Fat Phobia October 7, 2006Posted by Winter in body politics, fat panic.
Here we have celebrity chef Jamie Oliver “representing” a fat person, and not just “fat,” his fat self is depicted as miserable, slovenly, greedy and, of course, poor. Look at the messy hair, the dirty trousers and armfuls of fast food clutched to his chest.
Fat = depressed, lazy, poor and gluttonous.
This image is taken from a television programme in which Jamie sets out to warn young people that they could all end up “disgusting” fat people by dressing up in a fat suit and acting stupid. It even includes hilarious stupid fat person slapstick as he’s shown getting on a scooter which collapses beneath his (fake) weight. Ha ha! Thanks for that one Jamie.
But of course Jamie Oliver isn’t actually a poor fat person. He’s a very rich thin person in a fat suit. How dare somebody so privileged dress up and stigmatise fat people as the abject other with whom “we,” who are not yet obese, must not identify? How do you think this material will make young people identified as fat feel? What effect do images like this have on people’s attitudes towards those already perceived and stigmatised as fat? *
It’s not just Oliver. According to the government and media, this is the future of the UK and we should all be getting whipped up into a frenzy of fat panic because we’re all equally at risk of the dreaded obesity epidemic. Government ministers have been popping up on television recently exhorting each us, as individuals, to “do more,” go to the gym, eat “properly” and give our kids “healthy” food. But the framing of obesity with the rhetoric of epidemic, contagion and individual responsibility distracts away from the issues of class, economics and poverty in the UK. I live in an area where few people can afford gym memberships or organic vegetables and, yes, there is a lot of sickness; but are the people here unhealthy because they are fat, or are they unhealthy for other reasons tied up with poverty and social disadvantage? This latest moral panic just seems another means to beat and frighten people who don’t have the options to change their circumstances anyway.
Why does Jamie Oliver get to represent fat people anyway? Couldn’t we get an actual fat person to do it? How about Dawn French?*
No, we can’t have her! Yes, she’s fat, but she’s also successful, entertaining, healthy looking and we love her. She’d counter the story that being big automatically leads to poverty, misery and illness, not to mention the fact that she’d cry bullshit on the whole narrative. She might say something like this instead:
The diet industry dictates how we should look along with the fashion industry. They take all your money for you to buy these products and you lose a lot of weight very fast. Then of course when you put it on, you put on much more than you ever were before. So then you’ve got more to lose, so give them more money to buy more of their stupid products. Meanwhile you’re destroying your body, no chance of ever settling at the weight you’re ‘supposed’ to be. So we’re paying for them to destroy our bodies, because we’re not allowed to feel happy with the size we are… Why should we have to starve to be beautiful?
Thin does not equal healthy.
There are plenty of people in the UK currently destroying their physical and mental health by refusing to eat at all, or through erratic eating habits and constant dieting and I think it’s about time we stopped stigmatising fat people and took a long hard look at British culture’s unhealthy relationship with food.
* I haven’t actually seen the programme because, as far as I know, it hasn’t aired yet, so I can only comment in the images here.
* I am aware that in our fat phobic culture, one of the few areas where large women are permitted to be visible is comedy. If French wasn’t funny I’m sure it would be very difficult for her to break into any other area of entertainment.