much the same way as the UK was recently horrified by the use of ‘Paki’ by a contestant on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.
But, I’m still uneasy about the whole concept of a politcal campaign over fat acceptance.
I heard the woman involved in this BBC report on the radio yesterday and she rejected labels such as ‘obese’. These aren’t terms of abuse, they are medical definitions. It’s true the BMI is not an ideal science, but it’s the best general measure of height/weight ratios we have and if you are off the scale then you are not in a healthy place and had better listen to the doctor rather than claiming discrimination.
Are we now suggesting that it should be considered ‘normal’ to be obese?