….Not just a feminist issue (Susie Orbach 1978 and 1982).
Obesity is going to be the world’s next biggest health problem apparently. Unlike starvation for example, which clearly doesn’t matter because rich western countries don’t suffer from it. Well, poor people in those countries may, but they don’t matter either. Starving people will die whereas fat westerners will cost the health services. [Or maybe there is another way to look at it?]
But it’s not even a new issue. More than ten years ago, one of my public health colleagues was bleating on about how we needed to do far more for obese people. At the time I was in charge of looking after people with cancer, and I had little sympathy for fat people who ate too much of the wrong food.
We all fought battles for our ‘own’ turf in the NHS, and obese people weren’t mine. People with life-threatening cancer were, and that’s where I wanted to see the money go towards.
One gets older and wiser, and stops being quite so fattist. So to untangle this one a little:
Apparently being overweight can cause back problems, put people at risk of diabetes type 2, heart problems, and presumably lots of other terrible illnesses. These days, most things put people at risk of lots of terrible illnesses. Certainly, eating, drinking, smoking, breathing etc are all risky things to do.
Some people can be overweight (ie outside the norm determined – by – who?) and be healthy. Probably far healthier than me. All that weight may well be muscle. They may be triathletes, or Olympic rowers, or shot-putters or whatever. Unlikely to be cyclists actually, as they are usually pretty slim, but that’s just an unscientific observation.
People are judged on their appearance. The reason why Orbach wrote about Fat is a Feminist Issue back in the 70s was about how women were expected to conform to the male stereotype object of a tall, slim, beautiful trophy and fat women were to be despised as they didn’t fit in with the ideal view of what a woman should look like.
Nothing has changed since then. Fat women still get more derision than fat men. And women are still expected to be tall, slim and beautiful. (I can manage the first two).
My view has changed. If people want to be fat, and accept the potential health risks, that’s up to them. If they are comfortable with being what is perceived as overweight, then it’s their choice.
Yes, I am one of the ones who finds it a pain in the neck having an extremely large person squashing me into the corner of a seat on the bus or the train or the ‘plane. Just like I don’t want to sit next to a wailing baby.
So I am obviously still inherently fattist, (and screaming babyist).
But the other day, I did a simplistic little calculator on the BBC web site – their most popular one at the moment, which gives you your BMI compared with the rest of your country and the rest of the world for your age group. It takes into account, age, height and weight. Not whether you drink, smoke, eat junk food, work out, take drugs etc etc. So it’s hardly gold standard, a BMI no more no less.
Here it is:
It’s fun to play at. But that’s all. There’s more to life than being fitted into a box, assuming you can fit into it 😉
Gibraltar didn’t exist on the little game. What’s new? I tried Spain, the UK and out of curiosity, America. Mostly, 97/98% of women of my age had a higher BMI in those countries than I did. Probably a lot of younger ones too, but I didn’t bother trying that out. Spain, to my surprise, had a lower result than the other two. I think the order went USA, UK and then Spain with a load of countries inbetween. NZ was pretty high, ah I remember those kiwi shapes when I was last travelling around there.
I don’t remember seeing hugely fat people when I was growing up in the UK, but I keyed in my father’s results at one (fat) point in his life and he had a BMI of 31. He also had an extremely short friend who was virtually the same weight so his BMI would have been nearer 40. Obesity is not new.
Some people have big bones, some people have families who are predisposed to weigh more. My partner’s brother and sister are both ‘overweight’, he is not.
We wasted some time speculating on all of this. Exercise? diet? genes? a sweet tooth? junk food? drinking? quitting smoking? lack of knowledge about how to cook? lack of interest? lack of time? reluctance to walk, cycle or use public transport – preference to sit in a nice metal box?
For my part, I’ll stick to the fresh food diet I’ve had for the last 50 years, drink wine and cava, leave (alcoholic) spirits, junk food and sweets alone, and as I’ve never smoked, that’s not an issue. Walk, cycle, and swim, as the opportunity arises.
The answer to everything at the moment from the so-called experts is – eat your millions of fresh portions of fruit/veg a day – which clearly does not include chips. But what our dear guardians of health do not tell us, is that if you gannet a load of crisps, biscuits, sugar, chocolate and other sweeties, ice cream, commercial burgers, pre-made foods, meat, chicken, dairy products blah blah – you have an extremely good chance of putting on weight. No amount of five portions a day in the world will undo that.
And why do they not tell us that? Well, we wouldn’t want to upset the meat industry, the crisp industry, the sugary tomato sauce industry, the everything else that is really just the appalling big bucks pre-made food industry would we?
Just as a brief reminder, there are still people who are starving in the world while some of us are stuffing our faces with sheer and utter garbage. I am still reeling over food stamps in America being lobbied for by….well, … Pepsi, Kraft, Coca-Cola. Do I need to mention banks too? Link below – the Time article.
1) Governments are duplicitous. (We knew that)
2) The processed and junk food business is big, global, with tentacles everywhere.
3) Advertising works (because some people believe it).
4) If people want to be fat and ‘overweight’ that is their choice and they should not have to conform to a societal model. Nor should people be judged on their weight. Or their appearance at all.
5) Me, for all the nosy ones who want to know? I’m right at the bottom of the BMI table for a woman of my age. Depending on the fluctuation in my weight, I’m equivalent to an Ethiopian or a Bangladeshi. I could drop dead tomorrow. What value is my BMI then?