In Uncategorized on June 29, 2009 by Miche

When I read this piece on the BBC website this morning, I thought it was incoherent and inadequately sourced. It quotes Michael McMahon of Nuffield Health, but offers no link to the interview or article in which he says what’s quoted. It says “Researchers found” and “The survey of over 2,000 individuals” without telling us which researchers and which survey. Without context, it’s impossible to hold Professor McMahon’s argument up to the light.

I forgot about it. Then, a couple of hours later, my friend Michael (who, if it matters, is as thin as a whippet) posted a link to the story on Facebook with the comment “Is it just me, or is this utter balls?” After a little discussion it was clear that it wasn’t just the rubbish reporting he objected to, but the hypothesis itself – which, if I’m reading aright, is that the presence of funny and talented fat people on TV makes it more acceptable to be fat.

Another commenter talked of fatism and ostracism. Another mentioned Friar Tuck, Fatty Arbuckle and Hattie Jacques. This story clearly irked some of my friends (and their friends).

There are a lot of factors that can reduce one’s life expectancy and quality of life. Three of them are achondroplasia, obesity and smoking. Achondroplasia, apparently, takes ten years off one’s life expectancy. And, obviously, there are difficulties involved in being a different size from the average. Of course, nobody lectures people with achondroplasia for being small. It’s not a lifestyle choice. It’s genetic. And media representations of dwarfs and midgets ought to be better – people are people first and foremost.

Smokers (I used to be one) are fools. Nobody is born a smoker. People choose to be smokers, and it is perfectly acceptable to point at them and laugh. Although if you love them you’re more likely to cry yourself to sleep. The media doesn’t glamourise smoking any more. The days when Bette and Bogart made smoking look cool are long gone.

So what about the fatties? McMahon, apparently (damn that stupid BBC post with no fucking links!) says that “fat stars are seen as role models, helping to make being overweight acceptable.” This is tricky because it’s not clear cut. On the one hand, people such as James Corden or Dawn French can make people who are overweight feel more assured about themselves (nothing new in this – William Conrad blazed that trail as Frank Cannon back in the Seventies). On the other hand, obesity is bad for your health and life expectancy. But it’s not like achondroplasia, and it’s not like smoking. Fat people aren’t necessarily fat because of their genes, and are not necessarily fat because they emulate that guy off Gavin and Stacey.


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