Ha ha ha – you’re fat. Fat shaming in the UK part 1

I’ve been a personal trainer for 13 years. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a worrying trend occurring amongst my fellow professionals. Fat shaming. It appears that we as health and fitness professionals feel adequately placed to say derogatory comments about anyone who gets in our way. It appears that overweight people are now feeling our wrath.

The thing is, I would fight for the right for people to say what they want (to a point). In this case, it is completely different. This is professionals using their status or anecdotal evidence to justify attacking people who are very overweight or obese. This is also without actually working with obese people. Some very overweight people seek out Personal Trainers, but, but what they need to ensure success is a team of people including a dietician and psychological support. This is well beyond the scope of a PT.

Fat shaming is something we do as a society, so first let’s look at some of the views society seem to have of obese people.

  • ·         They lack self-control.
  • ·         They lack discipline.
  • ·         They are sponging of the state.
  • ·         They are talking the piss out of everyone.
  • ·         They want to be fat.
  • ·         They don’t care about their health.
  • ·         I hate fat people because of their attitude.

This is the tame version. People say and think much worse about this topic. This was evident when obesity was deemed a disability in certain cases in employment law. Social media was rife with some of the most hateful and vile comments that I had seen in a long time. The same is evident when the words ‘obesity’ and ‘disease’ are mentioned in the same sentence. The reason being people feel diseases are things outside of your control and obesity is something well within your control. This becomes semantics when you consider most cancers are considered to be influenced by lifestyle rather than genetics (1).Something tells me people don’t have the same appetite to attack people who suffer from cancer compared to those who are obese.

Obesity is also an easy target. You can see someone putting on weight so it is easy to pass judgement. You can’t see someone slowly getting cancer. I can hear people now.

“Is he seriously comparing a serious, life-threatening disease such as cancer to obesity? He must be a liberal, lily-livered lefty.”

Not really, and I am merel comparing 2 biological states of the body. I just like to question the conclusions I’m asked to reach, especially when they include stereotyping of whole groups of society. This piece also isn’t about excusing obesity, as I’ll go into later.

We justify our venom because we think obese people will eventually lose weight or they need to be treated harshly to ‘wake up.’ How is that working out for you? Have you managed shame someone slim? People are so unwilling to question their logic that even when presented with the reality that kids will die before their parents due to weight related disease, some say, “they got themselves into this mess, so they can get themselves out of it.”  It’s almost as if they have cemented their ill-informed opinion to the extent that there is no way any other point of view can get through. Not even empathy. According to cancer research, survival rates are at 78% for breast cancer (2). IMO, this is what happens when you dedicate funds and resources to tackling diseases irrespective of how they start. This is a threat to our survival, shouldn’t we look more at like that instead of the blame game?

Then you have the logic of those who say, “you’d hate it if your child was sick and they didn’t get the care they should because funds were diverted to obese people.” No, this isn’t a party political broadcast for UKIP. I find it interesting how it is mainly cancer that is used to strengthen the argument. Why? To create an emotional argument. Obese people get cancer too. Are we going to say that they shouldn’t get treatment because they are obese? Or hold the view that they have got themselves into this situation, but the slim person hasn’t?  This is the argument of the truly lazy who have a simplistic view on how healthcare works. It’s also fuelled by the vision of obese people sitting eating a Macdonalds (stereotype #466)  all day. As soon as the media report that some are on benefits, this is all the ammunition people need. I used to work in Macdonald’s and I would say the majority of people who came in weren’t obese. That’s not actual research, but I did work there for 9 hours a day.

Lastly, I heard man on a popular radio phone-in say, “you know the people I mean. Those who sit around all day, eating Macdonald’s, living off benefits.” Oh, so you mean you watched the programme ‘Benefits street,’ and you now have enough information to make a well informed opinion? Seems logical to me. What you have here is what is known as the availability cascade (3). If we talk about something enough, it becomes the centre of our concern and we want leaders and governments to do something about it. Are you still as worried about Ebola compared to when it was mentioned 2-3 times a day? In fact, governments are often looked down upon by not acting on these concerns, despite their logic/importance being questionable. I am troubled by the obesity epidemic. However, I’m more concerned about inactivity related disease and illness as it is twice as deadly as obesity (4). I’ll accept that it’s difficult to disentangle the two, but unless you are prepared to look into these figures, don’t attempt to judge people.

So that’s society done. Let’s look at trainers.

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