Which celebrities are fat? Who has lost/gained weight? Are your friends fat? Are your children fat? Do people think you’re fat? A societal canary in the coalmine, the strange and disturbing obsession with weight should ring more alarm bells than it currently does. The obsession has created its own industry, an industry devoted to weight loss and the creation of the greatest money spinner of all – unachievable goals (those would be, in no particular order, enduring popularity, unconditional acceptance and transcendent happiness). The medical profession – the most saintly of all professions – can also be relied on to distort the true picture of weight, people, place and class. It’s bad enough with friends and foe passing judgement without the official moral arbiters of
personal health chiming in.
Stating the obvious, the obsession with weight is more prevalent among women, notwithstanding its more recent spread among men (bad pun? or good one? difficult to call). It would be foolish to ignore the relationship between gender and weight, and Susie Orbach’s classic work Fat is a feminist issuestill resonates. Nor would it be possible to avoid the power of modern communication media. Creepy tabloids and infantilising magazines don’t get off the hook that easily.
And yet … weight as a personal characteristic should matter much less than it does. There are so many visible indicators of social position, power and influence that body mass should be the least of our worries. But the fact is that it does matter, stubbornly refusing to cede significance in people’s lives. So why? Why the social psychosis when it comes to fatness?
At least part of the answer can be located in the fact that personal weight is unavoidably visible, while also open to manipulation/influence. Unlike other physical characteristics such as height or eye colour (which settle in time), weight is affected by diet, exercise, employment, and so on. Weight is therefore excellent fodder for others to make judgements on someone’s moral fibre. Although logic dictates that physical weight has no direct relationship to personal worth, the convenience offered by weight is difficult to ignore.
Being bullied, rejected, ostracised, or discriminated against because you’re fat/overweight doesn’t make for a joyful existence. But if it wasn’t fat, something else would take its place. People have an ingenious way of finding reasons to put other people in their place. In that context, the obsession with weight may be illogical, but