In the news today is consideration of a ban on television and other media using the word ‘fat’ to describe celebrities and other figures. Much of this stems from the actress Jennifer Lawrence, who has spoken out about some (apparently blind) sections of the media referring to her as fat.
I mean, seriously?
It’s not nice to be called fat. I can tell you that from a decade of experience. And seeing healthy celebrities who, thanks to advantages of their lifestyle, look better than most mortals being called fat isn’t nice either. It is, as this campaign rightly contends, damaging to self-esteem and a contributor to health issues such as anorexia, bulimia, and depression, particularly in young people.
But a blanket ban on the word ‘fat’ would only serve to ignore a number of other problems, and potentially make them worse.
I’m not a parent, but I often consider what I would do if my child began to become overweight. On one hand the last thing I would want to do is berate my child and give them a complex about their looks. That’s equally as harmful as exposure to this kind of media. But simply brushing weight issues under the carpet isn’t the answer either.
I gained several stone in weight between the ages of 10-11 and at no point did anyone sit me down to make me aware that it was happening, and that it might have severe ramifications in my later life.
Me in bigger times.
I lost a great deal of that weight aged 17, and a little more aged 20. I’m now 26, and my self-esteem, body image, and social skills are still catastrophically poor. I still struggle with my weight on a daily basis. Being severely overweight during those crucial formative years casts a long shadow. It would not be different if these kinds of media stigma did not exist. I would still have been unaware that it was a problem and therefore unable to address it. But it might have been different if someone had helped me to understand.
My fear is that simply pretending that being overweight does not hold the potential for harm, or that simply pretending the word ‘fat’ doesn’t exist, will only allow weight issues, and the psychological toll, to run rampant.
It’s admirable to promote positive body image. If someone, whatever their size, is happy with their body, that’s fantastic. I agree wholeheartedly that being overweight should not make you a target for derision or judgement. Undoubtedly what celebrity media considers fat is outright hurtful and unrealistic. There are very few people who wouldn’t agree that Jennifer Lawrence is a beautiful woman. But a blanket ban on the word ‘fat’ is not the answer. What it threatens to do is promote a different kind of ignorance that will only perpetuate or even exacerbate issues pertaining to weight and negative body image.
There are also other issues to consider, such as personal health, financial strain on the NHS, and, as obesity figures spiral in countries around the world, particularly in children, the possible impact on infrastructure. It can even have a negative impact on others. To use an anecdotal example, I have a family member who is a paramedic, and is frequently expected to carry people weighing 20 stone or more down flights of stairs, to the detriment of her own physical health.
It seems to me, in my limited knowledge, that the answer should lie somewhere in better education about nutrition, addressing the rampant poverty that is forcing families to rely on cheap, unhealthy food to survive, and providing better support to help overweight people improve their health if they wish to do so. If there was better education, understanding, and support, these media stigmas would carry far less influence and potential for harm.
The intentions behind this idea are good. But it feels a little like scapegoating, and it is not only simplistic in its approach, but even has the potential to cause further damage.