Health Issue 16

Sitting Pretty

We’re living in a fatphobic world, there’s no denying it.

Even though fatness is entirely subjective – one person’s definition of ‘fat’ is another person’s ‘goal weight’ – it seems as though anyone above a UK size 10 (US size 6) is ‘overweight’.

Even today, in 2021, an era of acceptance and challenging previous societal norms, medical professionals and the rest of the public still use BMI (body mass index) calculations as a formula to define obesity.

BMI is a simple formula created by Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, a Belgian astronomer, mathematician, statistician, and sociologist (note: not a medical professional), over 100 years ago – yes, 100 years ago.

Consider other medical practices that were common 100 years ago, like drinking irradiated water to cure arthritis, petroleum to rid yourself of head lice, and giving morphine to teething babies (source: MentalFloss), it seems bizarre that we would still place so much of our views on weight on BMI.

BMI doesn’t take into consideration the difference between body fat and muscle, bone mass, body composition, racial or sex differences, and doesn’t provide accuracy with ‘tall’ or ‘short’ people, deeming them always either ‘too fat’ or ‘too skinny’ (source: Medical News Today).

Our use of the BMI formula has created a dangerous domino-effect on our perception of ‘objective’ healthiness and attractiveness.

The bodies we see in the media are depicted as healthy, desirable, and normal.

While those of us in the realms of a BMI above 25 are abnormal, undesirable, and vastly unhealthy.

Since the lockdown of 2020, I’ve immersed myself in TikTok (what else is there to do?), and I noticed that fatphobia is rife.

I’ll see two people, with different bodies, doing the same dance, and the slimmer-bodied person’s comments will be flooded with ‘Beautiful’, ‘Stunning’, and ‘Yaaaas queeeeen!’, while people with larger bodies will be bombarded with comments berating them for dancing, giving unsolicited weight-loss advice, or hateful comments ranging from ‘You’re ugly’ to ‘K!ll yourself’.

As a society, we treat slimmer people better than fatter people.

After her weight loss last year, Rebel Wilson described how people treated her differently, saying, “Sometimes being bigger, people didn’t necessarily look twice at you, now that I’m in good shape, people offer to carry my groceries to the car and hold doors open for you.”(source: BuzzFeed).

She’s not the only one: several Quora commenters explained how people talk negatively about fat people around them after they’ve lost weight, and how they receive more compliments from friends and strangers – not just about their appearance, but in general.

People who have lost weight describe how eating foods that are considered ‘unhealthy’ while slimmer doesn’t result in unwarranted comments about their health anymore, even though the nutritional content of the food hasn’t changed (source: Reddit).

One particularly heartbreaking comment on Reddit said “Even my own father treats me better when I’m thinner… He is more protective of me and acts more lovingly.”.

My heart sank when I read that comment.

Even things that are considered human rights, or general expectations of life, are out-of-bounds or difficult for fat people to experience, like going on dates, having doors held open for them, or even getting a job (source: Huffpost).

Shopping for clothes isn’t exactly easy for bodies larger than size 10 – whether you’re shopping at high-street retailers like H&M or haute-couture designers like Versace, ‘plus sizes’ are hard to come by, or kept ‘in the back’, like something to keep hidden from view.

The average size for people buying women’s clothing in the UK is size 16, which is considered ‘plus size’ by the industry, and yet, ‘plus size’ clothing accounts for just 22% of the fashion industry (source: Fashion United).

Representation of fat people in the media is woeful, as well, with significantly fewer fat people in films and on TV compared to slimmer people.

Plus, when they are featured in the media, they’re either given the trope of ‘funny fat character’, ‘ugly fat character’, or ‘fat character who loses weight and then becomes a valid person’ (here’s looking at you, Fat Monica storyline from Friends).

Spawning from the media’s representation of fat people, the products and adverts telling people to lose weight are commonplace, from WW (rebranded from Weight Watchers) and Skinny Tea to Noom and MyFitnessPal.

Indeed, the weight loss industry was valued at $192.2 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach $295.3 billion by 2027 – there’s money to make from fat-shaming and destroying people’s sense of self.

Fat people are told from all angles that they are not ‘normal’ or ‘attractive’, and the world isn’t designed for them.

Fat people pay extra for airplane seats, which are getting smaller with each plane redesign, simply to fit more people in, rather than to suit their target audience (source: Babe.net).

Fat people have to contend with any visit to the doctor being overshadowed and blamed by their weight.

It happens – a few years ago, when I didn’t consider myself overweight, I visited my doctor for a recurring spell of sickness over the course of two years, and was told that I “couldn’t be bulimic because the weight wasn’t exactly falling off” me.

And that’s just my story, as a person under a size 16.

Naturally, being told by a medical professional that, essentially, I was too fat to be bulimic, caused more than a few hits to my self-esteem – something I still struggle with today.

This sort of treatment of fat people is beyond damaging – it’s dangerous and life-threatening.

When you’re told left, right, and centre, that your body is unhealthy, unattractive, and disgusting, it takes its toll on your self-image, self-esteem, and beats you down.

When even eating ‘healthy’ food or exercising still results in unwarranted comments about your weight (“good for you”, “glad you’re doing something about it”).

When if someone like Jennifer Lawrence talks about pizza, it’s endearing and relatable, but if you do, it’s unhealthy (source: Cheatsheet).

When someone like Jennifer Lawrence is even remotely considered a ‘fat person’ (source: Business Insider).

It’s clear that skinny privilege does exist – yes, people who are slim can get bullied for their weight, but that’s an entirely separate issue, like those who scream ‘All Lives Matter’ as a response to ‘Black Lives Matter’.

Simply put, a person’s weight should never define how they are treated – but we, as a society, have a long way to go before we can say that with conviction.

4 comments

  1. You’re right, a person’s weight should never define how they are treated. But the older I get, the more I’m being made aware that being overweight attracts heart failure, diabetes which can sometimes lead to losing your sight. Lots of things can and do go wrong with your body.

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    1. Hi Mary! Definitely, we don’t argue that being unhealthy is a good way of life, but we do believe that being ‘fat’ doesn’t necessarily mean that you are unhealthy. A ‘fat’ person can still have a clean bill of health at the doctor’s surgery. Living in a larger body doesn’t mean that you are unhealthy, lazy or any of the other stereotypes fixed onto being in a bigger body than others. There are plenty of people that have the perfect BMI that are unhealthy, lazy, unfit… etc etc.

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    2. Thanks for your comment, @marymtf, I understand what you mean, but I believe that it’s often misconstrued as a ‘causation rather than correlation’ sort of issue when it comes to medical maladies and being overweight. I try to avoid overgeneralising about health issues whenever weight is mentioned – it can be part of a host of variables, such as genes, other medical ailments, whereabouts people are living, what foods they have access to, who they’re living with, and so many other things. Being overweight doesn’t, in and of itself, attract heart failure and diabetes – there are overweight people who don’t have heart failure and diabetes, and people who are deemed as having ‘normal’ body weight that do suffer from heart issues and diabetes. As you rightly said, lots of things can go wrong with your body, but they can be caused by lots of things, as well. 🙂

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