Fat is the go-to metaphor and point of comparison

Ever notice how fat/the obesity epidemic seems to be people’s go-to metaphor or point of comparison? When we found out how deadly loneliness is, we said it was deadlier than obesity. When commenting on how much Americans were panicking about Ebola, we compared their worries about Ebola to their worries about obesity. I can’t as easily think of good examples of using obesity as a metaphor, but I bet most of the people reading this are familiar with this phenomenon. (I do remember my local public radio station, during a fundraising drive, talking about information overload as “infobesity”.) I think people are doing this so much and so automatically that they don’t really think about if the comparison really makes sense.

Ally Fogg recently wrote about masculinity and violence, and while the stuff he was actually writing about was good, it included this unnecessary and almost nonsensical comparison to the obesity epidemic:

Saying that men have a problem with violence does not mean that all men are violent, any more than saying Britain has a problem with obesity means that all Britons are fat. In both examples, it means the phenomenon causes immense social harm and individual suffering, and occurs at levels far above those we should be willing to tolerate in a civilised society.

Obesity causes immense social harm? What does that even mean? Obesity causes individual suffering: that seems pretty straightforward. Much of the individual suffering associated with obesity is due to living in a fatphobic society rather than due to obesity itself–either directly through stigmatization and the denial of proper medical care when a doctor decides that any problem a fat person has must be due to their fat, or indirectly with the meme that fat people don’t eat healthy foods and exercise, which sends the message “this healthy food and exercise isn’t for you”–but at least I can tell what he’s talking about. But the most mind-boggling is the last part: “[obesity] occurs at levels far above those we should be willing to tolerate in a civilised society.”

What in the world makes him think that obesity is “tolerated”? Obesity is very obviously stigmatized! The NHS limits access to fertility treatment based on BMI! Look at all the obesity coverage in The Guardian! What exactly does he think we should do to make obesity less “tolerated”?

I guess that since he goes on to talk about ways that we can prevent children from becoming violent, e.g. not using physical punishment, hopefully he doesn’t mean what people most often mean when they say, “We shouldn’t tolerate obesity”. Because they usually seem to mean that we should stigmatize obesity more. This idea is both evil and not reality-based. I don’t suppose that, when deciding how to phrase the bit quoted above, he thought about the possibility that people who do want to stigmatize obesity more will probably read what he wrote as supporting them.

[“Civilized” also has a lot of baggage, but that’s a whole other post.]

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One Response to Fat is the go-to metaphor and point of comparison

  1. KellyK says:

    You’re totally right. Obesity really is the go-to metaphor for everything. Greed is one that I’ve seen often, where being fat is a shorthand for using more than your share of resources or taking things that you don’t deserve.

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