Recently I walked into my local swimming pool at 6.30am. Among the swimmers wiping sleep from their eyes, there was one woman racing up, down, up, down, up, barely raising her head for breath. What assumptions are you already making about her? Keen? yes. Fit? clearly. Thin? no. At between a size 16-18, this woman is proof of what some people seem to disbelieve, you do not have to be thin to fit.
The word fat has become a general term of abuse. I have often heard it directed towards anyone seen to be eating more than people think they should. In those terms I would definitely describe myself as fat. I LIKE FOOD, I'm not ashamed of this, eating at nice restaurants, crisps in front of a film or cooking at home, food is my hobby. Yet, according to the terms of an article posted on the Daily Mail online, I wonder if I would qualify as a 'fat person'. The article talked about seeing women's "billowing pillows of fat and lady legs", in a queue at airport security. The writer implies that seeing an overweight person qualifies you to judge their life. I personally have no "billowing pillows" and yes I do exercise to try and work off my hobby's calories. But mentally I am a fat person, so why do we only judge those that we can see carry a lot of excess weight?
I have met many people of size 10 and under whose eating habits are appallingly unhealthy. A case in point was a woman I knew who ate crisps, chips, takeaways, any food that came in a dull shade of beige. The reason she was a svelte size 8, was because she only ate one meal, packed with rubbish, a day. Surely no one would seriously suggest that this person has a healthy lifestyle simply because she is thin? We cannot see what is going on inside our bodies and if we are apparently trying to talk health rather than image prejudice it is clear snap judgments cannot be made.
As Dr Jimmy Bell, professor of molecular imaging, says, "being thin doesn't automatically mean you're not fat. The whole concept of being fat needs to be redefined". In fact a study carried out in America which tracked the cardiovascular health, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar of over a million people found that 24% of 'thin' adults had extremely unhealthy levels of at least two risk factors. In comparison the study showed that 1 in 3 obese people were fighting fit.
Singers are a fantastic example of a group in society who all, regardless of size, need to be at the peak of fitness. In May critics reviewing the Glyndebourne Opera Festival caused controversy by writing about a singers 'chubby' physique before mentioning her voice. Recently I talked to a young opera singer to find out whether there is a discrimination against plus sized women and whether she thinks larger women are considered to be simply lazy.
Me: As someone that stands in front of audiences for a living do you think anyone would judge your dress size before your voice?
S: Definitely. If you're seen before heard then what you look like is the first impression that the audience is going to get and so that is how they will judge you. Then you have to win them back with your voice. I've actually made a snap judgment myself recently - seen a singer walk out on to the platform in a competition and think no, that won't work she's too big, she doesn't have the right image. Then the singer totally won me back with her voice. And I bet I wasn't the only one in the audience who judged her like that.
Me: Do you ever feel the need to prove yourself in life to show people that your not someone that just sits on the sofa eating crisps?
S: Yes. I would love to take those that have previously criticised me to the gym and see if they can actually keep up. But that would never happen so you just have to accept that they will think whatever they choose to think and unless you change your appearance you won't change their opinion.
Me: The writer of the Daily Mail article condemning overweight young people said that the way to solve obesity problems was to stop skirting around the issue and say fat. Would it help you in any way to lose weight if someone called you a 'fat person'?
S: Ha no. It would make me angry/sad and want to eat a lot. I have been told I should lose some weight by people in the profession so I did to prove that I could, but I never really had any intention of keeping it up because I was happy as I was. However about a month ago I did make this decision to try to lose weight. The reason for this came from all the hoo hah at Glyndebourne, looked at pictures of the singer and saw she wasn't fat at all! But if people are going to be obsessed with image then directors and casting agents are going to have to bow down to this obsession too. I realised that I'm not going to be cast if I'm a size 16. I'm not letting something stupid like that get in the way of all my hard work and vocal training. So now I will bow down to the obsession too and lose the weight. But it's different because its my decision not someone directly telling me I'm fat or to lose weight.
The Daily Mail article has generated nearly 3,000 comments. One reader ridiculed the idea that overweight people are necessarily unfit as an "uneducated generalisation". Despite this another has given 'advice' to fat people telling them to "get off the couch and put down the twinkies". So clearly the prejudice continues.
It is a fact that obesity is not healthy, it can be the cause of a range of medical problems internally and with bones and joints. But hopefully it is clear to all apart from the single minded that we cannot judge people's lifestyle based on what we see. Any article or comment made by an individual thinking that they have the right to berate anyone else's lifestyle is wrong.