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Column: Dehumanizing of overweight people is wrong, immoral

Nov. 30, 2010

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

In television, movies or online it is no longer socially acceptable to denigrate people based on skin, sexuality, nationality or gender. It does, however, seem to be acceptable, whether it be television, movies or online, to dehumanize people based on weight.

No other prejudice is politically acceptable to be voiced in our society. Obesity is the only physical trait allowed to be publicly satirized for the amusement of the populace. Respect given to obese individuals falls short of that given to thin individuals. Although weight is only one factor in what makes an individual, the obese are treated as a homogenous group unworthy of respect.

Many leading publications, including Men's Health and Marie Claire, employ writers and editors who publish articles treating the overweight as less valuable. They direct disgust toward them or convey hate for them. These are the magazines millions of Americans look to for guidance on their health.

As a result of the backlash from the recent Marie Claire blog post, which put down a new show featuring an overweight couple, society has been forced to re-examine their treatment of overweight people.

Overweight people are exposed on a daily basis to contempt and do not need to have it reinforced by major publications. These harmful words provide society the excuse for various traditions such as fat jokes, social alienation and job discrimination to which they subject the overweight. Rather, these publications need to encourage an understanding of the challenges that everyone faces in the pursuit of a healthy life.

Although some choose not to believe, weight loss can be impaired by a variety of uncontrollable factors. These factors can vary from genetics to psychology. Certain individuals are genetically predisposed to store fat more efficiently for times of famine while others are more efficient at disposing fat for times of plenty. Faced with depression, food is frequently used as a comfort device and some individuals are too lethargic from the depressions to consider exercise.

During my own personal struggle to lose weight, I remember the pain and embarrassment that I felt from my body image. When having to deal with other's negative comments toward my body, the pain was doubled. The path to being healthy is enough work without having to deal with others' ideas about your stomach size.

If you are in the middle of your journey, strive to ignore the negative comments and remember that becoming healthy is a gift you give yourself for the rest of your life. If you are faced with the challenge of negative feedback, remember how you felt in your future treatment of overweight people. Together society can end this negativity by making it completely unacceptable to make fun of overweight individuals simply for enjoyment.

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Article comments

Nov. 30, 2010 at 11:21 a.m.

Rob: Having worked at an unhealthy restaurant for a long time, I can say with great confidence that many of these people bring it on themselves. I have a hard time feeling sympathy for a controllable disability or however you want to label it. Being overweight or obese is a far cry away from being a minority or gay. If these people don't respect themselves then why should I?

Dec. 2, 2010 at 1:41 a.m.

Mizzou Girl: Rob, what you said is really ignorant. Just check a health book or call a doctor, and you will find that being overweight is a struggle for some people, as is depression, anorexia, and other mental disorders. I agree that Hollywood needs to stop making fun of overweight people. They do not put overweight people in serious roles. My only gripe is that obesity is a mental disorder, whereas being a different skin color, sexual orientation, or nationality is not. So, I would be afraid people would categorize the mainstream minorities as diseases as well. HOWEVER, it is true that you can be overweight and PERFECTLY healthy (again, ask a doctor or dietician if you don't believe me). Some people just have different body forms. So, while categorizing overweight people in the same as other minorities can potentially create a misnomer, I'll have to agree with the column and say that, yes, dehumanizing overweight people is wrong and that they should be treated with equal respect. Nice job.

Dec. 3, 2010 at 2:24 p.m.

Tina C.: Well put, Miss Boudreau. I have friends who exercise and eat more responsibly than several people I know, but nevertheless don't fit into the "slim" standards of beauty. I wish the general public would act more encouraging and accepting than denigrating. It's unfair. I used to read Shapely Prose, a really cool self-described "fat acceptance" blog: Sadly, it closed after this summer, but you can still read the archives!

Dec. 4, 2010 at 9:51 p.m.

Andrea K.: Julia - Great column. Thanks for calling attention to issues that really do matter. You are making a difference.

Dec. 12, 2010 at 11:21 p.m.

Jess: As for the Marie Claire article, not only have has the magazine been experiencing the retributions of it based on loss of readership (among other things), but it has also brought a different light to the matter of how far behind we still are, as a society, in our acceptance, tolerance, and prejudices. I appreciate your article in it's honesty, vulnerability, and your decision to publicly make a stance.

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