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Being fat isn’t feminist The body positivity movement denies indisputable facts

Is this healthy? Credit: Lauren Bridle / Barcroft Media via Getty Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Is this healthy? Credit: Lauren Bridle / Barcroft Media via Getty Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images


August 6, 2021   6 mins

The last time I wrote about the body positivity movement, it was 2018. The plus-size model Tess Holliday had just appeared, sensationally, on the cover of Cosmopolitan. It triggered a debate on Good Morning Britain: Piers Morgan accused the then editor Farrah Storr of “celebrating morbid obesity”; she accused him of conspiring in the mental health crisis and perpetuating the culture of thin-privilege. Of course, the video went viral. That spat marked the two poles of the body image conversation: “you can’t show this,” versus “you can’t say that”.

Was a more humane approach possible? It was horrific to treat fatness as something shameful, I wrote, but also wrong to pretend that being fat doesn’t lead to serious health complications: “As an archetype of beauty, Holliday is no more and no less dangerous than a size-0 waif.” Somehow, a line had to be tracked between compassion and truth.

Two years later, I got an email in response to this article. My correspondent was young, female, fat (by her own account) and very angry. “I am wondering if your feelings about fat people have changed since writing it?” she demanded. “Do you perhaps have any fat people in your life? Though I am sure if you do, not by choice since you are so openly disgusted by the sight of us.”

She signed off with the words: “And to boot, honey
 you’re no spring chicken. Take a look in the mirror before you spout off how gross fat women are.”

And so, I revisited the column (after spending a few minutes scowling at my own face and wondering, again, if it was time for Botox). Had I written that I was “openly disgusted” by fat people? No: I had written that I personally struggled with self-disgust when I was overweight, and had sometimes pursued thinness in ways I called “dangerous”. I was being honest. But, whatever women say or do, our physical appearance is used to dismiss us — by women as well as men, as my correspondent so graciously demonstrated at the end of her message.

Returning to the email, I noticed that she started it by talking about “fat people” and ended it talking about “fat women”. More proof, not that it’s needed, that when discussing fatness, it’s always women who are really at stake — picked over, found inadequate, found excessive. Fat, as Susie Orbach wrote 40 years before that Cosmo cover, is a feminist issue. Men are attacked over their appearance, but they always get to be more than their bodies. A man who looks shabby or out of shape is an object of comedy, or even affection. “Dad bods” are lovably, huggably imperfect.

A fat woman, on the other hand, isn’t just unattractive. She’s a moral disgrace. Orbach wrote that, “the explanations offered for fatness point a finger at the failure of women themselves to control their weight, control their appetites and control their impulses.” The female equivalent of the “dad bod” is the “wine mom body”, and “wine moms” aren’t just overweight: they’re a symbol of dissipation and the neglect of proper feminine duty.

But, unlike the current generation of body positive feminists, Orbach still sees fatness itself as an undesirable state. It’s not a personal failing, but it is — in her view — a result of emotionally starved women seeking comfort through food, to the jeopardy of their wellbeing. Today, any attempt to pathologise weight is beyond the pale.

Novelist and activist Sarai Walker defines the movement in two statements, one to be embraced and one to be emphatically rejected. The first is “fat is beautiful”: fat bodies should be loved, appreciated, celebrated, just like all bodies. The unsayable second one is “fat is unhealthy”: fat people simply don’t need to hear this, says Walker. “The fat body is always on public display, open to critique and comment. Therefore, a fat body is routinely subjected to lectures, judgments, and insults — from family, friends, or complete strangers.”

Whatever you think you need to say about fatness, fat people have already heard it. In many cases, they’ve heard it repeatedly from medical professionals. Stories abound of clinicians ignoring serious symptoms and dispatching fat patients with some condescending advice to lose weight, and the bias seems particularly acute when it comes to women. In a world that treats fat women with routine contempt, body positivity is an appealing proposition, and has only grown more so since the Holliday Cosmo cover.

Some activists go further than saying health shouldn’t be talked about. They even deny that fat is a health issue at all, and so fall in line with a general progressive trend to treat politically inconvenient truths as grotesque lies. Before she appeared on their cover, Cosmo ran a story with the tagline, “Don’t question Tess Holliday’s health.” For this year’s January issue, the magazine ran a series of covers featuring various women, some of them fat, under the slogan “This is healthy!” In an article at Scientific American titled “Fat is Not the Problem — Fat Stigma Is,” authors Linda Bacon and Amy Severson concede that many diseases are more common in heavier people. “However, that doesn’t mean that weight itself causes disease,” they protest. “Blaming fatness for heart disease is similar to blaming yellow teeth for lung cancer, rather than considering that smoking might play a role in both.”

This is sophistry. When it comes to certain conditions, it’s undeniable that size makes a difference. Type 2 diabetes, for example, is associated with the amount of internal fat around the pancreas: even sufferers who fall within what’s considered a healthy body mass index can reverse their diabetes by losing weight. Yes, it’s possible to be fat and healthy, but the more you weigh, the worse your odds are. Pretending facts aren’t facts harms the very people it’s supposed to help.

But in modern progressivism, feeling good can mean more than doing good. Material improvement languishes a long way after psychological reassurance in the list of political priorities. The woman who emailed me in distress and outrage could not allow that I have my own complicated relationship with my body: by failing to always “feel beautiful,” I’d failed her. She belongs to a cohort that holds no distinction between the personal and political. What I’d written as analysis read to her as an attack.

Body positivity sells itself as a feminist response to the overbearing demands that beauty standards make on women — a rebellion against the male gaze. But it can become just another set of demands to be carried. This atmosphere of judgement is even more acute for those at the heart of the body positivity movement. What’s pitched as a sisterhood of self-love can be as spiteful as any other community based on looks: when body positivity advocates lose weight (often for health reasons), they may be shunned and rejected by the people who once celebrated them. After the singer Adele went from plus-size to slim, Buzzfeed called it “Bad news for anyone who feels comforted by the sight of a celebrity larger than a size 8”.

Is there an ethical difference, really, between pressuring women to get thin and pressuring women to stay fat? In both, the female body is treated as a public object and not a person. So, I’m sceptical about the more expansive claims of body positivity, such as those made by Sofie Hagen, author of Happy Fat: Taking Up Space in a World That Wants to Shrink You. For Hagen, fatness is a challenge to both patriarchy and capitalism, which creams off profits from diet culture. But fat sells too. There’s money in insecurity at any size. That’s why clothing brands like Snag match their plus-size tights range with self-love branding. It’s why Cosmopolitan puts fat models on the cover. It’s why Victoria’s Secret has hired Paloma Elsesser as an ambassador. And it’s why Hagen’s book found a publisher.

After all, “you are beautiful” is still the key tenet — and a movement that makes beauty into a guiding principle was never going to be that hard for patriarchy to reconcile with. When Sports Illustrated chose rapper Megan Thee Stallion as one of its swimsuit issue stars, she celebrated in the language of body positivity. “Shooting the cover made me feel really empowered and happy,” she told CNN. “It made me feel good to know that women who have bodies like me can be celebrated. Not just the standard types that we have seen before.” True, she is not “the standard type” if that means skinny (the technical term for her I believe is “thicc”), but she absolutely is hot, and a hot woman in Sports Illustrated is hardly a radical proposition.

Tess Holliday, too, is unmistakably gorgeous — on social media, you’ll find pictures of her tagged #effyourbeautystandards, where she wears flirty lingerie and perfect makeup. Who, exactly, is she defying here? Because men do not seem to mind, and are happy to applaud the leagues of body positivity influencers, like Jonathan Ross’s daughter Honey, who show their self-love by showing their skin. Looking at tits while being praised as a good male ally? Bring it on.

Body positivity — the kind practised by cover girls and Instagrammers — isn’t anti-feminist, exactly. At least, it’s no worse than the kind of objectification that’s always gone on in the media. But it’s what I think of as feminism neutral: after the sloganeering, women as a class are no nearer to liberation than they were before. We are all still pitted against each other in the great hotness contest, measured by others and ourselves against the fuckability standard. Body positivity’s achievement is to expand the definition of attractiveness, not to remove attractiveness as the marker of value. Take away the hopeful obfuscation about health, take away the verbiage of resistance, and what’s left? Women like my emailer, desperate to be the one who counts as beautiful.


Sarah Ditum is a columnist, critic and feature writer.

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Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Being fat might not be shameful, but pictures of obese people used as role models on the cover of Cosmopolitan IS shameful.
Just how much proof do we need that being fat, together with many of the co-morbidities it travels with, is harmful? Covid has indelibly illustrated and underscored this for us.
And whilst women’s bodies are often held to a different standard to men (wrong), men do not get away scot free. I would not laud an obese male model either. Are there ever obese men on the cover of, for example, GQ magazine?
The question should be why don’t magazines use normal weight people on their covers. Not too thin, not too buff, not photoshopped.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago

I would not laud an obese male model either. Are there ever obese men on the cover of, for example, GQ magazine?

That’s a distinction that’s glossed over in the article. There is a massive difference between the very overweight ladies that have been championed in various adverts and on magazine covers, and some dude with a ‘dad bod’.
Sarah does refer to the “wine mum body” – which I have never, ever heard of. Might just be me? But it’s certainly not as well-known as the dad-bod. Which is almost exclusively a phrase created by and used by women (although generally in a positive way as we know).

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

But I was not talking about Dad bod which I am assuming to be a pot belly
 I referred to obese males (as fat as the woman in the picture).
I am also not familiar with wine mum body, but imagine it is a roundish torso on stick thin legs and no bum. The apple shape. Perhaps someone could instruct!

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago

No sorry – perhaps wasn’t clear but I was agreeing with you. It just made me think how she glossed over that in the article – obese men are not trumpeted as virtuous.
Wine mum” is a pretty descriptive phrase I agree – we can all see what it means. But just not sure it’s as common a term as Sarah has alluded to

Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

I tried to establish what a ‘wine mum’ body is. Apparently somebody said it about Billie Eilish on Twitter last year and somebody else got very annoyed about it in The Guardian.

Last edited 2 years ago by Al M
Suzy O'Shea
Suzy O'Shea
2 years ago

Hi Lesley van Reenen,

I totally agree with your point that magazines ought to use models of a normal size rather than ‘stick insects’ that promote bulimia and other eating disorders in the young. Photo-shopping ought to be totally banned.

Last time I read any literature on this, the average clothing size for women in Britain was a 14. That may even have increased to a 16 in subsequent years. So what used to be large has now become normal. Any woman who is 5ft 9″ tall and wears a size 16 will not look fat, buxom, if she is lucky, maybe, but not fat.

Last edited 2 years ago by Suzy O'Shea
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Suzy O'Shea

Size 16 is a bit overweight but not unhealthy. If the average was a size 20 I’d be concerned.

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Given that approx half the population are above that average size, then there’s where the large population of unhealthy overweight people come from. Bad news for health, especially as one gets older.

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Don’t forget that what used to be a size 16 is now I size 12. What was classified as ‘large’ in the past is now just normal. “In 1958, a woman who had a 34in bust and a 25in waist â€“ much like Marilyn Monroe – was considered to be a US size 12 (equivalent to a UK 16). However, today a size 12 would fit a woman with a 39in bust and a 32in waist.”

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 years ago
Reply to  Suzy O'Shea

We cannot use clothes sizes to describe what is or is not healthy for women anymore than we can dmfor men.

Why not? Clothes sizes are not standard. My clothes go from an 18 to a 26 depending on style, material, maker. Which is right? Then throw in US and European sizes as we buy clothes from international sources. Some people tell me I should be losing weight… Which is really hard when you have chronic pain, exercising just adds to the pain!

The only accurate “sizing” is BMI. And recently I read an article in the Lanncet that BMI is no longer accurate and that we need a more accurate way of recording healthy/unhealthy bodies.

What we need to do is get over the criticism of people who are too fat, too thin, too tall, too small, too disabled (yes, that’s a thing!) etc. We need to be more accepting of people as individuals who are all shapes and sizes. We need to have healthy conversations about weight and health. We need to have more appreciation of how people live their lives and the impact media has on them. And we need to accept we cannot change people unless they themselves want to change.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

The BMI is very unacurrate, the average rugby player (the ones that don’t have a belly) has a high BMI. It depends of the body frame. For males the waste measure gives you a more accurate idea of excess fat.

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
1 year ago
Reply to  Jorge Espinha

Waist

Heidi M
Heidi M
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

Just as an aside, we do have much more accurate ways of analysing body fat. Skin fold tests (but which neglects visceral, i.e. around the organs fat), bio impedance and DEXA scans. They just are not as rapid as an equation (which of course neglects muscle which weighs much more than fat and just assumes it is all fat weight and really is just way off on tall people).

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

Body shape also has an impact on sizing. Personally, I’m all leg and no waist so everyone assumes I’m a size 10-12, however due to my lack of waist, I cannot fit in anything smaller than 14. At my lowest weight, I couldn’t fit in anything smaller than a 10!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Suzy O'Shea

I would think a size 10 to 12 is normal, obviously depending on height. 5’9 is tall for a woman. Let’s not forget that the majority of people in the UK are overweight or obese if I am to believe the stats.
I am a size 8 in my country (South Africa), but I think I am probably a bit too thin for completely healthy.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
2 years ago
Reply to  Suzy O'Shea

There’s a pratical reason for “stick insects” they are the best human coat hangers. I would also like to point out that the fashion industry is dominated by women and homossexual men. It’s not Joe Football and Paul Rugby that selected the female models for Milan’s fashion week.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
2 years ago

Because we want to look at people more attractive than ourselves. For the same reason we watch sportmen orders of magnitude more talented than us. Another reason might be that beautiful people are people we feel attracted to without loving them.

T Doyle
T Doyle
2 years ago

Not sure what this article is trying to say. It seems it just not trying to offend. Since the the time of ancient Europeans the slim muscular body has been the human ideal because it represents grace, health and strength. Obesity is a modern illness. The article is also wrong about men. Every imagery is focused on slim muscular men. Men feel inadequate but unlike women we don’t rant on about it. Fat is unhealthy and that’s the bottom line.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
2 years ago
Reply to  T Doyle

Specially now with the crossfit bodies. The average guy falls sort of that ideal.

Nick Dougan
Nick Dougan
2 years ago
Reply to  T Doyle

Of men, perhaps, but have you never seen or heard of Rubenesque?

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
2 years ago
Reply to  Nick Dougan

Yes, and there lies the rub. Plump, fat and obese women have been objectified, even celebrated by men for centuries. In many cultures, a fat or obese woman is the desired standard.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago

Interesting read, but seems to over-intellectualise a simple phenomenon.
Companies make money by marketing to different groups, and you are not going to sell new clothes to fat women unless you tell them it’s okay to be fat.
Telling people it’s okay to be obese, also sells more food – while generating even more customers for oversize clothes.
Self discipline is in far shorter supply than both food and clothes.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

Fact : “Being obese or excessively overweight increases the risk of severe illness and death from COVID19,.”
a press release from Public Health England July 2020.
It’s as simple as that. Whether it’s Covid or some other disease, if you are fat you are more likely to die than if you are a healthy weight. It’s up to you.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Everyone dies… Some die sooner than others, that’s all

Tom Jennings
Tom Jennings
2 years ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

Given the choice, would you rather be one of the “some” or one of the “others”?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago

“Tess Holliday, too, is unmistakably gorgeous”.
I’d like to hear some justification for that suggestion.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Me too. One woman’s gorgeous is another man’s plumper.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Nope. Nigela Lawson yes!

Michael Richardson
Michael Richardson
2 years ago

Fat-positive movement? Why not a smoking-positive movement? Cocain-positive movement. Crystal-meth-positive movement (yeh, been watching Breaking Bad).

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
2 years ago

We are moving on that direction. When you hear that deaf parents don’t approve a surgery for “fixing”, their daughter’s deafness, you realize that the world is going insane.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Jorge Espinha

Yes, I’ve actually read about this. Apparently, in the deaf-community there is a stigma attached to deaf children of hearing parents. They’re not considered pure-blooded enough. Insane indeed.

Stephen Easton
Stephen Easton
2 years ago

Fascinating how the article positions this as a pure female issue.

Male bodies are objectified too. What does the author think is going on in a film when a man removes his shirt to reveal a well built chest? Doing that is not a post feminist phenomenon either. Johnny Weissmuller was doing it in the 30s and Connery in the 60s.

It is just human behaviour and both sexes are affected. Best thing is to just accept it.

I used to be fat with a 30 BMI. Purely down to bad lifestyle. I was envious of other men who were in shape. So I did something about it and now have a BMI of 22. At the end of the day it is a personal choice.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Easton

22 is too thin. Get yourself up to 25

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Easton

“Male bodies are objectified too.”
Thank goodness for that, otherwise where would that have left me?. ” Hey honey, I’ll rustle up a gin martini and we can admire my body – and yours”
The world seems to have entered a bad place of late.

Last edited 2 years ago by Terry Needham
Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
2 years ago

The disease of post-modernism and Critical Theory.

Al M
Al M
2 years ago

There does seem to be a theme of taking modern day idiocy, usually based on some variety of Critical Theory, and framing it squarely as sexism. That being morbidly obese will, in time, lead to multiple complications is a given; being ‘positive’ about it will not stop the toll on your health. This way of presenting the problem, however, can alienate a lot of people and might well be read as another form of identity politics. As noted below, you didn’t see a massively overweight Tom Kerridge on the cover of GQ, did you?

David B
David B
2 years ago
Reply to  Al M

If it can be framed as ‘positive’, then maybe it can ultimately be considered morally reprehensible to object to raising taxes to attend to the consequences. Such is the long game in dependency culture.

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
2 years ago

The idealising of women’s bodies is a women issue. It’s b****r all to do with men, or the ‘patriarchy’. The mags like Vogue are edited by women, written by women, bought be women, and influence women. The fashion pages featuring almost exclusively skinny models ditto. Advertisers spend billions on researching what will sell their diets, clothes, ‘guilty pleasures’, hair colouring, the rest. And who do the women in the ads want to impress, or not feel inadequate in the company of? Other women. The debate has come about because there’s no sensible middle ground. If Vogue and the rest had normalised normal healthy women, instead of miserable anorexic scarecrows, you wouldn’t be having this debate. And if they’d put as much effort into encouraging women to develop character as they do into making them objects women themselves wouldn’t even begin to consider botox as a solution to anything.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

‘Dad bod’ is an insult. ‘Wine o’clock mother’ is not a comment on a woman’s weight but on her habit of drinking to excess.
To be accepted without comments on one’s weight is a perfectly reasonable expectation. Some fat women however want more. They expect people to say that they are attractive. They expect men to date them.

Irene Ve
Irene Ve
2 years ago

Agreed. I find it is a common feature among all the aggressive minority movements – simple equality of opportunity/treatment rules are not enough, they demand to be the darlings of society, to be celebrated for what they are, not for what they do and how much they deliver.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

I like dad bods personally.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Serious? Oh no!

Al M
Al M
2 years ago

They did exactly what they do now: spout b0ll0x and deny empirical evidence that contradicts them. The only difference is that the internet happened and now you get to hear about it.

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 years ago

Never heard of wine mums, is the term meant to be a physical descriptor? If so it doesn’t really work – are we likening said mum to a wine glass (wider towards the top) or a wine bottle (bottom heavy)?
In my experience body shape seems to preoccupy a lot of women, but is of little interest to men. My other half (female) can’t watch a news report or weather forecast on the telly without commenting (usually cattily) on the shape or outfit of the (female) presenter.
But needless to say it’s all the fault of the patriarchy.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew D
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

Just more of ‘if you don’t 100% agree with extreme x, you must be a supporter of extreme y’. It’s clickbaity media nonsense designed to generate much tutting and gnashing of teeth. Don’t play their games. Everyone knows size 0 is as unhealthy as size 22. If you’re a 6-16, which most of us are, you don’t have much to worry about. If you are so thin you’re periods have stopped or so fat you can’t get up the stairs without puffing, and you can’t fit into an airplane seat – then you are unhealthy and you need to get help. It’s not rocket science.

Last edited 2 years ago by Cheryl Jones
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Another column from Sarah, another steaming pile.
The essay above boils down to a complaint that if men say it about women, it must be evil. The problem with this is that fat is not criticised because it’s unsexy, but because it’s unhealthy. It is intellectually dishonest to try to dismiss this critique because a group the author hates agree with it for a different reason.
It’s essentially saying that if food hygiene inspectors say there shouldn’t be rats’ droppings in a kitchen because rats are dirty, but Stalinist commissars also say there shouldn’t be rats’ droppings in a kitchen because rats are bourgeois, both can be ignored because Stalinist commissars are always wrong.

the overbearing demands that beauty standards make on women — a rebellion against the male gaze.

Which is more arrant, abject ba11s, of course. The most ardent judges of women’s looks, clothes and grooming are other women. How many men edit women’s magazines?
The underlying issue here is that some women object to changing in case it suits men. They’d prefer men to change instead, for example by accepting an arbitrary redefinition of “beauty” to include plumpers. What if men think the same but the other way around? Why is that less reasonable?
Is there any actual quality feminist thinking anywhere, at all? Most of it just seems to be misandrist rubbish no better than this.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It is unsexy as well though. It doesn’t make sense from an evolutionary perspective for men to find unhealthy women attractive. Of course there is a range though. Some men like curvier T&A shapes, some prefer skinnier more boyish shapes. Neither is unhealthy.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

“And so, I revisited the column(after spending a few minutes scowling at my own face and wondering, again, if it was time for Botox).”
Nice bit of self deprecating wit there Sarah – thank you.
There’s not so much wit these days from journalists, luckily there is Douglas Murray, but we need more. (This from someone, me, who failed completely at her attempt at wit on another thread yesterday).

Philip L
Philip L
2 years ago

Weird. No mention of Covid outcomes? Severe disease, higher viral loads and weaker immune response have all been linked to obesity.

Jorge Espinha
Jorge Espinha
2 years ago

Great article. It’s a very sensible subject. People might make a women’s problem but that’s wrong, it aftects both sexes and I might add that fat hurts men more than women from a health point of view. Men tend to accumulate fat in their waste which is a big no no specialty if when you look down you don’t see your nether parts. Women store their fat differently than men, it’s entirely possible to be very healthy if you store your fat in your legs and “arse”. It isn’t optimal from a sex appeal point a view but it’s less detrimental. Men from a health point of view suffer more problems than women, estrogen seems to give women some protection against the damage fat does to our body. But fat does hurt us. It affect our sleep, and poor sleep leads to over eating in a pernicious feedback loop. Gravity is merciless not just to fat people but to very tall people too, the joints and lower back degrade. And diabetes is the real killer, and once you have it everything is in danger, your heart, kidneys, eyes and the danger of amputation. Drugs can help of course but starting your day taking 2 or three pills for your blood pressure, 1 pill for your heart, 1 for your cholesterol and 1 for your blood sugar and repeating it twice of thrice a day isn’t fun. You can sugar coat fatness, but it will not make it good. I’m glad the author mentioned scientific American, I subscribed the magazine for years but they decided to embrace the PC gospel and ceased to be reliable.
I think fat shaming is wrong it serves no purpose, the cult of anorexia is also misplaced, a few extra kg don’t hurt and in my opinion curvy women are more attractive and are more fun to be with, but obesity is a big problem and once you receive the check for having an overweight body (normally as in so many other health problems when youth runs out) it’s no laughing matter.

ralph bell
ralph bell
2 years ago

I think this is a ‘western’ debate.
There has been a great increase in obesity on both men and women due to diet and physical; activity changes. I guess women are always more focused on their physical appearance and they are therefore more inclined to champion this new look and turn a blind eye to the gluttony and co-morbidity factors.
In Africa fat women do not suffer vitriol and I think are frequently idolised as mother figures. It is I think thought of as a sign of plenty and wealth to provide food and shelter.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago

I dunno, am I being a bit unfair if I summarise the attitude of some (note: some) women as follows:
1.      Men, look at me, an obese woman whom you do not know.
2.      I command you – for such is your duty – to find me attractive, desirable, lovable.
3.      If you are in dereliction of your duty at 2. above, you (and you alone) will be responsible for making me feel sad.
4.      Your making me feel sad proves that you are a sexist, a misogynist, and a vile unworthy thing, utterly morally repugnant; in fact, not at all nice.
 
Then try recasting the above (mutatis mutandis) as a fat man addressing women in general.
 
How does that work?

Miriam Cotton
Miriam Cotton
2 years ago

All I know is, one way or another, fat or thin, women have to take their clothes off to demonstrate their worth to themselves, to other women and to men. Men keep their bodies dignified and private and always have done. Why any woman imagines it’s ‘liberating’ or ’empowering’ to put herself on sexual display never ceases to baffle me.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Miriam Cotton

It is just plain sad

Steven H
Steven H
2 years ago
Reply to  Miriam Cotton

Are you living under a rock? There is a very evident trend for flesh-revealing “muscle fit” clothes among men (the term actually used on clothing labels).

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago

There is, or was, a well-known site on Tumblr (where the internet kept it’s crazy, though TikTok seems to be challenging it) called This is Thin Privilege where large young women tried to promote ‘body positivity’ and similar concepts derived from Critical Theory. However, it always seems to boil down to “hot guys not fancying me is a hate crime and shouldn’t be allowed”.

There was a theme that male attractions are outrageously bigoted, whilst women’s ones (for ‘hot guys’) were natural. There’s a similar vibe to this article.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Yes, men have internalized personal responsibility, women have internalized everything wrong in their lives as all being men’s fault. I’m generalizing of course, but you get my drift.

Sallie R
Sallie R
2 years ago

Such a great opinion piece. As a 60+ woman, still dealing with the issue of attractiveness rather than competence…

Suzy O'Shea
Suzy O'Shea
2 years ago
Reply to  Sallie R

Sallie, so true!

Did anyone ever call Sir Winston Churchill ‘Porky’ or ‘Dodgy Podgy’? I bet not within his earshot! Yet he suffered from being fat from his 30s for the rest of his life. My description of dodgy relates to his health lies, after he had had strokes, just before the Yalta Meeting during WWII and during his second premiership, when he even colluded with his cabinet to keep the poor state of his health from our dear Queen!

Did anyone look at him as a moral degenerate because he over-indulged on brandy, whiskey, cigars and food, during a general time of want through rationing for most of the British people?

No, he is fondly remembered as a courageous and staunch leader. He did not have to face the horrors of the blitz buried in his war rooms bunker in the London underground! He went to bed late and told his support staff not to wake him before 11 am unless it was a real emergency!

It was the poor, suffering British people who were staunch, heroic and courageous, dragged yet again into an unnecessary war by a stupid treaty, supposedly protecting a country British forces could not reach, Poland. At the end of it, Britain gave Poland away to the Russians. For this great achievement Britain endured a costly and bloody war for six years! Was that journey really necessary?

Despite the stress of the PM’s job, his unhealthy life-style and obesity, Churchill lived longer than the then prevailing average of 70 years, since he was 83 when he died.

Now compare Churchill’s life to that of poor slender Lynda McCartney, beloved wife of Paul. She was a strict vegetarian, which we are told promotes longevity – more lies! She had an emotionally fulfilling and intellectually and creatively stimulating life with Paul but died far too young of cancer!

I don’t believe in forecasting about people’s health.

If fat and obese people die prematurely, it is as much the responsibility of the British medical profession who ignore and humiliate them, and force them to lose weight before they give them any meaningful treatment, when starting early on any treatment for cancer is crucial to survival.

They know that they have to ration the NHS’s resources, so they talk about self-inflicted diseases through unhealthy life-style choices. Since so many of the population in Britain suffers from varying degrees of obesity, I think it’s now up to 60%, what a masterful stroke to reduce medical care to 60% of the population because their decrepitude is their fault!

It’s not all their fault. It’s the fault of increasingly aggressive socio-economic models that for at least three generations have tempted people with oversized relatively cheap meals to get them to spend their money.

It’s the fault of socio-economic models pushing women into the work place with clever brain washing and under valuing the stay-at-home, what a pejorative phrase right there, lazy wives and mums, who were always the real healthy family and home-makers and the glue of society! Devalue their traditional status!

Force them to work outside for far less than you would pay their male counter parts, thus providing the cheap labour force Britain always relies on from women to immigrants!

Then they don’t have time or energy to shop, prep and cook wholesome healthy meals for their families and they start to rely on cheap, mass-produced nutritionless convenience foods like Vista chow mein, if anyone remembers the 50s and 60s. Thus bumping up the profits of the supermarkets, pushing consumerism and filling the county’s tax coffers.

For child and youth obesity, blame the schools starved of proper funding by successively chiselling Conservative governments, forced to sell off sports fields and reduce break and dinner times to just two short breaks a day because of the hassle of maintaining discipline in oversized schools. These two factors alone have lead to reduced daily exercise.
To compensate, send the kids home, two hours earlier to mainly empty homes, with both parents working, where the bored and emotionally deprived kids compensate with sweet snacks, beyond parental supervision, and then watch the tv, as substitute baby-sitter!

And we wonder at the paucity of proper emotional relationships, huge family break ups through sky-high divorce rates which lead to unhappiness in our most vulnerable and the visual effects of obesity!

Society needs a reset to better than pre-WWII values. Women should no longer be content to be part of the cheap labour force that has brought on the majority of life’s health problems and then to be pilloried for it to boot, as being morally corrupt and lazy because they and their children are now fat!

What a disgraceful world! The worst trick is that the women are the useful idiots who go along with this manipulation of society, thinking it represents freedom to them. Freedom to be an even greater slave than pre-WWII wives and mothers! The only freedom they have gained is the freedom to earn and survive alone, or struggling to raise their kids on even fewer resources.

Last edited 2 years ago by Suzy O'Shea
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Suzy O'Shea

Do you feel better now?

Suzy O'Shea
Suzy O'Shea
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Somewhat Cheryl! LOL!

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Suzy O'Shea

🙂

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Suzy O'Shea

“At the end of it, Britain gave Poland away to the Russians.”
Just for the record, we didn’t give it away – The red army was sitting on it.

Last edited 2 years ago by Terry Needham
Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

It’s a curious take on Churchill also, which seems to reinforce the trope of a gluttonous, brain damaged, lazy sot. Given that he died aged 89 and not at 83, one might question the validity of the other assertions even before considering the conclusions that one might be persuaded to draw from them. And from that consider the further arguments.

Last edited 2 years ago by Al M
Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
2 years ago

I remember a short series that Hugh W-F made about loosing weight; it was some kind of challenge. He spoke to GPs, who said that they were reluctant to point out to overweight patients that their health problems might be related to their weight. Maybe they were afraid of being cancelled by their patients? I’m not sure whether, on the front line, there is much candour regarding this issue.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex Stonor

“loosing weight”
*Losing.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

“Loosing weight” is probably an Olympic sport 
.

Julia H
Julia H
2 years ago

A young woman in her twenties died last year from Covid. Her parents were shocked and devastated, describing her as a happy, bubbly person with no other health problems. The accompanying photograph showed a happy, smiling, morbidly obese young woman with her very fat mum. As long as morbid fatness is not considered a health problem families will continue to be shocked when their ‘healthy’ young people succumb to a serious illness that isn’t influenced by how positive they feel about their bodies.

Last edited 2 years ago by Julia H
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago

“More proof, not that it’s needed, that when discussing fatness, it’s always women who are really at stake ”
I don’t remember “discussing fatness” with any male friends, colleagues…

If you want stop women being at stake, stop being so obsessed with looks.

Invariably, across all my circles, it is women who discuss how good looking / fat / dress of someone on TV

Invariably, it is women (only some though) who clearly have obsessed about their dress, makeup, clothes when coming to work (though of course any rare, isolated instance of some guy making an unwanted pass at a woman would be the dreaded patriarchy at work)

Here is a tip: it’s in your hands, women.

So of course you will keep doing it and blame men.

Mel Bass
Mel Bass
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Lol, I must work with some very strange men, because every day, my male colleagues earnestly discuss their diets, weight and health (sometimes in far too much detail, when it comes to comparing bowel movements!). They are far more obsessed with their weight than all the women I know, whether it’s their own or someone on the TV.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Mel Bass

My generation of men discussed football (interminably) and sighed over the (slightly bonkers) enchantress that was Kate Bush. Note that I said enchantress, not object of lust. My bowel movements were my own affair – who on earth thinks about bowel movement anyway – until they are fifty plus? You should demand a manufacturer’s recall for the urgent replacement of faulty men.

Last edited 2 years ago by Terry Needham
Giles Chance
Giles Chance
2 years ago

I’m a man, 70 years old, and “fat” is not nice. Just so you know, ladies.

Suzy O'Shea
Suzy O'Shea
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

Giles chance! You are preaching to the converted.

You should say ladies and gentlemen. In fact if I had to choose between an obese woman or an obese man, I would say that the men look far worse because they carry all their weight in their bellies. Obese women spread it around far better and are more fortunate in being able to choose fashions to mask some of the “blubber”

Men don’t have that option!

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago

My comment seems to have been removed. I seem to have offended the moderator(s)
Unherd indeed. All I said in essence, was that whether people were fat or thin was a matter of personal choice and was no concern of mine. If the moderator disagrees then perhaps he or she could come btl and explain why I cannot hold that view – exactly.
I went on to ask what stupid people did before the invention of “progressivism”. Seems a fair question, albeit a bit question-beggy. Why can’t I ask?
PS: For the benefit of stupid people, there is no progress in human affairs.

Last edited 2 years ago by Terry Needham
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

You are a racist, sexist, far right, Trump voting bigot for daring to suggest being fat is a choice.

Being fat, just like being gay, is a biological trait determined at birth….
Unlike gender of course which you can change or discard like a waterproof jacket when you feel like.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Thanks for settling that Samir.

Julian Rigg
Julian Rigg
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

I agree eating too many donuts and pasties while doing little exercise is a biological trait.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

It was a good comment and popular, but I think it was probably “c h i c k” that deeply offended one of the feminists and was flagged.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

It was meant tongue in cheek

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
2 years ago

Obesity is a complex medical problem. People who have been sexually abused during childhood can sometimes end up with binge eating disorder. In other words, they try and make themselves fat in order to become less attractive to their abuser and anyone else who migh seek to seually exploit them. People with clinical depression sometimes overeat to try and improve their mood. This applies to men as well as women. Some of the heavy duty medication used to control schizophrenia can result in weight gain.
Obesity also has a hormonal element. For some people, the hormone leptin which controls appetite does not work in relaying the message to the brain that they’ve had enough to eat. This means they will never experience satiety.
As regards women being overindulged, that only amounts to small number of icnredibly privileged women who have always been protected from facing nasty reality and spoilt by their well-meaning parents.
As for men, I don’t think they’re any more inclined to accept responsibility than women are. I’ve certainly come across plenty during my life. One could class Boris Johnson as master of the art of blaming others for their own mistakes.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

“The Health Survey for England 2019 estimates that 28.0% of adults in England are obese and a further 36.2% are overweight but not obese. Obesity is usually defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. … People aged 45-74 are most likely to be overweight or obese.”
That is a whopping 64% pf people in the UK are overweight by a definable measure.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago

“People aged 45-74 are most likely to be overweight or obese.”
Not enough hanky panky.

Satyam Nagwekar
Satyam Nagwekar
2 years ago

Hits the nail right on its head. This bit, however, feels like a cop-out to keep the lynch mob at bay: “Body positivity — the kind practised by cover girls and Instagrammers — isn’t anti-feminist, exactly.” 

Last edited 2 years ago by Satyam Nagwekar
Ray Hall
Ray Hall
2 years ago

What a nasty discriminatory remark ! The lady is not overweight , she is just under-tall.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

I agree.

Julian Rigg
Julian Rigg
2 years ago

I posted, what I considered to be a reasonable comment on this article and it was rejected. UnHerd seems no different to the MSM who don’t publish what they don’t like.
Maybe the moderator is overweight and took personal offence? Who knows? I may never find out but I would be more than happy to hear what Unherd have to say (in public) regarding my rejected comment.
I do not fear the written word or criticism. But please Unherd justify your reasons. Otherwise your just like the MSM and I want my money back.

Last edited 2 years ago by Julian Rigg
Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
2 years ago

‘Type 2 diabetes, for example, is associated with the amount of internal fat around the pancreas:’

For some reason, people have seized on the notion that obesity is responsible for type 2 diabetes.
Wrong, wrong, wrong! There is a strong genetic element to it. It tends to run in families as it does in mine. When I attended a diabetes prevention programme some of the participants were very slim and had never had any issues with weight. I also had a work colleague who was type 2 but had always been slim.
I lost more than 2 stone in weight and was taking regular exercise only to find my blood sugar levels remained exactly the same as they had been at my top weight. Nobody at my local GP surgery was able to explain why. Received wisdom said there should have been a decrease that took me out of the prediabetic range. In fact my blood sugars have been exactly the same for the last 10 years regardless of whether I have overeaten or not.
This whole debate around fat and health is completely pointless when people go around spouting balderdash without having done their research properly.
Obesity is indeed bad for health, but it usually affects you more as you get older, unless you are morbidly obese i.e. have BMI above 40.
The body positivity movement has arisen as an attempt to counter the claims and demands of the fat haters. Fat haters tend to believe that obesity is prevalent amongst the white working classes whom they despise. So obesity is a screen to conceal class hatred on the part of the middle classes.
One charming commenter BTL in the Guardian went so far recently as to suggest that fat people ought to be forcibly weighed in public,and have high calory food forcibly removed from their baskets at the checkout! So much for the so-called progressives.
As long as there are fat haters, there will need to be a body positive movement much as I dislike the more extreme views of the body positives.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
2 years ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

I don’t trust anything that Public Health England puts out when it comes to obesity and diabetes. It was Public Health England that commissioned diabetes prevention courses which were absolute garbage. I attended one that was being run by a shop assistant who knew less than we did about nutrition.Money for old rope, and our taxes have paid out millions to these companies.
Blind bigotry regarding fat people is capable of influencing the bureaucrats at PHE just as much as any others. They are making it sound like obesity is the sole cause of type 2 diabetes which is absolute nonsense. My views are backed up by doctors and dieticians in the US. This does not mean that they think being fat is a good idea – just that mainstream healthcare professionals with lack of access to new and emerging information are repeating the same old mistakes of assuming that everyone can lose weight by eating a little less and moving a little more.
The dietdoctor website explains it all a great deal better – as it is run by doctors and dieticians with training in metabolic issues.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 years ago

No they don’t. I know of 4 men waiting for hip replacements who are obese and nobody has told them they need to lose weight before their ops. They are all in total denial of the fact that they are obese. Whereas the 2 women I know, one who is, slightly overweight, the other more than slightly but not as much as the men, have both been told they won’t get their ops unless they lose, substantial weight.

No ownership from the males and no onus put on them re outcomes of the op. Guilt trips put on the women and they both now feel guilty in that their ops may fail if they don’t lose the weight or they may not get their ops if their weight loss is not enough.

And there may yet be a divorce in one house as both husband and wife are waiting for the same op but with very different pre op instructions which is not good for anyone’ s mental health when you are already in pain.

mos6507
mos6507
2 years ago

Body positivity’s achievement is to expand the definition of attractiveness”
There has been no achievement because that definition hasn’t REALLY expanded. It’s just that people are no longer allowed to admit what turns them on (or off). Moral of the story is that you can’t socially-engineer out core aspects of human nature because they’ve become politically incorrect in current-year. Those who are on that sort of crusade have as impossible a challenge on the left as the right historically had in trying to shame/curtail sexuality before it.
ï»ż

Valerie Taplin
Valerie Taplin
2 years ago

I’d like to see the magazine sales figures for the fat model covers, compared with the usual slim model covers. Probably a PR slant. Fairground side-shows used to charge to see the bearded lady, the fattest lady, the thinnest man, the shortest
, tallest 
Curious spectators paid for the spectacle. It was ever thus.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

20 years ago, I gave up drinking and in 3 months, maybe just under 4, I went from 15st 4lbs to around 11st., and was back riding out jump racehorses, and hunters…. I am still 11st 4lbs.

I took advice from the jockeys, and it worked: The less you eat the less “I am hungry now” your stomach signals your brain! … ” If what goes in does not come out the other end.. it puts on weight”…..and I also love cooking, and the scent from cooking makes one less hungry.

So, look at yourself in the looking glass, be honest and do not self decieve.. it is not difficult.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago

I have a older friend who is somewhat over weight and struggles with it. His doctor tells him, “there are very few obese old people”. Don’t know if this is true or not. But five or six years ago I read a book whose title now escapes me, something like, “Tales from the fat lab,” written by a woman whose academic career researched the health effects of obesity. I loaned it out and never got it back, and just gave up googling for it after five fruitless minutes (wow, has search quality deteriorated). She said, unexpectedly that most, but not all, of the reputed ill-effects of all but morbid obesity can’t be substantiated once confounding factors were controlled for. She was at a Midwest university as I recall. Weird that I can’t find any references to the book. Wonder if she’s been canceled?

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
1 year ago

Women in the workplace do not dress to appeal to men, they dress to compete with other women.