Battle of the bulge: an argument against “Fat Shaming is not a thing”

Exeposé Lifestyle Issue 642, Page 16 (28 September 2015) and Exeposé Lifestyle online (2 October 2014)

Being overweight is not healthy. It’s not something we should aim for, it’s not something to glorify, and it’s not something we should ignore the health risks of.

Ok. That’s pretty much all common ground with Nicole Arbour covered. Yet sadly, this hasn’t always been the case. I’m ashamed to admit it, but backtrack a few years but I thought the only thing holding obese people back was laziness. They just weren’t trying hard enough.

And then aged 16, I decided to try and lose some weight. Dropping a stone in a couple of months just confirmed my beliefs. This was easy. All you had to do was say no to yourself. You can probably guess where this ended. But in what seems like an enormous paradox, struggling against anorexia changed my mind about this whole obesity business.

My eating patterns became an emotional crutch. They were soon habit, and I clung to them. I knew they weren’t healthy, but at the same time I couldn’t imagine a life without them. I needed help to overcome them. And you know what? Something similar can often be said for those struggling to lose weight. The difference being, of course, that here the crutch isn’t restriction, but over-eating.

And this is where Nicole’s rant dramatically misses the point.

Ok, from here on, I’m going to over-simplify. Both obesity and restrictive eating disorders are complex medical conditions, with a range of causes. What I’m arguing won’t apply to everyone. But I want to introduce a new set of thoughts.

Picture someone who struggles to maintain a healthy weight. Who has developed an unhealthy relationship with food, and is now trapped by a cycle of mental and physical habits – compulsions, even – that they can’t break free of. Someone who knows their physical wellbeing is at risk, but has reached a place where logical reason doesn’t get a say any more.

We should “shame people who have bad habits until they fucking stop,” Nicole Arbour says.

Now, if the person I described above were struggling with anorexia, chances are Nicole’s statement would spark outrage. Because anorexia is linked with vulnerability, and helplessness. When confronted with it, our instinct is to support and protect, because these people are ill.

Look back at the description. Maybe this person isn’t suffering from anorexia. Maybe they struggle with binge-eating. Perhaps they use food as an emotional support, and have reached a point where they can no longer break free. But what is Arbour’s reaction to these people? To ridicule and condemn. Because they’ve done this to themselves.

Society’s come a long way in understanding eating disorders such as anorexia – and realising it’s not simply a case of bullying someone into eating. Yet with obesity, there’s still an ever-present undercurrent of: “if they really wanted to, they could help themselves.”

This is what it boils down to, really. The question of whether or not we have a choice in the matter.

Nicole Arbour argues that obesity is a choice. “Make better choices,” she demands of overweight people.  And fine: to someone happily piling on the pounds, thinking it’s perfectly acceptable to eat dangerously high quantities of food, her advice might work wonders.

“Shit… you mean, being obese actually isn’t good for my health?!” these people might gasp, before throwing the junk food aside and pulling on the running shoes.

But drawing on personal experience (which I know isn’t the most convincing stance, but hey – compare it with your own, and see whether or not you agree) I’d argue that the vast majority of obese people understand their lifestyle is unhealthy.

In fact, I’d say most overweight people would love to get back to a healthy size. What they’re lacking isn’t someone to tell them they should change their habits – chances are, they tell themselves something similar every day.

If the problem facing our society were that overweight people didn’t know they were unhealthy, Nicole’s video would be a worldwide awakening.

But it’s not. The hurdle is trying to understand why people continue to overeat even though they know it’s unhealthy. Treating obesity not as a choice – because really, who would choose to live at a weight that’s harmful to their health? – but as a dangerous set of habits and compulsions which need to be properly understood, acknowledged and overcome.

Nicole’s taking up a role that was never in the script. She claims she’s telling overweight people something they need to hear, but I find it hard to believe even she buys into this. If she truly believed her insults and mockery would help people make positive changes, I could perhaps forgive the disgusting and senseless way they’re put across.

But nah. It’s just a publicity stunt really, isn’t it. And one that’s unlikely to actually help anyone. Gosh, how selfish.

nicolearbour

>>View original Exeposé Lifestyle online debate>>
>>View Exeposé Issue 642 at issuu.com>>

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