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Fat celebrities a danger to our health? Come off it!

AnyBody member Susie Orbach writes in The Guardian, Tuesday 30 June 2009 

Images of Beth Ditto's new collection for Evans:

We aren't taking the war on obesity seriously, claims a new study published by Nuffield Health; and large celebrities, such as James Corden and his Gavin And Stacey co-star Ruth Jones, Beth Ditto and Eamonn Holmes, are encouraging us accept being fat as normal. Apart from the fact that I can't seem to find the original research that this story is based on, which in itself is pretty interesting, I think we have to be wary of studies coming from a hospital that does gastric band surgery and thus makes money out of designating people as obese.


We are in a culture that is so fat-phobic you wouldn't have thought fat people could be any more demonised, but Nuffield's line seems to be that obese people in the public eye really should be. We've had - and continue to have - so many struggles about race and disability; but looking at the column inches that scrutinise fat and ageing people, both are heading the way of being illegal categories pretty soon. And if not illegal, then certainly worthy of disdain, contempt and commercial exploitation.


There has been a bit of public discussion about very thin girls and boys on catwalks and advertisements, but the style industries seem to have decided, in the end, that it's all in the name of art and design, and thus the tyrannous aesthetic of size zero doesn't really matter. That has left the devastating message that one size - skinny and tall - is good, aspirational and the passport to feeling acceptable. So it's quite interesting that we're uncomfortable when people actually rebel against the prevailing standard.


The Nuffield PR machine opens up the whole question of categorising people as fat and therefore somehow to be scorned, derided or unworthy - instead of fat being a description, a neutral one about adiposity. Such moralising categories don't address the serious underlying issues so many people have with bodies and food. You can be eating when you are hungry and be large, or throwing up into the toilet all the time and be within the so-called normal range. Meanwhile, you can be a world-class movie actor - a gorgeous one like George Clooney - and sit in the ridiculous obesity statistics as they are currently conceived. What we have is a population very, very troubled in its eating habits, a fact that is expressed in both visible and invisible ways. That's a public health emergency, not the fact that we happen to have a variety of shapes in public space.

- By Susie Orbach

I know it's a problem but it's my problem, thank you very much

The central tenet of this research is utter rubbish. People do not think its OK to be obese just because Beth Ditto is witty and talented. We are constantly reminded how wrong it is for us to be obese. There is more information available on the obesity crisis in the media than I can recall at any other time in my life. Paradoxically, the general pervasiveness of the perfect body in films and music and TV and advertising imagery is genuinely psychologically damaging and therefore an actual contributory factor to obesity. James Corden wobbling his gut in Mathew Horne's face once a week is not.

I have been overweight for most of my life and I have been aware that it's a problem. But it is my problem, thank you very much. I deal with it in my own way. I have never thought that my weight was permissible simply because I listened to Bad Manners or loved Jo Brand. My feeling is that if the popularity of Corden and Ditto can help to stop fat kids being picked on by their peers then they are performing a valuable service. A survey like this just sends people straight back to the fridge. The obesity crisis will only be solved by a radical overhaul of education, health and social policy, and certainly not by pin-headed inflammatory half-arsed "research".

Phill Jupitus


Reader Comments (17)

A friend of mine recently did his masters research on the media influence on the 'obesity epidemic'. He began his enquiries because the American department of defense ran into all kinds of problems when they began using the BMI as a measure for obesity. Suddenly lots of their best soldiers (marines) and sailors (seals) were deemed overweight, borderline obese and in danger of being persecuted for this!

If our standard measure for healthy weight is off, how are we to make objective judgements about something as emotionally laden as weight?
July 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca Bloomer
Sounds like the real danger is a threat to these weight loss surgeons profits. Anyone with a brain in their head should research how risky WLS can be. Not to mention it IS possible to be fat and healthy if one exercises and avoids processed foods. On several SA boards I have a running list of healthy happy fat OLD people! Almost everyone has an example of a fat relative who remained healthy well into old age. The problem is we are conditioned by the media to look at these examples as anomalies when in fact they are the norm.
July 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSherie Sanders, MA
Alas, Many in the media have claimed that Ms. Ditto's sole claim to fame is that she's a fat freak show. They pay no heed to her talent or wit.
Society truly feels that fat people but most especially fat women are inferior and lacking in all areas of life. It is quite sad and appalling. If someone did a "study" like that about racial mixing. there'd be outrage.
July 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaedusa
Yes Feminist indeed. That's Great. But am I the only one sitting in front of my laptop thinkg "that is actually pretty grotesque". I think you should find a balance. People allways seem to got to one of the two extremes both of which are horrible.
August 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErin
Money-grubbing surgeons aside, being obese really isn't healthy. While I may not find Beth Ditto attractive in the least, if I were a doctor and told her that she should lose weight, I'm sure that I would mean that in a strictly medical sense. I personally don't find the stick-girls attractive either (I always feel like I have to be careful or risk breaking them), but obesity is worse.
To the other comments: "If someone did a "study" like that about racial mixing. there'd be outrage. " Well, yes, there would be outrage. Race generally can't be changed, whereas weight can. I knew a boy back in elementary school who weighed over 300 pounds (I'm not sure of his exact weight, but 300 is a conservative guess). With constant exercise, he lost over 200 pounds over the course of middle school, and he was fit and healthy by the time he reached high school. While there are people with glandular or similar problems that prevent them from losing weight, most overweight kids just need to get outside and run. It isn't hard.
"We are in a culture that is so fat-phobic you wouldn't have thought fat people could be any more demonised, but Nuffield's line seems to be that obese people in the public eye really should be." Well, being fat-phobic is.. healthy. It may lead to eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia, but if you compare the percentages of overweight people to anorexic/bulimic people, it is obvious which is more prevalent. We ARE a fat-phobic culture, because parents don't want to marry a fat man/woman, because the traits that led to that person being fat might be passed on to their children, and nobody wants their children to have all of the health issues associated with obesity. I'm aware that my writing is starting to ramble and become disjointed, but it is time for me to sleep.
You are apparently an overweight individual, and since my family has often been told by doctors to eat MORE since we are rather skinny, I'm sure that I can't understand your experience. That said, losing weight when you are overweight is generally a good thing. It may be "your problem", but don't complain when we prefer better looking, healthier people, and make our opinions known
August 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous
I am doing research on 'obesity stigma' and have reflected on my personal attitudes towards weight and obesity many times.
I feel 'normal' weight, I exercise, sometimes overeat and sometimes not- but generally have a healthy diet. My BMI says that I am 'overweight' but I don't feel as such. Men find me attractive but I am sure that this could change if I went from size 12 to size 16 or so.
My research study, so far, has shown me that people don't have the right facts about obesity. They don't know much. All they know is that obesity is 'eating too much and not exercising' and leads to...pretty much social suicide.
The reality is that being stigmatised because you are overweight or obese is devastating; it makes you hate your body, it affects your social life and not only. Having health problems due to obesity is devastating too. You will not receive the same attention that a 'normal' weight person would in the clinic or hospital. You may even be refused treatment. Research shows that even dentists feel uncomfortable examining obese persons (what does teeth have to do with your size?). Even worse, dieticians suffer from fat phobia,too. This is quite worrying if you are obese and in need of dietician advice. It is a vicious cycle that contributes to obesity- it's not just overeating and lack of exercise. And I'm not just talking about genetics. I don't mean that a person should not be held accountable when their unhealthy lifestyle and excess weight damage their health. I mean that people should be more considerate on how difficult is to change a lifestyle; to change your attitudes towards food and exercise or even seek for help, when your GP and dietician think you're a lost cause, lazy or non-compliant.
It is truly sad. Smokers don't have negative attitudes towards smokers. But, the 'weight bias' are so strong and prominent in our society that even obese people have negative attitudes towards obese people. So, is it ok to have negative thoughts about weight and obesity? I say 'it is ok' to have negative attitudes because 'it's not your fault to have them in the first place. However, you should NOT act on them. Thinking something and acting upon it are two different things. What I mean is that you should give equal employment opportunities to both 'normal' and 'above normal' weight people. If you are a nurse or a doctor, you should treat your patients the same way, in a professional manner. You should accept that 'fat' people will appear on TV, advertisements and so on because they are part of this world. 6 out of 10 of us in UK are classified as 'overweight' and 24% of them are obese (according to BMI). Just because media show stick figures, it doesn't mean the world is constituted by thin, skinny people.
Another thing; 'fat' does not mean 'unhealthy'. If you eat healthy and exercise, you will be healthy. 'Thin' people can be equally unhealthy and be at risk in developing several types of cancer and cardiovascular diseases if they lead an unhealthy life. The thing is that eating unhealthy and not exercising can lead to health complications regardless of weight.
How many people actually know what does obesity mean? 'Obesity is a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health, leading to reduced life expectancy'. Therefore, if 'excess fat' on your body does not have effect on your are not obese no matter what your dress size is.
Last thought; personally, I like seeing 'large' women on ads. I also like to see short, tall, pear shaped, apple shaped...etc. I feel happy that this world is so colourful and people are so different to each other. Life is not dull; so why people should be the same size,and same body type?
Your article has made me hungry...there's a freshly-made chocolate cake in the fridge :) Let's indulge!
August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra
I am sick of seeing the thin models all the time and most of them would never be considered a healthy weight. I am a dietitian and I have to say I am not within the healthy weight range for my height rather in the overweight/obese catergory. While when I first started working as a dietitian especially dealing with people who wanted to lose weight I thought who would believe anything I would say due to the way I look. But then I started to look it at another way which would show these clients that I do understand their troubles because I can't eat anything and remain a healthy weight like some other dietitians may. All my life I have been a big girl and that was not because I ate poorly or didn't exercise and maybe I will never know why, but now I am a little bit older I am starting to appreciate what I have and who I am!
September 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJess
I am tired of seeing extremely thin models and I feel as though the fashion industry needs to start appealing to more women, instead of instantly ruling out any women over size 2. However, I don't think it would be right for anyone to encourage someone to be overweight because that is unhealthy. Just as being too thin is dangerous, being too heavy is as well. I believe in promoting a healthy weight for women. However, if someone wants to be a size 22 and that makes them happy- who am I to tell them otherwise? I don't believe that fat models pose any more of a danger on young girls than thin models do.
January 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlysha
The problem is society perception on what is a healthy versus an unhealthy body. People are visual and I understand that BUT looks are deceiving. You cannot judge someone'e health base on their appearance. A person's body size should be the last factor in judging health. If judging an appearance is an great indicator of health, then what does a person with HIV looks like. There is no middle ground with fat. Either you hate or like it. Society needs to leave fat people alone because they are not going anywhere. Fat is going to exist until the end of time.
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