Let’s talk about why Cancer Research UK’s latest ad campaign is problematic as fuck, shall we?
'Obesity' is determined by an individual’s BMI - BMI is an outdated tool that doesn’t take into account muscle mass, water retention or physical fitness and wellness. But it’s not about that is it? Because when you say ‘obesity’ we know you’re talking about us. We have more fat than is deemed acceptable by today’s society and we have it in all the wrong places, right? So, we’ll take it as read when you say ‘obesity’ you don’t give a fuck about our BMI, our fitness levels, our muscle mass, our blood pressure or the health of our heart...you’re really just talking about the group of us who look visibly fat which society equates to unattractive and unhealthy yeah?
So, according to Cancer Research UK, ‘obesity’ is the second biggest cause of preventable cancer. OK but can we all agree that blaming an individual for their size by fat shaming them has never once had a positive impact on them mentally or physically? In fact, blaming an individual for their size not only causes emotional and physical damage but would suggest that all fat people are the same, that all weight gain is equal and that being fat is a choice, right?
I mean wouldn’t that be really convenient for society if we could just dump the term 'obesity' at fat people’s feet, tell them that if they don’t “eat less and move more” (which is as effective as America’s abstinence message is in preventing teen pregnancy) that they’ll get cancer and die. I’m sorry, but NO. You don’t get to do that. We are all just going to have to stay with this and do the fucking work and take some responsibility as a society.
Reasons people are fat that no one talks about: (this is not an exhaustive list)
Health. Fat doesn’t mean unhealthy. Society has equated thinness with health. When doctors see a thin person, who is suffering from illness they don’t equate their weight with their health issues. Malnourishment occurs at all sizes. Some people are perfectly nourished, lead a healthy and balanced lifestyle, have a strong and healthy heart and are still classed as overweight or obese on a BMI chart because the BMI chart is antiquated and useless. FACT.
Diet Culture. Diet culture is one of the main causes of obesity and sets in motion the obesity cycle that once started is nearly impossible to break. A cycle of calorie counting, points counting, ‘syn’ counting, self-loathing and the perpetual loss and gain where you lose a few stone and gain 5 back every time. (I know because I’ve done them all and I’ve been doing them since I was 14) Diet culture is one of the most damaging aspects of weight gain and you’ll be happy to know that Caner Research UK is in partnership with Slimming World… so there you go.
Mental Illness. From medication weight gain to gaining weight in recovery from an eating disorder to conditions like mine (every depressive episode I binge eat) to PTSD to obsessive compulsive disorder to bipolar disorder… the list is long and complex. What are we going to do as a society to help the most fragile amongst us? Just keep shouting “eat less and move more” at us? With an NHS that is already stretched to breaking point, what good are these billboards doing when we can’t even access the help that we so desperately need with the cause of our weight gain never mind accessing help with the effects?
Poverty. Poverty and ‘obesity’ are undenibly linked. Families who struggle to afford gas and electricity, who can feed their whole family cheaply, with the highest number of calories that will hopefully leave them fuller for longer. Food that is hot, fried and is cheap. Parents who work long hours for little pay, children who are fed crap at school by our government, people who live off of tinned food from foodbanks. No fresh fruit, no fresh vegetables, no perishable donations accepted. Poverty. What are we going to do about providing deep nutrition for the poorest members of society? Shall we just tell them to “eat less and move more”?
‘Obesity’ is societies problem NOT any one individuals and putting up a billboard to scare fat people into losing weight is disgraceful but let me tell you what’s even worse… I’ve written about this before (see ‘You Get to Comment on my Body…NEVER!’) and I’m writing about it again. I won’t stop writing about this until something changes. What’s worse is medical fat phobia. ‘Obesity’ might be tenuously linked to causing cancer (CRUK have admitted there is a correlation but they have no idea what it is about obesity that’s causing cancer) but what’s worse is that cancer will take longer to be identified in fat people that it will in thin people.
When fat people go to the doctor, which is less often than thin people because we are constantly fat shamed when we go, about their health issues cancer is often missed because of medical fat phobia and the doctor’s inability to see past weight and deal with the medical problem, instead offering weight loss advice. Falling into medicines ‘obesity’ category means cancer is missed more often and so it grows to a point where early intervention becomes impossible. Would ‘obesity’ still be the second largest cause of preventable cancer if doctors looked passed our weight and treated us like human beings? Would obesity be the second largest cause of preventable cancer if all medical staff took the HAES (Heath at Every Size) approach to medicine*?
If we are going to challenge ‘obesity’ and its adverse effects some of which may lead to cancer then we all better be ready to roll up our sleeves and do the work as a society. Fat and the way we view it has got to change. The way we approach weight-loss and how we view physical health and fitness has got to change. The way we as fat people are discriminated against, portrayed in the media and popular culture has got to change. I’m fully here for this conversation but I’m not doing the work by myself, if you are not a part of the solution then you ARE the problem.
HAES UK is an independent non-profit group based in the UK supporting the HAES® (Health At Every Size) approach to health care and policy. It is open to all who support its mission:
HAES® promotes wellbeing through equality and compassionate self-care. It recognises that people of all weights benefit from healthful behaviours and being treated with respect, and so shifts its focus from weight-control for some to health-gain for all.
1. Respect, including promoting body diversity and fostering size acceptance: respect everybody and challenge all forms of stigma.
2. Compassion in healthcare and self-care: supporting people to develop a healthy and happy (mindful/intuitive) attitude towards eating and other aspects of wellbeing.
3. Criticality: Recognising the impact of bias on societal assumptions about health, weight and lifestyle, learning to think critically about equality and build a useful and inclusive evidence base for practice.