So you may well have heard of #FatGuyDancing. But just incase… It all started with the tweet and photo below. The fact that one person thought it was OK to describe another person as a ‘specimen,’ whether to their face or on social media, is really sad. Then to laugh at? Even sadder.
But this story has a happy ending. On the back of the demeaning tweet, the awesome LA-based activist Cassandra Banks launched a hunt for the man on Twitter. He has been identified as Sean from London, and invited to a dance party in LA with nearly 2000 bikini clad women. Moby is DJing for free, Pharrell Williams and Ellie Goulding have tweeted positive messages about it. Other than a bit more love for these celebrities and an appreciation of Cassandra’s compassion, what lessons do we need to learn?
Lesson 1: ‘fattism’ is not OK
I find it amazing how many people quite proudly say they are ‘fattest.’ According to the Oxford English Dictionary, fattism is ‘prejudice or discrimination against people who are fat.’ Prejudice is never OK: in my opinion, being fattest is just the latest in a long-line of lack of acceptance of others, not a million miles away from racism or being homophobic. It is true that often body weight is down to the person’s lifestyle: eating too much, moving too little. But that does not make it appropriate to be prejudiced against them.
Lesson 2: obesity isn’t the only lifestyle ‘choice’ that affects our health in a negative way.
There are so many chronic health issues caused by lifestyle; obesity is just one. Now consider that eating something high in saturated fat or salt, drinking alcohol, taking drugs or smoking all are lifestyle choices that are not good for our long-term health, just like eating too much. I certainly couldn’t be the one to throw the first stone, could you?
Lesson 3: obesity isn’t necessarily a choice at all.
There are three main recognised eating disorders in the UK: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa get by far the most attention, but there is also binge eating disorder. This condition can affect anyone, but is slightly more common in women than men. According to NHS Choices, it is estimated that around 1 in 30 to 1 in 50 people will develop binge eating disorder in their lifetime. Now that really is a large number. And what is thought to cause binge eating disorder? Low self-esteem or self-confidence, depression, dissatisfaction with your body and feels of stress, loneliness or pressure to be thin. It is quite easy to imagine how those feelings could develop if your weight is under scrutiny.
A crass and unhelpful meme cementing the idea that fat people gobble everything in front of them.
Lesson 4: negative opinions parents hold pass on to their children and can affect future generations
Negative stereotyping of obesity in children is thought to affect peer acceptance and psychological health of overweight children. For example, one study has shown that obese children are liked less as playmates than average-weight children, and that they perceive themselves as more depressed and as having a reduced academic performance, physical appearance popularity and happiness an increased anxiety compared to their peers. Another study found that overweight children to be more vulnerable to low self-esteem. See lesson 3.
Lesson 5: fattest views may make weight loss more difficult
Some people argue that being prejudiced against fat people will make them loose weight. But one such study found almost exactly the opposite. 6157 participants were analysed for weight, height and discrimination measure over 4 years. The study had two major findings. Firstly, participants who were not obese at the beginning of the study but experienced weight discrimination were approximately 2.5 times more likely to become obese by the end. Secondly, participants who were obese at the beginning of the study were 3 times more likely to remain obese at the end. The main study conclusion? Unsurprisingly the authors suggested that rather than motivating individuals to lose weight, weight discrimination increases risk for obesity.
So what can we do going forward?
There is a fine line between accepting people who are overweight, and accepting obesity which we need to tread carefully; we want to continue promoting a healthy lifestyle. But at the moment, we are so far the wrong side of the line. Simon Stevens, the CEO of NHS England, said: “obesity is the new smoking, and it represents a slow-motion car crash in terms of avoidable illness and rising health care costs.” The future of the NHS is something I really care about. And judging by how often it hits the headlines and how it can swing voters hard in various political directions, it is something that we care about as a nation. So, in the light of the obesity epidemic, if you really care about the health of the nation, you should be driving change, not driving hostility.