Posted by: ezzakazhall | September 1, 2012

“All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us…”

As a journalist in training,I’ve always aimed to be as balanced as possible when writing this blog. On a personal level, I am a staunch supporter of the Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size movements, so I predict it will be difficult having to give airtime to any Government initiatives that push weight loss onto a community…so, I see this blog as a bit of practice in reporting both sides of the coin.

However, as a journalist, I also believe it is my responsibility to expose injustice, give a voice to the voiceless, and stand in the gap for those who are marginalised by society. Hopefully, in some way, this blog does the same. So…I wanted to talk about this piece I found recently in the US International Business Times. I don’t know if this piece “stands in the gap” necessarily- but it certainly casts harsh light on the tough old world the overweight and obese live in.

Some of the makes important points the article makes are:

1) More than one third of adult Americans and 17 percent of young Americans are classed as obese – yet, despite these large numbers, these people have no voice in Government. Says the writer: “The number of “fat” Americans far surpasses those of any racial, ethnic or religious minority – despite this, they have no voice in government, nor does any national politician explicitly seek out their support.

“While it is true that poor minorities are disproportionately obese and overweight…rates are so high across all racial and social classes that it puzzles me as to why they are not considered a viable voting bloc, like the elderly or disabled are.”

2) Meanwhile, the US Government certainly hasn’t been shy about stamping out obesity across America, thus marginalising the overweight further. “Moreover, when first lady Michelle Obama unveiled her anti-obesity initiative to promote healthy eating among children, she was assailed by some Republicans…for denying Americans the freedom to eat whatever they want. However, in that case, Mrs. Obama was not really “attacking” the rights of the obese; rather, she was seeking to prevent the next generation of U.S. children from becoming overweight. That sentiment would tend to alienate or embarrass fat people.”

3) There is still a close and problematic relationship between the US Government and the agribusiness sector- and, of course, the millions pocketed by the sector for the sale of high-fructose corn syrup. “[Political scientist Jamie] Chandler also noted that congressmen tend to be very friendly with the agribusiness sector, especially corn producers who derive significant profits from sales of high-fructose corn syrup, one of the leading causes of obesity. ‘This relationship tends to block any potential fitness and health-related legislation designed to lower obesity rates,’ he added.

“Thus, many politicians seem to be fond of pushing policies that will keep the numbers of obese people high, without showing much concern about their health and welfare.”

4) The obese and overweight are one of the most despised and ridiculed groups in American society, and that they been discriminated against in almost every area- from going for jobs and apartments, to just popping out to get the milk. And yet, the Government still will not speak for them. “I have seen fat people moved to the back of restaurants by managers who don’t want passers-by seeing them through the front window; I have witnessed passengers on trains and buses move away from obese people; and I have heard endless cruel insults and jokes hurled at fat people.

“I would also not be surprised if overweight people have been discriminated against with respect to job hiring or apartment rentals. In these cases, that would clearly represent a violation of civil rights.” (Unfortunately, there have been cases of people getting the sack for being obese, and some health care facilities in the US have proposed not to hire those with a BMI over 30. This TIME Magazine piece explores the issue of obese women earning lower salaries).

5) There is a lack of overweight representatives in the US Government- which may be a result the widespread stigma against larger people. “I have written before that Chris Christie, the rotund governor of New Jersey, will never become president because most Americans simply do not want an obese person as the head of state. Over the past century, most of the chief executives have been tall and slender. The last obese president was William Howard Taft, but he left office 100 years ago, long before the age of television and Internet.”

The point in the article that resonated the strongest was that discrimination against the overweight is still prevalent. As a small bit of personal disclosure, I have experienced size-related discrimination in my time – but it’s not since I discovered the Size Acceptance movement last year that I realised how much of a problem it is, and how truly “thin-obsessed” our society is.

I’ve already mentioned discrimination of the overweight in the workplace, and larger women earning lower salaries, above and there are a host of articles that support this claim. This Guardian article describes fat shaming as “a new and vicious sport”. Says the writer:  “Fat youngsters in Georgia have their photos pasted on billboards like mug shots. Children and their parents are being shamed for looking different than the thousands of Photoshopped pictures we see weekly on our screens, phone, computers, laptops and magazines. No wonder society has a thing about fat. Fat people are so rarely included in visual culture that fat is perceived as a blot on the landscape of sleek and slim.”  This article cites a study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, which found that discrimination against the overweight is as prevalent in the US as racial discrimination. This piece in Salon compared anti-obesity sentiment to homophobia- in that both homosexuality and obesity have been treated as “diseases” and “moral failings” that can be cured.

And where are the world’s Governments and businesses in all this? Well, they’re certainly trying their darndest to cure the “disease” as it were. So far, on this blog, we have found that Governments and corporations have:

* in the case of the US Government, passed legislation to require children to be served fruit and vegetables in US schools, in a bid to reduce obesity;

* in the case of Disney, introduced theme park rides demonising the obese, in an effort to teach kids about heathy habits;

* in the case of the UK Government, cried foul over McDonald’s sponsorship of the Olympics; as it “sends out the wrong message”;

* in the case of both the Australian and US Governments, removed obese children from their homes; and

* in the case of the Western Australian Federal Government, introduced advertisements using graphic shock tactics to raise awareness of obesity- and ignored advice from eating disorder specialists in the process.

And, those are just the things I’ve had the time to discuss! There have been the Strong 4 Life Billboards in Georgia (which came down eventually), doctors being urged to put their overweight patients into therapy, 54 percent of UK doctors claiming that the NHS should deny fat patients emergency treatment and the Girl Guides of America teaching young women about weight loss. And many, many others.

But, in amongst all of this, who in the world’s Governments has bothered to actively give the overweight a voice? Instead of spending money on campaigns to eradicate obesity, which, as the author of the International Business Times piece pointed out, actually serves to alienate the overweight further – has anyone thought to stand in the gap for this marginalised group in society? There are still an estimated 1.6 billion obese adults in the world – so are these Government initiatives actually having any effect (plus, studies have shown that 95 percent of people gain will gain weight back within five years of weight loss)?

Has anyone in Government thought of standing in the gap for the overweight who are bullied, who do face discrimination in their daily lives, and who are paid less than their slimmer colleagues? Well, some members of the UK Government did, as I discussed in this post, by proposing to make appearance-based discrimination punishably by law. This was met with skepticism at best, and derision at worst. In the US, only the State of Michigan and six cities (two in California, one in Wisconsin, one in Illinois, one in New York and Washington DC) have laws protecting against discrimination in based on body weight. Here in New Zealand, there is nothing in our Human Rights legislation that prevents against size discrimination. A friend once told me she was barred from a club because of her weight (something similar happened to this young lass in the US) – and she complained to our Human Rights Commission, which said there was nothing they could do.

So, who speaks for the 1.6 billion people who live in a society obsessed with appearance, with a diet industry making over $60 billion (US) a year, and with health care professionals basing their health on a system that is inherently flawed? Who in the Government stands up for them, and actually stops to listen to what they want, and considers how the system can actually work for them? There are many wonderful Size Acceptance blogs, and the online movement is growing all the time. But the politicians? Our leaders? Those who make the policies and the laws, and actually have a mandate to act for the marginalised and the oppressed?

Right now, I’m sorry to say, Michael Jackson says it better.

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Responses

  1. You’re an amazing writer – glad I stumbled upon your page!


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