Fat Is Not The New Black

5 Jun

MPs are considering affording the obese greater protection.

All of us, with no exceptions, are beholden to the accidents of birth. We do not get to determine our gender, race, national origin and, most probably, our sexuality. These are facets of our being that are, without doubt, beyond our control. They are facets that we should never feel the pain of shame for, not from ourselves nor from the bigoted tones of others.

This is not a radical notion, but rather one that is widely accepted, save for a few tin-pot dictatorships of course. However, some people, possibly of an overly-sensitive nature, want to extend the law of discrimination even further. These few, a collection of MPs and so called experts, want those with weight problems to be granted the same protections.

Under the 2010 Equalities Act, it is illegal to harass, victimise, or discriminate against anyone in the UK on the basis of gender, race, sexuality, age, or disability. A report by the All Parliamentary Group on Body Image and the Central YMCA recommended last week that MPs should explore the possibilities of putting ‘appearance-based discrimination’ on the same legal basis as race and sexual discrimination.

It’s hard for me to fully empathise with those that have been traditionally viewed as the victims of discrimination. I’m a healthy, heterosexual, white male. I have, to paraphrase Cecil Rhodes, ‘won in the lottery of life’. However, I do realise that inherent prejudice still exists, even in the most westernised of societies, including the UK. Such prejudice, much of it institutional, has inevitably led to gross disparity and unfairness.

For many women, if not most, they have to work harder than their male counterparts to achieve a similar level of success.  This is not a supposition merely based on the anecdotal, but the empirical too. As of 2011, British women earn, on average, 10.5% less than men, according to the ONS.

The same logic can be extended to those who belong to ethnic minorities. Chris Rock once spoke of how black men in the United States had to excel significantly beyond their white counterparts to enjoy similar fruits of labour. The comedian’s comments are not without a firm basis, as black men in the United States only earn, on average, 65% of what white men do, according to official 2009 census figures. Being party to a group that has been traditionally subjugated and discriminated by men that look like me, is clearly not easy.

Being born female, black, or gay is not a choice. Being fat is. Of course, apologists will bemoan the mass availability of cheap fast-food, basing their argument that widespread obesity is a consequence of societal and economic pressures. While there’s no doubt that modern economic forces and societal norms contribute to obesity, they don’t cause it. Obesity, at its basest level, is a matter of personality responsible.

That’s why the call for fat people to be afforded extra legal protection is not only churlish in the extreme, but a de facto slap in the face to those that have had to struggle against discrimination through no fault of their own but by the mere incidental nature of their birth.

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