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Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Truly madly obesely

Your doctor can no longer call you fat. New guidelines from NSW Health are encouraging GPs to discuss weight in a ‘positive and non-judgemental manner’. When their tubby patient comes in and they have to deliver the news they can no longer use words such as obese. They have to say that you are ‘well above a healthy weight.’

Personally I think it’s a good idea. Fat people know they’re fat. It’s not a surprise. They are reminded every day when they can’t get their pants on. They spend most of their days feeling ugly, despised and ridiculed. The world yells ‘FAT’ at them constantly. They go to the doctor for encouragement, not more of the same.

Fat people don’t actually want to be fat. If you know anything about addictive compulsive behaviour you know that words such as obese, and worse, morbidly obese, just make people eat more. It’s how the self-loathing loop works. If you’re carrying some extra tum, having some smug prick in a medical centre call you ‘morbidly obese’ isn’t going to do much for your self-esteem. Be much more effective if they said ‘you have lovely eyes.’ Morbid is not an adjective anyone wants to sit before their condition. Imagine being told you are ‘morbidly bald’ or ‘ morbidly boring.’

Fat people used to enjoy stereotypes that engendered good cheer, so why wouldn’t you say ‘generously obese’ or ‘hysterically obese’? I like the word cuddly. I think that would be quite a nice way to describe an overweight person. You could be ‘cuddly’, ‘very cuddly’ and ‘fricking awesomely cuddly’. Conversely thin people get to experience some of the negative press that they’ve always avoided. We could call thin people ‘not cuddly’ and see how long it took before they hated themselves as much as very very cuddly people do. Just because you’re fat it doesn’t mean you should have to experience such nasty adjectives. Fat people need self esteem too. To do something about your chub you need to have as much self-esteem as you can muster.

I think it’s about time doctors learnt how to deal with patients sensitively, to learn how to deliver health messages with empathy and kindness. The AMA aren’t happy about it. They’ve enjoyed calling every second patient a fat bastard. Now doctors have to be nice to fat people. It’s like being kind to smokers. How can we expect health professionals to deliver compassion and sensitive esteem-building language to people who seem to be causing their own health problems? We love blaming the victim. We say, well it was your choice to eat. Nobody put that Big Mac in your hand. It was you behind the wheel in the drive thru. But is it really that simple? People who believe that ‘choice’ is the answer miss the more complex web of socio-economic drivers. Choice misses the effects of gender, or race, of education and of poverty. With escalating obesity rates perhaps it’s time to stop blaming every person who scores well above a healthy weight on their F-ATAR for being lazy, indolent, indulgent, self-abusing. Perhaps it’s time to look at systemic influences.

It’s not the fault of the fat person for being fat. It’s an obesogenic environment. You have to look at the cause of the cause of the cause, and up till now all anyone ever looks at with obesity is the first cause: eating too much. But why do people eat too much? Misery? Poverty? Lack of education? Depression? A sense of alienation and loneliness? Then what causes that? Capitalism. It’s simple. In a system that drives over-consumption why are we surprised that people are ‘well above a healthy weight’? If you want to get rid of obesity, and thus reduce the need to use ‘positive’ language, then perhaps it’s time to get rid of capitalism. But somehow I don’t get doctors getting onboard with that either.

Perhaps we in turn should start using language to describe privilege with such negative connotations. I dream of a day when the Packers and Rhineharts of this world are referred to as ‘morbidly affluent’. Until then, give us fatties a break.


2 responses to “Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Truly madly obesely”

  1. Malcolm Ross says:

    Damn those money making Capitalists. Its their fault you and I are fat, I blame Packer and Rinehart too for my lazy attitude. Not the fact I stuff myself with (healthy ) rubbish and do no exercise its all those Fat Capitalists fault
    Oh hang on…Packers not too fat , Dick Smith…NOOO Twiggy Forrest…nooo , Take a look in the mirror , and stop blaming everyone but yourself..oops Im offended
    Welcome to the Monkey House.
    Kurt Vonnegut better read it…
    You’re in it

  2. bifida says:

    Hey Mandy,
    firstly, stop blaming doctors…the Drs in Mullum and Ocean Shores are fantastic so first up, stop the doctor bashing.
    Doctors are actually just trying to help people with the tools available and are also subject to ‘the system’, to time constraints, to budgeting constraints etc. I know plenty of overweight doctors so even doctors are subject to the underlying emotional/gut/hormonal issues which often drive illhealth. None of these terms were initially intended to be derogatory, they were just descriptors. To a doctor, the term obese is simply a descriptor. It is unfortunate that over time, many words become insulting (they are used as pejoratives and become insults) and sadly this speaks volumes about human mentality. The words ‘cretin’ and ‘spastic’ jump to mind immediately but the list is neverending…it will continue to grow…
    Even the word Asshole used to be a simple description of the external sphincter of the gastrointestinal tract.

    Secondly, Capitalism may be behind obesity but the root issue always comes back to the Buddhist precepts of greed, anger and ignorance. Yes many have been ignorant of research which was published in the 70s around the link between sugar and obesity. (It was honestly just available in mainstream press as i read about it in the Readers Digest in 1976). Yes there was greed from industry to create ignorance in government as to what was really going on around health and nutrition for the last 30 or so years. I guess that is even more likely to happen if sugar cane or high fructose corn syrup are driving forces in the economy) But writing articles where you pretend that avoiding inflammatory foods like gluten is just a trendy fad is part of perpetuating that ignorance, isnt it…
    By the way, you have lovely eyes!

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Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

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