“Stop telling obese people ‘you’re fat’!”






I’ve just started a new diet.  It involves eating lots of fruit and vegetables, holding back on the ‘sometimes food’ and going for walks.  It’s amazingly effective. I desperately wish I’d known about it before I spent thousands of dollars on books, pills, powders and ab crunching machinery trying to shift those pesky kilos.  I think this revolutionary diet model slipped under my radar because all it offers is good health, whereas other products offered me weight loss, romance, fame and fortune all in one tasty meal replacing shake.

Our obsession with the weight loss industry surely pushes enough money through the economy that it almost balances the toll taken on the health system by the so called ‘obesity crisis’.  Okay, so I’m no economist but I do think a lot of us would benefit from a few minutes in the ‘thinking corner’ having a long, hard look at the notion of ‘balance’.  I know I have.


Over the years I have swung between superfit and supersized depending on where I was on life’s great game of snakes and ladders. I’ve battled my weight using a range of tactics I would very much not recommend.  In the 80s, a fitness instructor told me that if I just ate one Mars Bar a day, I’d give myself enough energy to keep functioning without any other unnecessary calories.  I passed out a few times but I did lose weight.

In the 90s, my GP prescribed some tablets closely related to speed, which had me racing around my office like a greyhound. I had bad breath and a crazed look in my eyes (also like a greyhound) but I did lose weight.

In more recent times, I’ve had three kids and it’s become something of a  ‘last chance saloon’ situation, but fortunately I’ve matured enough to realise that the supermodel ship has sailed.  I’ve learned that a healthy lifestyle is easier to maintain if I lighten up a little on the pressure for perfection.

I feel proud of myself for reaching a point where I no longer torture myself on a daily basis about my appearance because, quite frankly, it’s not a fun way to live.

I would find it easier to feel proud of myself if I wasn’t so frequently reminded of the terrible burden I am placing on the rest of the population. As someone who won’t be pulling on the skinny jeans any time soon, I keep company with celebrities who are pilloried as bad role models despite being smart, articulate and funny.  I am subjected to stock footage of wobbly bottoms and heaving man bosoms behind voiceovers about anything from fast food to school sports to that great unifier of the masses – the misspending of taxpayers’ dollars.

If we are to believe the headlines, hardworking, thinner Australians are subsidising fat people’s wanton destruction of the Australian health system.  Fat people seem to be the last remaining group at which it is socially acceptable to throw verbal rotten tomatoes without anyone telling you it’s discriminatory.  If we’re not careful the real health crisis we’ll be facing won’t be an increased incidence of diabetes and heart disease, but the mental health problems derived from constantly making people feel so darn bad about themselves.

I would also like to see the odd, balanced headline about the cost to taxpayers of alcohol, driving cars, work-related stress and other things that are equally about someone’s choice to put themselves at risk.  In fact, where are the stats on adventure sports?  I have friends who are dealing with their mid-life crises by taking up hobbies like aerial acrobatics and pole dancing.

People all around me are boot camping their way towards 40, building meaningful new relationships with lower back and knee specialists as they go.  Do I begrudge anyone a rescue chopper when they choose to barefoot ski the Sydney to Hobart just to get back a little mojo? No, of course not.  I might even watch the live stream on their blog.

In making light of this, I’m not suggesting we should not look after our health.  You only get one body and it’s the vehicle that carries you for the whole road trip of life.  Like it or not, it needs regular maintenance and providing the right fuel is, indeed, one’s own responsibility.  But I do think we might need to relax our attitudes a little and make like a school sports day – where getting a ribbon just for making an effort  goes a long way, self esteem wise.

Most people who are carrying extra junk in the trunk are well aware of it, and they’re trying to do something about it, even if their progress is slow.  If someone close to you is worryingly overweight, perhaps you could ask them what they think they need (a walking buddy? Some babysitting at gym time?)  before giving them an economics lecture?  And if someone you don’t know is worryingly overweight – that guy at the supermarket or that woman on TV – perhaps you could mind your own beeswax?

There’s a good chance they are already their own harshest critic.

Dr Lara Cain Gray is an academic, writer, librarian, curator and mother. The order depends on the day. She has held research and curatorial positions in Australia and the UK but is currently on a career break to look after her beautiful, maddening offspring.

Around two thirds of Australian adults and one quarter of Australian kids are overweight. And new reports show that the number of adults in healthy weight range has dropped by around half in the past 30 years alone.

This infographic comes from The Conversation (who, by the by, are a great source of news and research) and shows in an oh-so-dramatic fashion just how much heavier Australians have gotten over the past 3 decades.

There are plenty of news reports honing in on the economic cost of obesity and suggesting obese Australians are ‘wasting taxpayers money’. But as a society, what is our role? Would you suggest that an obese friend should lose weight, the same way you might berate them for smoking? Does the community have a role to play in making obesity less socially acceptable? Or do we all just need to mind our own business?


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