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Shelley Bridgeman: Fat activism

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A global rally against plus-size prejudice and discrimination has picked up momentum with overweight people fighting back against the pressures of society to conform to a 'normal size'. Photo / Thinkstock
A global rally against plus-size prejudice and discrimination has picked up momentum with overweight people fighting back against the pressures of society to conform to a 'normal size'. Photo / Thinkstock

Fat activism is the latest movement sweeping the globe as plus-size people rally against prejudice and discrimination. Size Acceptance, the Fat Liberation Movement, Fat Power ... call it what you will, but there's been a discernible surge of interest in the rights of this much maligned section of society.

Last month Australian comedian Catherine Deveny created a furore with this remark on Twitter: "When fat people recommend something or somewhere to eat I don't take any notice. Because clearly they aren't fussy."

But fat people are no longer prepared to take such slights lying down. They responded in force under the '#thingsfatpeoplearetold' Twitter hash-tag and recounted unpalatable comments they've been told about their size. The online activist known as Red No. 3 collected some of them.

They include:

* You have such a pretty face.

* I won't treat you until you've lost 50-pounds.

* We don't carry bras for people like you.

* Your boyfriend must be really into your mind.

* Did you not realise they're called 'skinny' jeans?

* We can't date but we can secretly have sex.

It's an appalling list that shows how discrimination infiltrates every area of a fat person's life. Employment, travel, shopping, socialising, relationships, dining out and seeking medical advice all become far more complicated than they ought to be thanks to a judgmental society and the constant pressure to conform to notions of a 'normal size'. Fat people see themselves as being bullied by the media, the government, the fashion industry, the diet industry and even health professionals. Not unreasonably, they view the so-called 'War on Obesity' as a war against their very selves.

The collective aim of organisations such as the International Size Acceptance Association and US-based National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, as well as the recent International No Diet Day, is to fight size discrimination. But this goal is not without controversy. Many people question the wisdom of lobbying for a blanket acceptance of body size in the face of medical research that often equates fatness with health problems. Fat activists, in turn, will suggest that such research may well be exaggerated and that being fat is compatible with being healthy.

It's the personal anecdotes gleaned from online musings that are the most heartbreaking. Fat women report being spat on and mooed at while walking down a street. One Australian man watched school cricket matches from the sweltering heat of his car so his child wouldn't be teased about his weight. Daughters recall their mothers making them diet from the age of ten and the Easter Bunny giving them muesli bars instead of chocolate eggs.

Reality television shows starring fat people are staple viewing these days. The central premise of programmes such as The Biggest Loser and The Big Fat Family Challenge is to reform these people and get them to lose weight. As I watched the latter show the other night I couldn't help but suspect that getting this family to exercise was more about capturing acres of jiggling flesh on camera than benefiting their weight-loss campaign.

Mike & Molly, a sit-com freshly arrived on our screens, is based on a couple who met at Overeaters Anonymous. In a blog comment on Marie Claire's website about this show, Maura Kelly wrote: "I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other". Much debate ensued and 28,000 emails were sent to the magazine. As a society we are becoming more inclined to speak out against such derogatory attitudes.

Yet as far as the law is concerned, it seems that size-ism just might be the last remaining acceptable prejudice. While the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, marital status and so on, obesity is glaringly omitted from this list. It's clearly open season on fat people. No wonder they're fighting back.

- NZ Herald

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.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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