Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The fat of the land

Any fat person will tell you the same thing. It is perfectly possible to be fat and healthy. It is just as possible to be thin and ill. Morbid obesity is dangerous. There are some health problems associated with being overweight, just as there are with any number of physical and genetic dispositions. However, these are not automatic. Some people put on weight, others don't. The number of times I wanted to lurk with a sawn off shotgun outside a bone-thin, binge-eating colleague's office and demand that he hands over his metabolism are innumerable. Yes, psychological problems do produce eating disorders of all types. Dieting only works temporarily and however brutal one is with one's self, it seems to be impossible to shrink beyond a certain weight and it is ever harder to maintain it. And as you get older ... well, the phrase middle-aged spread wasn't conjured out of thin air. All the while, even a passing acquaintance with history would make you aware that this is nothing new. All this we know. We repeat it often. We are rarely believed.

What many thin people, politicians and journalists will tell you instead is that it is 'all your fault fatty'. So too will the vested interests in the vast diet industry. They make you feel bad, so that they (at a price) will make you feel good again. My advice is to cut out the middle man and just feel good anyway.

One of my interests is the 19th Century secular Freethought movement. It wasn't strictly atheist, though most activists were, it aimed to remove religious and superstitious forms of thinking, rather than belief. Obesity is a classic example. Fat is sin. Those who started out thin and became fat have fallen. Those of us who have always been amongst the stout carry the burden of original sin. Salvation is at hand though, but only if you embrace virtue and self-sacrifice. Saints and prophets preach at you to mend your gluttonous ways and follow the true path of abstinence. Those who shed the pounds ascend to glory, those whose flab hangs heavy are the damned. All I can say is, bollocks to that and pass the pies.

Tuesday's Guardian, prompted by the publication of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges report on obesity, was full of people seeking to lead us from our wicked ways. A sinner who has truly repented bore witness to the misery and degradation in which we wallow and tried to lead us to the promised land. Then, in the middle of the swamp of lunacy usually known as the comments section, there was a still, small voice of sanity. Charlotte Cooper wrote of the report's recommended actions:

These interventions are ineffective – or worse – because they treat "the obese" as an abstract, pathological population instead of a group of actual people who are part of the social fabric. They consider weight loss to be the ultimate remedy for every health and social problem associated with fatness, even though it is almost impossible to maintain in the long-term for most people, including those who have undergone surgical interventions. What is sad about this is that people tend to blame themselves when weight loss fails. 
Although they are well-meaning, AoMRC's proposals are not about health promotion, but contribute to a narrative of blame, punishment, prejudice, stigma and anti-fat scapegoating that is horribly familiar.

Cooper goes on to suggest some deeply radical suggestions, like encouraging fat people to keep fit and healthy by being nice to them and offering them things to do that are pleasurable (sadly, the pub isn't on her list). Who would have thought of that? Bit of a soft option for the blighters, eh?

I followed her profile and discovered that Cooper blogs here. It is rather fun to read, even if it is slightly odd to find the male, heterosexual me included in aspects of queer feminist theory. So one Dr Fat now takes the opportunity to say to another, keep spreading the good word. Cheers.

No comments: