What may have been looked upon as something only a playground bully or a spiteful family member would say could be seen a factor which stigmatizes obese individuals, British government officials said on Wednesday.
The “stigma” plays a big role in increasing body image pressures which have been “damaging” societies, the MPs said, citing a parliamentary report this week which found that “girls as young as five are wrestling with mental and physical illness because they are so worried about being fat,” the Daily Mail reported.
And, of course, the pressures are not only experienced through childhood.
Psychologists have noted the “disapproving glances from complete strangers, the prospective employer who suddenly loses interest when he meets you face to face. And of course: ‘You would look so nice if you just lost some weight,’” writes U.S.-based psychoanalyst Eric Sherman on his medical blog.
Prejudice against obese people has even seen overweight people receiving insults on public transport. In Mexico City last year, a man complained about riding the city’s crowded buses, saying: “The fatties take up a lot of space.”
The comment was widely reported and even prompted a debate on whether Western prejudice against fat people was now spreading to developing countries.
On Wednesday, the UK blueprint titled “Reflections on Body Image” recommends “a review into the scale of the problem of appearance-based discrimination.
“This may include exploring whether an amendment to the Equalities Act would be the most appropriate way of tackling discrimination,” the report added.
But a reference to the Equalities Act suggests that the “fat stigma” could possibly be the new racism of our time.
The act, which Britain passed in 2010, “bans unfair treatment and helps achieve equal opportunities in the workplace and in wider society,” according to the UK home office. It covers nine protected characteristics, which cannot be used as a reason to treat people unfairly. They include: age, disability, race, gender, reassignment, religion or belief, sex race, pregnancy or maternity, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership.
“Body image has become more important in our culture than health, and children are mimicking their parents’ concerns about appearance,” Central YMCA chief executive Rosi Prescott told the Daily Mail.
“We all have a responsibility to act now to bring about the attitudinal and behavioral change that’s necessary to prevent damage to future generations,” she added.
However, the issue here does not solely highlight the upshots of bullying or workplace prejudice, it hones in on the invasive terms used.
A quick search on the internet for the terms “obesity” and “politically incorrect” will provide you with a plethora of results, advising on how to call someone fat in a politically correct way. One site, which confidently refers to itself as a dictionary of politically incorrect terms, suggests that it’s more tactful to replace the word “fat” with what it actually means: an “enlarged physical condition,” while acknowledging that it’s more of a mouthful to say.
Meanwhile, other online articles from leading international newspapers and medical journals discussed the terms “big boned” and “plus-sized” and whether it can be a considerate way of implying someone is obese, or if it is politically incorrect in itself because of its patronizing connotation.
With this logic, perhaps one needs to also scrutinize the term “skinny”; referring to a slim person who could actually be suffering from a medical condition resulting in their lean body form.
Many have criticized these euphemisms, saying that it is perfectly acceptable to describe someone as “fat,” when it is an actuality. “Fat people are fat,” writes UK-based news commentator Peter Mullen for The Telegraph.
“What are actually bad habits are being objectified as diseases,” Mullen says, also referring to politically correct terms used to describe alcoholics. “I find that most phrases we hear have to be translated into ordinary English. So for example, ‘A long battle with alcohol’ really means ‘Has lain on the sofa for years watching football and pouring cans of lager down his neck.’”
This is all political in origin, Mullen notes, adding that that society is “not allowed” to claim that people are responsible for their behavior, but “suffering from” a problem inflicted upon them by immutable external causes.
This argument, however, will constantly question whether being politically correct is actually politically correct in itself; a soceital debate that has and will continue to be persistently raised.