September 05, 2006

Weight

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.


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  1. Quote (ish) from Super Size me (I think) – As we see with smoking it’s now socially acceptable to harass the smoker about the damage they do to themselves (and others, but that aint the issue here). How long will it be before the fat person at the table is given a talking to for ordering dessert after the main meal and is lectured about how bad for them being overweight is, and about the strain they put on hospitals and the like?

    You get the idea.

    05 Sep 2006, 23:45

  2. Good to read Holly. I miss you. It’s a shame my cunning plan to see you on monday didn’t work and now i’m gonna have to rely on a chance encounter on campus. Ah well.

    06 Sep 2006, 07:17

  3. At least Keira Knightley is naturally thin, although seemingyl that in itself isn’t good enough. When she was on teh cover of an american magazine, I can’t remember which, they photoshopped her breasts, which are in rpoportion to her frame, by about three cup sizes, because thy have a policy of no one with less than a c cup gracing their covers. Ridiculous.

    06 Sep 2006, 14:39

  4. Hey holly,

    Couldnt read all this but will try later (its hard with bad eyes and a busy background). Thing is posh has help to conceive as she has polycystic ovaries, whether this help counter-acts the effect of her weight (or lack of it) or whether her condition in part causes her low weight i don’t know.

    I think the main thing is we should:

    a) eating healthily, balanced, nutrious and enjoyable (a little of what you fancy is good for you)
    b) work with our bodies (they are very clever, cravings can be for a reason etc)

    You are naturally slim, people like Keira Knightly or Posh v possibly are too but i think they skip (a) to make themselves thinner than they would naturally be and as a result they work against their body. Being overweight and underweight is not good for our health and its not good representation to others and young people. But should we mock or encourage? And for people who are at one of the ends of the scale and trying to change, maybe over a little support and commendation?

    PS I don’t think smokers etc should be lectured – but smoking in public impacts negatively more than the person who has made the conscious decision to smoke which is different to eating excessively etc. However, people who are overweight and as a result take up >1 seat on the tube etc – should they stand? I personally have been squashed several times recently in these situations…

    07 Sep 2006, 12:46

  5. That was a really interesting Post Holly. Did you happen to see ‘F*ck off I’m fat’ on BBC Three last week? The presenter was a big guy who was arguing whether Britain should do more to accomodate its increasingly large population. All the people he interviewed and spent time with were normal people who just wanted to enjoy life and do the things that ‘normal’ sized people can do – e.g. thrill rides or driving a car which isn’t a massive American MPV.
    He pioneered the first ‘Big Loo’ which can accomodate up to a ton of weight sat on it. The seat was massive and larger people commented how comfortable it was. But think how much it would cost to put those everywhere? The space required alone would be an issue – for every one of those that was built you could probably put 2 or 3 standard sized toilets.

    What I did have sympathy with was with the two teenage girls who couldn’t get fashion clothes in their size. They were probably a size 22, which isn’t massive on the grand scale of things, and they had been bullied a lot, but were generally aimiable and happy sisters. I know from experience as a fat teenager that it is so hard not to be able to buy the clothes your friends do when out shopping because you know it looks ridiculous or it just doesn’t come in your size. I think that’s why I developed an obsession for shoes and earrings (they always fit!!).

    I think we have to accept that extremes in weight are not good at either end and that bullying and making examples of people without understanding the often complex reasons behind their weight is unwise. No two people are the same and the reason for one person being over/underweight may not be the same to another. I have a friend who everyone assumes is anorexic, but who I know puts away 3 square meals a day. She’s just naturally thin – AND SHE HATES IT. Yet according to celeb magazines she is probably the perfect ‘size 0’ or whatever crap that’s all about.

    08 Sep 2006, 16:24

  6. Lauren

    I’ve literally stumbled across this page and noticing the dates of previous comments, this probably won’t get read but I just wanted to ‘have my say’ as it were, based on various good & bad comments from the above. I rarely voice my opinions about this subject as it’s so sensitive to so many people but felt that everyone so far had been totally honest so thought I’d give it a go.

    1) Flippant one out of the way first. ‘Skinny’ people are no more likely to snap during sport than a ‘fat’ person is to bounce.
    2) Larger people aspire to be thin like the people, who you so rightly said, they viciously attack, so unfortunately it seems that it’s pure jealousy that drives them to do this.
    3)The ‘larger’ society gets, the less clothes that are sold in my size. That sucks.
    4) Why is it so hard to believe that someone actually is naturally slim? Does it make the larger person feel better to think that there must be some sort of trickery, lies, dieting or vomiting going on for this, seemingly personally insulting, atrocity to be true?
    5) Sizes have changed over the years in order to capture and accomodate the growing average sizes of society. A size 10 in the fifties was more like the measurements of a size 8 now so if measurements ‘names’ had remained the same what was previously a size 6 has now been moved down the scale to a 4 which consequently is no longer made. This also means that if you’re a size 14 now, you’re really more like a size 16 by original sizing. They don’t change the names of sizes, they just change the measurements or the cut so people don’t feel bad about having to go up a size.
    6) I say eat healthily, remain active and stop being spiteful to people with weight problems. ‘Weight PROBLEMS’, problem as in it’s tough for them, they need help not mindless criticism.
    7) I’m a UK size 6.
    8) I got bullied at school for being slim and receive regular back-handed compliments relating to my size still to this day. I don’t spend all day thinking about how great it is to be slim, I don’t stay slim to make other people feel bad and when people make ‘skinny’ comments, it’s actually pretty upsetting.
    9) I don’t diet and even though everyone hates to hear it and you may try and convince yourselves differently – I AM NATURALLY SLIM.

    12 Oct 2007, 22:27


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