All entries for Tuesday 05 September 2006

September 05, 2006


Weight. It’s a funny issue isn’t it? More specifically, it’s funny to laugh at fat people. And thin people. Sometimes you can laugh at both simply by buying a single copy of Heat, Now, Stare, Gawp or Lookatthesefuckingfreaks! Look at the amazing round people and marvel at how the caption declares them to be American as if we don’t have massively obese people in Britain. And hark at the skinny celebrity as she wafts through the paparazzi photograph before turning the page and reading 101 Tips On Getting A Beach Figure For The Summer.

And yet at the end of the day there’s a fundamental fact which makes all of this so hideously complicated. Technically everytime these magazines mock those who appear to have a weight problem, in either direction, they are correct. Being overweight will destroy your heart, arteries, liver. Not eating properly (and let’s not kids ourselves that any of these superthin celebs are losing weight via working out, they’re the wrong shape) will give you arthritis, liver problems and disrupt most of your body’s functions. The tone may be patronising, especially set against the magazines’ rafts of diets and junk food adverts, but we really shouldn’t accept the terrible cost of being like this.

Weight issues differ from other big dangers like alcohol abuse or smoking as it doesn’t obviously harm others. You can’t passive eat. If you have salad and the person next to you has burgers then you’re still going to run home full of vitamins and free of reprocessed nasties. Binging on three packets of crisps won’t make you start a fight in the street. Weight problems are not caused by single decisions. Weight problems tend to build slowly, like the teen who cuts out fatty foods, then skips meal, until anorexia is established. Weight problems are complex and develop slowly. People aren’t born overweight. The causes are way too complex to go into here. Suffice to say we have enough people who have been affected by those causes to require tackling of the outcomes (weight problems) as well as the causes. We can’t just give up the current generation of over- and underweight people as lost and concentrate on helping the next generation only.

But there seems to be a general lethargy about tackling such problems.

Now we are getting to the stage where 33% of men are considered to be a good weight or underweight (quoted in a recent edition of the Guardian). Considering that male anorexia/bulimia is rising this is not great reading.

The problem seems to be how to cope. Shops are already increasing their range of clothing sizes, there are calls for sturdier furniture to be available, both in shops and in the public sector. Some are calling fat the new racism, grounds to insult and demean people. Society’s treatment of the overweight undoubtedly causes anguish to millions. But at the same time it’s not healthy. Previous representatives of ‘fat’ in the media, like Dawn French or Johnny Vegas, look positively svelte compared to many people on Britain’s streets today. You could probably morally justify allowing French and Vegas to remain at the their current sizes (though they won’t be as healthy as people who aren’t overweight) but for the huge, who are increasing in number, it seems wrong to let them do that damage to themselves. How are we to react to the needs of the obese? Should we give them the resources they need to cope at 30st, or should we refuse as it doesn’t encourage the potentially life saving weight loss they need to engage in? We don’t seem to be quite as tolerant towards anorexics, or is this because they deteriorate in health faster than fat people?

It’s a truly difficult argument. Either way we are allowing harm to befall people. Acceptance of fat will make fat people feel better in the short term as we are less mean to them on the streets, but it might prevent them from deciding to lose weight and kill them with coronary at 46.

And so we mock the skinny, openly and increasingly viciously. Those twig like stars whose bones are more recogisable than our neighbours’ faces. The least believable thing about Bend It Like Beckham was the concept of Keira Knightley as a footballer. Anyone that skinny would get snapped in half on the pitch, leaving aside the issue that were she really a footballer she’d have developed some more muscle from the training. But the tabloids are happy to show many photos of the super skinny, and a debate rages as to whether this encourages them to remain this way for publicity reasons. As was recently pointed out, uber skinny Posh Spice has managed to have three kids, something a proper anorexic couldn’t do as her condition would have stopped her periods and ability to conceive a long time ago. Posh can clearly decide when to starve to fame and when to eat to sustain a foetus.

It’s considered impolite to tell a fat person “don’t eat that, you’re already fat”, yet I’ve been told by people that I should eat more as I’m too thin. Should we be consistent on these matters of weight, considering that being overweight and underweight are both dangerous? Can we justify the short term discomfort for those who are not healthy weight at this time if it helps stop it in the future? How are we meant to view those outside of BMI 20-25? Would over- or underweight people hold different opinions to those who are a healthly weight?

Either way these health problems are starting to strain the NHS which we all pay for. People need to think about this as it’s their money which is being spent. Sadly, it’s probably only when it’s presented in these terms that people will start to really consider these issues.

September 2006

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