Two years ago I was at a conference listening to my friend Nick recount his experiences of being an obese kid at school.
He described how he was always the last to be picked for any team, always bullied for being lazy and slow, and cruelly teased by his peers in anything involving physical activity. One day when he was 12, he did a sprint training lap at rugby league practice.
About half way through the lap Nick realised he was in front of all his teammates!
Nick described how euphoric he felt as he puffed out his chest and ran as fast as he could to be FIRST! Until reality dawned. On turning around he realised that every other kid in the sprint had stopped running. And instead of cheering him, they were laughing at him. The fat kid hadn’t come first. He was the victim of yet another prank at the hands of his peers.
Fat stigma and discrimination are no laughing matter.
Six years ago I started to interview people about their experiences of being obese.
At the time, like many academics working in the area of obesity, I was probably more interested in hearing about why people were not able to lose weight. I think I thought I would be able to design a fancy weight loss intervention to address what I perceived were problems with the individual rather than our approach to ‘fighting obesity’.
After all, the evidence was clear that obesity was an epidemic, and unhealthy. All we needed to do was to work out a way of getting people to do what was good for them, to take more responsibility, to ‘eat less’ and ‘exercise more’. Right?
Within two days of interviewing people, I had completely changed my view about obesity and how we treat obese individuals in society today.
The turning point came when someone joked in front of our research participants that if we set up an ice cream cart we would make a fortune.
Over the last few years, I have listened to hundreds of stories just like Nick’s.
Stories of bullying, teasing, and victimisation: people being spat at in the street; told they take up too much room on the train; are bad parents (for no other reason than their body size); and used as cautionary tale to warn children about the consequences of eating too many sweets.
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