Too fat to fit in!

Published: October 24, 2012
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The truth is that fat jokes are not a problem, as long as they linger in a rhetorical realm of comedy, and don’t come out as applied comedy. PHOTO: REUTERS

It’s a curious state to be at constant war with your own anatomy.  To perceive your body, as an unsightly prison, confining a thinner, much prettier person, struggling to burst out like an alien spawn. Obesity has a tendency to precipitate a sense of self-loathing which is so profound, that it begins to exact a toll on more than just one’s physical health.

Despite the boundaries of political correctness ceaselessly contracting, most people still feel comfortable developing low opinions of people based simply on their weight. This is because in an average person’s mind, obesity is a condition that a person brings upon himself. In other words, the fat person is just ‘asking for it’.

 Fat prejudice is often portrayed as something benign, or even charitable, because it acts as a deterrent for obesity.  In fact, the term ‘fat prejudice’ itself sounds like a fictitious crisis invented by grouchy, fat people who simply can’t take a joke.

The truth is that fat jokes are not a problem, as long as they linger in a rhetorical realm of comedy, and don’t come out as applied comedy. They mustn’t be used to encourage prejudice against the overweight, by equatingobesity with laziness or incompetency.

There are studies emerging from around the world confirming discrimination against overweight individuals in job interviews and workplace. Harassment is increasingly becoming a problem.

Your ostensibly harmless comment to a fat person about her weight may not come off as the kind of motivation you hope it’d be. It may instead leave the recipient of this unsolicited advice utterly devastated. Perhaps it did not occur to you that this person spent half an hour in front of a mirror, surveying every inch of her body, trying to assure herself that she does not look ‘too fat’. She musters a great deal of courage to step out in public, just to hear you tell her the one thing she absolutely does not want to hear.

While it appears to be more common among women, guys too are often quite sensitive about the way their look.

It has become somewhat obsolete to think of this conundrum in such simplistic terms as overeating minus exercise equals obesity. Science has identified a plethora of conditions that cause a person to gain weight, some of which may be beyond his or her control.

Certain prescription drugs, like the tricyclic antidepressants, are notorious for causing weight gain. This reminds me of a young suicide survivor I’d known back when I was receiving my medical training at the psychiatry unit. She had been receiving such medication for months. Upon her discharge, she was greeted by a horde of relatives, one of whom yelled:

“Aray, wah! Tum itni moti ho gayi!”

(Oh wow! You’ve become so fat!)

I buried my face into my palms, understanding well that this was merely the first of a series of unflattering comments and judgemental looks she was about to receive. I thanked the Almighty that the antidepressants hadn’t worn off yet.

Hormonal imbalances have long been known to contribute to the same problem. A constellation of genetic factors has been implicated as well.

Some people have jobs requiring less physical exertion than others. Students are often, if not always, observed to gain weight before examinations. It makes sense since it’s significantly harder to concentrate on one’s studies while being in a hypoglycaemic state. When you’re hungry enough, then ‘not eating’ becomes a full-time activity.

While these conditions may not be enough to cause obesity on their own, they most certainly can complicate the process of losing weight.

This should not serve as an excuse for overweight people to slump back in their cushy chairs. One mustn’t be left with the notion that his weight problem is entirely beyond his capacity to remediate.  The role of will power and determination here cannot possibly be depreciated.

It is, however, imperative to acknowledge that losing weight is variably difficult for different individuals. Just because you have managed to maintain your weight within a healthy range, does not mean that the task should be equally uncomplicated for everybody else.

Read more by Faraz here or follow him on Twitter @FarazTalat

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.