Is it Prejudiced to Be 'Prejudiced' Against the Obese?

15/09/2012 23:18 BST | Updated 14/11/2012 10:12 GMT

I've been engrossed in the new HBO documentary 'The Weight of the Nation'. With HBO making the best TV shows that exist out there, and done in conjunction with the CDC -the go to place for stats and figures- it was always going to be fascinating. But, one episode that really caught my attention was an eye-opening investigation on the stigma associated with being obese. An area that is afforded disproportionally minuscule attention given how obsessed we have become with weight and its physiological effects.

Quite frankly, some of the ways the obese are treated are nothing short of abuse, with bigoted, narrow minded views reminiscent of those that used to be reserved for the homosexual community. Unfortunately, it is not even possible for the obese to hide who they are from the asinine intolerance.

For example, in a survey of how people perceive the obese, the most common stereotypes listed were;

  • Lazy
  • Lacking discipline
  • Lacking willpower
  • Unintelligent
  • Sloppy
  • Unsuccessful
  • Dishonest

That you could be stigmatised with such labels based on your weight is truly a damming endictment of the ignorance and lack of awareness that our society is guilty of. There is no justification to be derogatory, ridicule or exclude anyone because of their weight, especially with the many imbecilic examples listed above that are seemingly common place. And, we especially have no justification to openly criticise and embarrass individuals to go to the extent of removing items from an obese person's shopping cart under the logic that 'they are not good for them' - yes, this does happen.

And in an ideal world, my posting would stop here. But really, is the answer as simple as this, or is it sometimes more complex and layered than we publicly like to admit? Can we honestly group weight with the likes of ethnicity, religion or gender - rightly guaranteed to incite public outrage? Or, could the converse be possibly true, that 'pc' has gone mad, and the encouragement of an idealistic all encompassing society to pacify and appease this group does no one any favours?

The show examines the obstacles that the obese encounter, including when it comes to employment, and raises concern that there is no legislation in place for those who have been biased against because of weight. But really, should there be?

Don't get me wrong there's no question of bigotry if an ice-cream shop owner refuses to hire an obese individual on the grounds that 'I fear you will eat all the stock and make the company lose money' - an example given- and he should undoubtedly face punitive recourse. However, what if you had two matched individuals with the only real discerning difference being their weights, are you really wrong to pass on the obese individual? What if I were to inform you that obese employees on average are absent from work up to an extra week per year due to obesity related diseases, and when they are in work they exhibit significantly greater 'presenteeism' (lower productivity) and claim more in medical expenses. That in the US alone obesity costs employers $70 billion annually...

Or, how about a trip to the doctor's office. Under no circumstances should a doctor be dismissive, judgemental or condescending to any individual. But, what about becoming exasperated or disheartened? You may be fed up of your ailments being put down to your weight, want your doctor to look past this, and accept your body shape for what it is, but should they?

With obesity being a major risk factor for practically every chronic disease and poor wellbeing, is it not pertinent to address this? If you refuse to, happy with who you are, in favour of a likely life of drug dependence instead, does the doctor not have the right to be that bit annoyed that you are twisting their arm in a direction that is not in the best interest of your health?

Or, romantic encounters and partnerships. Everyone wants to find and deserves love, to meet that someone special to share the wonder of life with. And, it was truly heartbreaking to see the young girls broken down in tears because they could not meet someone due to their weight. But, whose, if anyone's, fault is it?

Can we really blame the opposite sex if on an evolutionary, biological and genetic level they do not find an obese individual sexually attractive? Is it really as simple as one interviewee explained 'it's just not fashionable, it's not in, to be obese', believing that if the likes of the media propagate the message that obese is sexy we will follow?

Whether we want to admit it or not, obesity is the biggest threat to the health, welfare and future of our society, and if left unreined the repercussions will be so vast, to the extent of obliterating society as we know it. Let's re-emphasize that there is absolutely no justification to stigmatize or condemn another individual based on their weight. And, ideally it would stop there, end of. But, the inconvenient truth is that in certain situations uncomfortable questions must be asked.

Ambrose Bierce defines prejudice as "a vagrant opinion without visible means of support." Though it may not rest easy with us to admit it, is the support not so visible that in certain situations it is not prejudiced to be 'prejudiced' against the obese?