A “FAT pride” conference starting today will hear how “fat subjects” are presented as “enemies of the state” and “weightism” is used to deny fat people their human rights.
The New Zealand conference features Australian speakers, including keynote speaker Samantha Murray from Macquarie University. Dr Murray describes herself as a “Fat Studies scholar… engaged in an ongoing fat activist project… a feminist who remains (and identifies as) fat.”
Despite dire warnings from the scientific community that obesity is one of the biggest health threats of our times, fat acceptance and fat pride movements are big in the US, and have been growing here, particularly through online communities referred to as the “Fatosphere”.
Activists argue that the obesity epidemic is more of a panic; that people can be healthy at any size; and that discrimination against fat people is a social justice issue.
Conference speaker and University of Melbourne PhD candidate Jackie Wykes’ abstract says: “Fat subjects are produced as irresponsible and therefore as unworthy, and this is used to justify the (threatened or actual) denial of health care, transport, education, employment, representation and dignity”.
The movement aims to replace “fat shame” with fat acceptance, pride and celebration.
Organiser Cat Pause (yes, really) could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Obesity expert Boyd Swinburn, director of the World Health Organisation’s Collaborative Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University, said the fat acceptance movement was not as strong here as it is in the US, but he can understand why it exists.
Professor Swinburn said fat people did suffer a lot of prejudice but it was important that fat pride movements did not diminish the health effects of obesity.
“Anyone who works in the field has quite a lot of sympathy for the movement – for the people trying to maintain a sense of self esteem, to create a community and get some support,” he said.
“What I don’t think is appropriate is if the obesity epidemic as a whole is diminished by doing that. We can have both things.
“There are a lot of studies to show obese people are prejudged in social situations and employment and so on.”
Obesity has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of death and illness in Australia. Most Australians are overweight and about a quarter are obese.
Being overweight or obese contributes to the risk of heart disease and strokes, diabetes, some cancers, and many other health problems.