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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Take the Fatty Talk Outside

This article written by Rosie Schwartz, a Toronto-based consulting dietitian in private practice and author of The Enlightened Eater's Whole Foods Guide: Harvest the Power of Phyto Foods (Viking Canada). You can find her on Twitter @rosieschwartz. You can find the original article here.

Take the fatty talk outside: It’s time to drop the fat bashing
In this PC age, Rosie Schwartz asks why making fun of overweight individuals is still okay

We've come a long way, baby. The concept of political correctness has yielded some big benefits: being prejudiced is no longer PC. But there are some prejudices that remain and seem to be tolerated - maybe because they aren't recognized as such. And intolerance to fat is right there up at the top of the list. Witness a recent post by writer Maura Kelly in her blog, A Year of Living Flirtatiously, who felt comfortable enough revealing her revulsion of fat to put it up on women's magazine Marie Claire's website. She would not have done it had she thought that it would create much controversy.

Her post, entitled "Should Fatties Get a Room?", a response to her editor asking her if she felt uncomfortable watching overweight people making out on television, was appalling. She wrote, "So anyway, yes, I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other ... because I'd be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room - just like I'd find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroin addict slumping in a chair." She went on to say, ""Now, don't go getting the wrong impression: I have a few friends who could be called plump".

Wow - isn't that enlightened of her!

The good news is that it ignited a firestorm of controversy. Judging people by how they look and how much they weigh may finally be recognized as unacceptable.

It's attitudes like this one that make overweight people prey to all kinds of quick weight loss schemes that simply result in their gaining even more weight. Or it keeps them shut inside away from the world because they're embarrassed to be seen.

Reactions to her post have been unprecedented. It's been a hot topic on TV programs like the Today Show and The View, while on the internet some have called for a boycott of the magazine's website. Canadian physician Yoni Freedhoff, in his blog, called it "perhaps the vilest, most weight biased article I've ever read." The headline on the topic on the blog Hairpin read "Woman Crams Remarkable Amount of Idiocy Into Single Blog Post."

While Maura Kelly did issue an apology and pointed to her past of having anorexia as a contributing factor, her blatant contempt couldn't be ignored. How often, though, is a lesser prejudice against fat simply passed over?

Too frequently, I would say.

But the fact is that a person's bodyweight is very a personal issue. Despite the fact that it's true that the obesity epidemic is a huge public health issue, commenting on an individual's body - unless you're their healthcare practitioner or family member is simply no one else's business.

I recently fell into that trap when asked by a reporter whether Toronto's mayor-elect Rob Ford should lose weight. I immediately spoke up with my thoughts about fat being a prejudice that people tolerate and how no one should be looking at another individual and commenting on their weight.

How many times have you commented to a friend or colleague about how great they look because they've lost weight? Why not leave it at "You look great!" and skip the weight part. Or have you ever remarked to someone about the weight an individual has gained? Somehow this comes across as being acceptable when in fact it means that you are checking out someone else's body just a little too closely.

Talking about other people's weight or even your own in front of others can lead to unexpected victims. For example, talking about how a person has let herself go - meaning they've put on weight - in front of a vulnerable teen who's feeling chubby can make them self-conscious about their own weight. Comments like these can contribute to the development of an eating disorder or start someone on the rollercoaster of yo-yo dieting. Even worse is the parent who chides him or herself or the other parent about weight issues.

These are issues that I always bring up when counselling clients about weight loss. When an overweight person says that they won't put on a bathing suit or shorts when they're trying to get fit, I suggest that they need to combat their own prejudices about being overweight.

While excess weight may be a health issue, it's also something to be very sensitive about. And so I answered the reporter's questions about weight loss once I had let my views on the topic be known. So you can imagine how mortified I was when I read the first line, "Ford better have waist management on his agenda if he's going to keep up with the hectic schedule of a mayor, a Toronto-based dietician said".
Weight is an issue for society as we live in an environment that promotes obesity. But it's time to recognize that fat as a prejudice is simply not acceptable.