Obesity,Diets#Eating Disorders#Bullying#Fat Acceptance#Please Share
Barbara Kay: High esteem won’t cure obesity’s ills
Barbara Kay Feb 11, 2012 – 1:30 PM ET | Last Updated: Feb 11, 2012 10:34 AM ET
I think we’re all agreed that childhood obesity is not a good thing. Unless a child has a bona fide medical reason for weight gain that isn’t connected to overeating, fat children are fat because they eat more high-calorie, low-nutrition food than their bodies can burn up in the usually meagre amount of time devoted to exercise.
If adults want to eat themselves to death, so be it. But the children!
Since, depending on the luck of the draw, children have no say in whether they will be beneficiaries or victims of their parents’ choices, the sight of obese children tugs at our heartstrings and at our conscience.
Something, we feel, must be done for them. Gentle prodding and calorie charts in restaurants and general educational materials haven’t worked. We need some shock and awe if headway is to be made.
An Atlanta-based group (fittingly, since Atlanta has the nation’s second highest obesity rate), Strong4Life, decided to go that route.
They mounted a billboard campaign, mainly clustered in neighbourhoods with high obesity rates, to raise awareness of obesity dangers. They feature unhappy-looking fat youngsters staring directly out at the viewer, with captions that state the case loud and clear. Under one picture of a corpulent young girl, the caption reads: “Warning – It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.” Another has a well-upholstered teenage girl saying “Warning – My fat may be funny to you, but it’s killing me.” (The model told U.S. TV that posing for this ad gave her confidence). Other messages: “Chubby isn’t cute if it leads to Type 2 diabetes” and “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid.”
The campaign – clearly intended to shame parents, since adults notice billboards more than kids – has raised a storm of protest. Alan Guttmacher, a child health expert at the National Institutes of Health says the campaign “carries a great risk of increasing stigma” and childhood stigma “can reinforce unhealthy behaviours.” But Mark Wulkan, the surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta defended the campaign, stating that child obesity is something “that we had to fix” and “When we looked at how do you get that awareness, really the most effective means are to use techniques that some might say are controversial.”
Who cares more about these children? Those who want the posters taken down because they stigmatize fat kids, or those who think the posters are a good idea if they raise awareness and further a solution to the problem?
The anti-stigmatizers are more worried about eroding kids’ “self-esteem” than combatting an escalating health problem in a vulnerable population. It’s the same reflex that governed those who objected to notices being posted in gay bathhouses in the 1980s warning gays about the HIV perils of unprotected sex. The anti- stigmatizers, who wanted to pretend gays were no different from everyone else, won, the notices were taken down, and hundreds if not thousands of men became infected with HIV out of ignorance. It was only when gay sympathizers faced up to the reality that stigmatizing destructive habits was the best way to save lives that potential victims shed their ignorance – and their vulnerability.
You can see the obesity anti-stigmatizers hard at work on the TV series Glee. There isn’t a social issue – homosexuality, obsessive- compulsive disorder, physical and mental disability – that isn’t presented as an obstacle easily overcome with a little good will and support from one’s loyal and sympathetic friends. Unrealistic, perhaps, but benign in intent and not what one would call counter- productive, since the anomalies are recognized as problematic to the those afflicted with them.
Curiously, though, although Glee openly deals with these other issues, and even though two of the main student characters, fat is not presented as a problem, or even referred to at all. In fact, the main obese (and tremendously talented) character, Mercedes, is portrayed as a confident girl whose on-stage presence is as attractive as the Broadway beauties she dances beside. Mercedes eats what she wants (and what she unapologetically wants is deep-fried potato tots and milkshakes) without censure, and is courted by the hottest guys in school, guys whose previous girlfriends are slim and gorgeous.
Here we are moving way beyond anti-stigmatizing and into la-la land.
The message that fat girls pay no social price whatsoever for their appearance in our fitness and weight-obsessed culture does Glee’s fat viewership no service.
Wishful, politically correct messaging may flood the hearts of obese kids with happiness and unearned self-esteem from 8-9 pm on Tuesday nights. But in real life, there is a big price to pay, both physically and socially, for poor eating habits. Anti-stigmatizing has been tried and it has failed. We should give shaming honesty a chance.
We should give shaming honesty a chance.
I have to disagree.
January 31, 2010 Please share.
Ridiculing the obese is the new gay bashing
Society has become far more enlightened over sexuality and race. Now we reserve our contempt for the underclass
My son begged me to switch the show off. “It’s too cruel,” he said. But that seemed to be the point of Fat Families. “You make me feel sick,” said the smug presenter as the obese couple looked forlornly at their takeaway supper. Later they were stripped naked — she weeping, he head bowed — while the camera boggled obscenely at their bodies. I hope they were well paid, this good-hearted pair,
who clearly loved their kids and each other. What price to be paraded
as an object of hatred and disgust.
A public health message? No, this was the All-New Fat & White Minstrel Show. The obese are the last group — should you feel enraged today by a parking penalty or Blair — at which you can vent your fury with legal and social impunity. A friend mentioned, en passant, chastising a man for letting his dog pee copiously over her doorstep.
“P*** off, you fat bitch,” was his automatic response. I was aghast,
she was nonplussed: as a largish lady she dealt with this (and worse)
This week the British Social Attitudes survey revealed our greater toleration of homosexuality: only a third of us now think gay love is wrong. Which still seems mighty high to me, yet only 20 years ago this figure was double. Gay men are still violently assaulted, name-calling is too infrequently challenged in schools, but these days homophobia is
rarely given full vent in the national media. And if it is — as with
Jan Moir’s article — a powerful and righteous lobby will unleash all
But sometimes it feels as if the anger and intolerance upon our angry, always up-for-a-fight island, is just being funnelled to other targets: the fat, the poor, the white trash, the chavs and pikeys, the underclass on the fringes of society who we loathe almost as much as we fear.
Outsiders are always easiest to hate. When gay culture was confined to the margins, it was simple to caricature and condemn. After all, it was unlikely you’d meet anyone to disprove your view. The great progress of the past decade was gay relationships ceasing to be subject to saucy speculation but becoming normal, banal even. The once-separate
straight and gay worlds have meshed. When my lovely lesbian
sister-in-law had a baby with a gay man, I’d wondered how to explain
this scenario to my elderly northern parents, so sheltered were their
lives. I was stupid to worry.
Love and babies, the warmth of real human contact, breaks down suspicion of The Other. After one hilarious Christmas karaoke night my eightysomething mother reflected simply: “Well, I’d never met any gays before. But they all seem very nice.” And when I was interviewing the American writer David Sedaris recently he marvelled at how parents
bring 14-year-old sons along to his book signings: “Meet Doug,” they
might say. “He’s gay.” Sedaris’s own tortured, confused and utterly
closeted teenage self would have marvelled at this casually
At this time when our respect for the political process has never been lower, few will acknowledge the wonder when government does something right. The creation of civil partnerships in 2005 not only dignified and formalised gay relationships but acted as a catalyst for further change. Moreover, it signalled that the British culture war was
over. Run up the flag: the forces of tolerance had won.
It was a long, bitter conflict, fought all through the Thatcher years, when it was the ugly, snarling, bullying tap-room bigotry more than any economic policies that made many loathe our Government. This was not so much a clash of policies, but about what constitutes full humanity. Peter Lilley was getting belly laughs with his conference
ditty against single mums; disgust against homosexuality led to the
creation of Clause 28, banning discussion of same sex relationships in
school for fear that predatory gays would stalk our kids.
That the Tory party is run now by social liberals sometimes boggles the mind. Can people change that easily? Only seven years ago David Cameron voted to keep Clause 28, but now he has apologised, declared his intent to reward not only marriage in the tax system but civil partnerships too.
And Baroness Warsi who, when I asked her why she sent out anti-gay literature when she was standing in Dewsbury in the 2005 election, said: “I have learnt, read more; my views have matured since then.” Maybe they have. Even Elton John’s arch tormentor, the former Sun Editor Kelvin MacKenzie, claims these days to be a friend of the gays.
Or maybe Cameron realises that laissez faire morality is so deeply entrenched that there is no point in fighting it. And besides, why go against the grain when you can go with the flow? While our social attitudes have grown more liberal, our economic views have hardened into conservatism: only a bare majority now believe it is the
Government’s job to secure employment for all or to ensure the
unemployed have a decent standard of living.
Indeed, as racism and homophobia have become ever more verboten, there has been a corresponding growth in intolerance for the poor, a disgust at their lifestyle, an ugly, lazy disdain for those who live in council estates, who have scary dogs and babies too young, a licensed mocking of their yeah-but-no-but speech and culture. I grow tired of
arguing with well-brought-up children of liberal parents that “chav” is
a disgusting, reductive label, that the kids who live in the flats
behind our house are not — apart from the amount of stuff they own — so
different from them. How depressing that even 12-year-olds see society
set into two separately entrenched tribes.
But it is fine now to believe that the underclass only has itself to blame for its educational failures, and laziness keeps families on the dole. And there they are, paraded on those circuses of disgust: Big Brother and Jeremy Kyle. Or on that whole new TV genre, the obesity freak show: Fat Families, The World’s Fattest Man, Too Fat Too Young ... All feign concern when their only object is to poke ridicule at the stupid chavs unable to stop shoving kebabs into their face even when
it’s killing them.
Obesity is, above all, a mark of poverty: a handy melding of our social and bodily disgust, No, these days we may not bash so many poofs. But there is still plenty of sport to be had watching a 20st woman in a wedding dress that will never fit, weeping her heart out with shame.