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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Why do fat people get a bad rap?

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There's a misconception that anyone who is fat is an indiscriminate eater of junk food and a professional layabout.Photo / Thinkstock
There's a misconception that anyone who is fat is an indiscriminate eater of junk food and a professional layabout.Photo / Thinkstock

It's been two years since I wrote about our deplorable attitudes towards fat people in a piece entitled Fat activism - in which fat people were seen to be fighting against discrimination towards their particular body shape. There were 137 reader comments posted in response to this story, many of them revealing a thinly disguised loathing of fat people.

According to some readers, fat people are undisciplined and a drain on health services. In their view "being fat is a lifestyle choice", "it is a self-inflicted condition" and, furthermore, "[o]besity ... is reversible and manageable." The thinking goes that they've brought it upon themselves and they have no willpower. This mindset enables many people to feel comfortable with, and justify, their prejudice against this minority.

While gender, race and sexual orientation are seen (broadly) as immutable facts, the condition of being fat is viewed as something people choose. The story goes that they deliberately opt into being overweight but I don't buy this for a moment. Who would voluntarily sign up for the discrimination, the disgust and the loathing that often is openly reserved for those who are fat or obese?

Some comments also included lifestyle advice and diet tips for plus-size folk. Some were more elegantly phrased than others. They included: "go for a run and stay away from the pies", "put down the fried chicken, get your backside off the couch" and "stop feeling sorry for yourself and get yourself down to the gym and lay of[f] the McDonalds".

There's a misconception that anyone who is fat is an indiscriminate eater of junk food and a professional layabout. This is the cliché merrily propagated. If we consider fat people as being just one Snickers bar away from having to be lifted out of their house by crane and transported away by a super-sized, reinforced ambulance - then we are able to deem ourselves as far superior and distance ourselves from them.

Underlying a lot of the negativity was a faux concern for their welfare. You see, they're not discriminating against fat people without good reason. They're actually concerned for their welfare. If it wasn't an unhealthy and costly burden on the taxpayer we'd be all in favour of obesity. Some of us, it seems, are only mean to fat people to deter others from becoming similarly corpulent. "Being fat is unhealthy and should not be an accepted part of society because that would only encourage more people to be fat," said one person trying to dress up prejudice as public-spiritedness.

"[P]lease stop pretending that we are only criticizing overweight people because we want what is best for them," said the author of Why Do We Hate The Overweight? As for the reason why we judge fat people so harshly, she suggested what I had already begun to suspect: "Perhaps one reason we are so quick to deride anyone overweight is because we know it could be us. There aren't many groups that are massively discriminated against that we could suddenly, unexpectedly find ourselves a part of."

And possibly some of the bitterness towards fat people comes from those who struggle every day just to not gain excessive weight. For many people this is a huge mission and perhaps they then see fit to despise (or, perhaps, envy) those who do not look as if they subscribe to the highly restrained and regimented lifestyle where puddings, treats and junk food are traded for healthy eating, moderation and diligent exercise. Perhaps to some people a fat person symbolises a life of reckless abundance and abandon that they themselves have relinquished in order to be slim.

Amongst all the regular anti-fat sentiments came the news that Samoa Air is charging passengers per kilo to fly. While, from a business and "user pays" perspective, this fare structure is sensible, efficient and fair, it has no place in a world that is already so unfriendly towards fat people.

When people are no longer stigmatised on the basis of their body shape then bring on the scales at check-in and make the overweight pay for their excess kilos. Until then, it can only be interpreted as discriminatory - yet another obstacle to be faced in a society seemingly intent on dehumanising fat people.

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Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

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