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The perceived criminality of obesity

Published Jul 03, 2012 03:10pm


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-Photo by Eefa Khalid/

With jokes based on one’s race, gender, ethnicity and religion becoming increasingly distasteful, obesity is among the very few traits left marooned on the island of politically-correct satire. It’s important to acknowledge that in Pakistan, obesity and ‘fat acceptance’ rightfully take the backseat in the presence of more dire matters. Poverty, hunger, misogyny and sectarian violence easily trump all other social woes in a bigger picture. However, for those afflicted with problems like obesity, these seem anything but trivial.

The entertainment industry is known to go out of its way to avoid anthropomorphizing large individuals. In most television shows, they’re usually portrayed as villains, delinquents and failures. In many cases, they are employed merely to provide comic relief. It is highly unlikely to find an obese character depicted as a normal, functional human. Never as a protagonist, and almost always as the protagonist’s goofy or incompetent buddy.

Consequentially, it’s becoming progressively more taxing to ward off hurtful stereotypes. Fat people are widely perceived as lazy and clumsy, with little or no self-control. It came as no surprise when a study published in the International Journal of Obesity earlier this year, claimed widespread discrimination against plus-sized people in the workplace. While a study of this nature has not been conducted specifically for the Pakistani society, it’s axiomatic that if such discrimination exists in more socially-secure and educated nations, it exists here too.

Having a weight problem of my own, I’m very particular about the kind of foods I eat in public venues and large social gatherings. I’m acutely aware of several pairs of eyes keenly observing the amount of food on my plate, as their minds attempt to psychoanalyze me. Most overweight people I know are quite shy, often enduring great pains to avoid causing any discomfort to people around them because of their larger sizes.

The generally accepted view is that fat people deserve such humiliation because unlike many other factors, motapa is what a person brings upon himself or herself. That’s a grossly reductionist and mean-spirited approach. While a picture of a fat policeman is likely to outrage us and make us question the competency of the force, an image of a smoking policeman isn’t. This is because the sickly black lungs of the smoking officer are invisible to us, while the obese man’s vice is a lot more visual. Therefore, the obese person will elicit a far more negative reaction from the public.

Science had once almost closed the file at the finding that eating excessively results in obesity, scientists are now asking why people eat excessively. Beneath the veneer of free will, a man is a prisoner of his internal biochemistry.

It’s not about genetics alone. There are many acquired factors involved that may be beyond an individual’s control. For instance, studies show that H Pylori, bacteria normally found in our stomachs (the inordinate growth of which is infamous for causing ulcers), is associated with an increased production of the hormone ghrelin, which suppresses one’s appetite. People lacking sufficient populations of H pylori in their stomachs, are always hungrier than others and gain more weight. This is, of course, just one example. There are many genetic, epigenetic, hormonal and irrepressible environmental factors that may result in weight gain. The idea that just because you are thin, means that it should be an equally simple task for everybody else is an unreasonable one.

Nevertheless, the role of will power and self-determination cannot be downplayed. While obese people should admit at least some responsibility for their condition and must be motivated to lose weight for the sake of their own health, this motivation must not come through social admonishment. It is a known fact that you cannot shame or harass an individual into changing his lifestyle. You may only reason with him, without being condescending and overstepping your boundaries.

Fat acceptance is not about denying the health problems associated with obesity. It is the acknowledgement of a person’s autonomy over his own physical self. It is a rejection of stereotypes that dehumanize large individuals, and unjustly reduce them all to lazy simpletons. It’s about comprehending the scientifically established fact that losing weight is harder for some than it is for others, and most importantly, about civil coexistence with those who look different.

The author is a doctor from Rawalpindi who writes mostly about science and prevalent social issues. He tweets @FarazTalat.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (29) Closed

Sandeep Jul 04, 2012 05:54am
Excellent article. Very much the first of its kind, for me atleast. Thank you Faraz!
Dr. Talha Imam Jul 03, 2012 04:49pm
Well written. However I believe (with very rare medicallly related diseases) fat people are Mota because of their own overeating and lack of physical activity. As far as science is concerned we can find articles about just any fact we want to prove or disprove. I believe a major reason obesity is so perevalent in USA because fat people are not fat , they are "Big". That has taken away the stigma, made them "normal" and acceptable. This further reinforces a persons's obesity. Bad things and attitudes need to be stigmatized so that one can try to chnage and improve. How can you do this if you are made to feel all is well and your behavior is normal ?
Nut Case Jul 16, 2012 12:58pm
What you have described is unhealthy junk food of Indian Subcontinent , Parantha , Samosa , Pakora were never everyday food items till a centrury ago. In fact the south asian food has become unhealthy after green revolution. Prior to green revolution people used to eat a lot of different grains such as millets ( jwar , bajra , jau , jai etc) known as mota anaj , A lot more green leafy vegitables and lot less fat as the dairy production was minimal. White polished rice , refined sugar and refined floor ( maida) were mainly used for special occasions and thus was food of rich. Aftar introduction of Canal irrigation Ghee , white rice and refined sugar and floor became available in abundence and masses moved to consume food of rich and diet became unbalanced.
Laconic Jul 04, 2012 09:17am
A good writer, for me, is naked to the world. Meaning that they are an open autobiographical book. I really enjoyed reading this and I think it may have changed my perception of this issue. Thank you for doing that. Sincerely, A-gym-junkie.
BRR Jul 03, 2012 05:21pm
Being fat is often a symptom of something, the root cause of which, if determined, allows one to handle life's problems better. Eating too much can be a psychological problem, and such obesity is not just a physical problem but psychological too. Managing one's weight, if possible, leads to a better quality of life.
Miss syed Jul 03, 2012 04:00pm
My sister who is 14 year old suffered from obesity since she was very young. i can tell you exactly how ridiculously my cousins and khandaan waley made fun of her to her face , humiliated her. her self-esteem died. literally!!! i couldn't believe it. Thanks to our eldest sister who gave her the strength and confidence to do what was un doable. she lost around 18 kgs over a period of 6 months through exercise, diet control and activity. the result being. Same khandaan waley come and ask for fitness tips for their own fat kids.. Remember WHAT GOES AROUND, COMES AROUND.
loneliberalpk Jul 04, 2012 06:10am
I don't precisely agree that the South Asian diet is balanced. Our parathas, greasy curries, fried pakoras and samosa are all fairly unhealthy foods which people eat on a regular basis. Parathas made in desi ghee are a breakfast favorite for many. I'd say the Western diet is almost as healthy, if not more. Remember that Western diet consists of more than just McDonalds and sugary drinks. They've got many vegetable and fruit based foods too, plus foods like tofu that are not found often in South Asia.
loneliberalpk Jul 04, 2012 06:14am
I doubt if there's a fat person on earth who believes his size and his behavior are "normal". They're all well-informed of the harms of what they're doing, they just have a harder time to stop doing it. There are scientifically explained reasons for that. As the author implies, just because you've managed to keep your weight within a normal range does not mean the task is equally simple for every other human being too.
Mudassir Khan Jul 04, 2012 07:15am
Losing weight is the game of concentration and commitment. One just has to be focused! Patience is also required if you want to shed extra pounds.
Shafqaat Bukhari Jul 04, 2012 07:17am
Very well crafted suggestions and recommendations!
Goga Nalaik Jul 04, 2012 07:21am
Sir jee Tofu is a soft cheese produced in China, it doesn't come from the West!
DPD Jul 04, 2012 07:42am
Subcontinetal diets vary differently but overall they are healthier, if not as balanced as western diets. the westen preponderance on fatty meats is the primary cause. And they do consume vegetables but the preperations are often tasteless(boiled , salted and peered0 as compared to our preparations which make them more palletable. And soya tofu may have more protien but it is also high in fat. Have plain soyabean instead, it is more filling.
ahmed41 Jul 04, 2012 08:02am
Whatever it is about 'Motapa', one thing is certain: It is healthier to be of normal weight. A well thought out lifestyle does help.
R. Faruqi Jul 04, 2012 10:10am
Very true. I'm impressed. I'm a patient of arthritis and mostly keep sitting with my computer or books or TV. But I give myself some credit that i haven't allowed any weight gain by simply controlling my diet. i don't starve, i eat all my favorite things but sensibly. Salads, fruits and vegetables make most of the part of my foods. I drink a lot of water and I completely say no to bakery products, and take negligible quantity of juice or soft drink; minimum bread and rice and that's it. I envy those who can jog, or work out!!!
atta Jul 03, 2012 04:24pm
Humiliation is not acceptable to a fat or lean person. Opposite to obesity, anorexia nervosa is an other social and eating disorder. Minus few cases of genetic reasons, most of the time obesity can be controlled by life style modification. It is not only how much we eat but also what we eat, and how much physical activity we do is also very important. The message to eat the right amount and kind is very important. Obesity usually lead many other secondary problems, e.g diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholestrol, and stress on our joints.
Mudassir Khan Jul 04, 2012 04:51am
Mudassir Khan Jul 04, 2012 04:53am
It is like making fun of yourself. People should motivate others instead of making fun, especially if you are dealing with kids.
Naveed A. Jami Jul 04, 2012 12:58pm
The probelm with being fat or fit is that it has its links to eating. Reading this article I wanna have some more guiltfree glossy greasy foods for another layer of hard lard on me.
Labad Jul 03, 2012 11:16pm
Food is the main source for essential nutrients for our body. Hunger is the mechanism which triggers the body to search for nutrients through food. Therefore hunger kicks in when the body does not get adequate nutrients. Typically a balanced diet of about 2,000 calories consisting of unprocessed natural foods is all we need. But when we eat processed foods with all nutrients stripped off, then even a diet of 3,000 calories may not fulfill our nutritional requirements. So we still feel hungry and keep eating. This causes obesity. But with a natural high-fiber diet, there will be no hunger for hours. Even a small child bripought up on natural foods knows how much food is necessary, and will never overeat. But give them processed foods and they soon become obese. The solution is clear. But our food industry only makes money by processing food. A kg of potatoes becomes ten time more expensive (and unhealthy) when processed into potato chips. People eat the potato chips and get obese, and the food company makes money. The south Asian diet is one of the most balanced. Dawn readers, please try natural (mainly vegetarian) unprocessed diet for a few weeks and you will see a miracle. Lots of veggies, some basic grains like roti or brown rice, dal, and (if you wish) little meat is what I'm talking about here. You'll do your loved ones a big favor.
saythetruth Jul 03, 2012 11:09pm
Very common problem of Khandaan Walla always looking for easy target "kids" to make fun of and to get even with the other family members. Obesity is big problem and requires long term support from the family members. One can not control obesity alone it has peaks high and lows, you will loose weight and than you will gain weight again if you are not careful. The bottom line is you have to keep it low most of the time by doing exercise and good eating habits.
saythetruth Jul 03, 2012 10:00pm
Why follow western trends of excuses for being fat and calling a fat person obesit to sound more humane. The root cause of obesity is over eating and no workout. West is driven by diet full of sugar and carbs from morning coffee to dinner, too many calories. The west is killing itself for over eating and it is a huge burden on the society. You don't get fat in a day and you don't become thin overnight either. Everybody is looking for miracle drug for weight loss, smoking etc and as of today all the drug based cures are useless creates more health problems and benefits are very few. In other word from one addiction to the other addiction, net result over all poor health condition. We must ask ourselves, why in a poor country like Pakistan we see in all major cities like Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar etc so many fast people. The answer is too much work/strees to keep up with the Jones and no work out. How our body reacts to food varies from person to person. A person with good body metabolism could eat a lot but will not gain any weight at all but on the other hand a person with poor body metabolism will gain weight even with moderate eating and no work out. Now the question is what are you suppose to do ? following is the article complete missed it and may be it will help some of you. 1. Eat with moderation (Drink two glasses of water before lunch and dinner) it will make you feel full and you will eat less. 2. Reduce sugar (soft drink a big NO), stay away from saturated fat (common in processed dairy product) 3. No more Ghee switch use Canola oil ( Ghee was used by farmer to keep them going all day of hard work we are not living on a farm and Ghee us very unhealthy us) 4. The most important way to reduce weight fast is to introduce workout in your life style and following are my suggestion I have used and it work Introduce “5J/30/60 2R program” in you life stylke. I t simply mean 4 day of Jogging 30 to 60 minutes and 2 days of rest. Start with moderate Jogging anywhere in a park street depending on your area. Invest in good shoes for jogging and may be some inexpensive clothes (no shalwar kamiz , it is a good dress but not appropriate for jogging). Start with 30 minutes and increase it to 60 minutes as your body allows. It will be difficult in the beginning and most of the time you will feel down because you will not lose weight immediately and your silly friends will tease you but within 15~20days you will see the difference. It can take maximum of 60 days to follow the plan to get to 60 minutes of jogging, you will lose weight and you will love yourself. Keep in mind jogging raises your body temperature and when your body temperature increases you lose weight. If you simply walk it has it’s benefit but walking alone will not make you lose weight. 30 minutes of Walking = Almost no weight loss, Improve your muscle strength and it will help your overall health 30 minutes of Running= Weight loss, Increase Muscle strength, Obesity gone, diabetes gone Don't lose weight to look good, lose weight so that you can improve quality of your life. I have done it, requires commitment and I did it for myself and my family.
loneliberalpk Jul 03, 2012 09:40pm
It could be psychological, neurological, hormonal....there are many causes of obesity, and not nearly as simple as "he just doesn't have any self-control".
Syed Jul 03, 2012 09:29pm
well the problem is the food we eat and then there is no such thing as exercise, you don't become obese overnight, it takes years, 1998 I was 70 kilos, then I started working at night shifts, in 6 years I had put on another 30 kilos, 2010 I was 120, and body really talks to you at that point, I almost touched type 2 diabitics line, so I did not go on diet at all, I don't think you should starve your body, you need your energy to go thru the day, I cut sugars and carbs from my food, more water, cut down on fast food and drinks, although I did had subway or kfc once or twice in a month, more veggies into my salad, half hour walk each day, no gym no nothing, that is all it took and in one year I am 75 kgs at 6 feet so it's a perfect weight. Being fat is a taboo in our society which is totally unacceptable, especially for females, but people need not to pay attention and work on their food intakes, plan it well and you will be in shape in no time. I did it, you guys and gals too.
annas Jul 04, 2012 12:07pm
My experience with "Obesity as a Curse" is rightful in a sense that you acquire a lot of health issues associated with it. Therefore the more we condone it the more we get conscious of its harmfulness.
Romi Jul 04, 2012 11:22am
The Americans are raising an entire generation of kids who don't know how to cook. They have outsourced the cooking function to restaurants and packaged goods companies. This is a dangerous trend and leading to an obese nation. Schools should teach boys and girls about nutrition and how to cook healthy food.
Farhan Jul 04, 2012 11:16am
Being fat should be a crime in our society where we have millions of malnourished children.
Rip Jul 04, 2012 11:10am
Exercise is good in moderation, but the key is cutting out empty calories. For example, running fir a half-hour only consumes 200 calories, but you can easily out in on back with just two spoons of ghee. So for most of us, the key is watching our diet.
ahmet abdulaziz Jul 05, 2012 04:32am
Yes i agree, since i believe that undisciplined life leads to all problems in one's life. It may not be just obesity or fatness only. There are quite too many factors which play their role in transforming a healthy child to a non-healthy one, in a long period of time. What is needed is first to realise the seriousness of the situation, which unfortunately we do not.
nancy paul Jul 23, 2012 03:02pm
fast food is American culture. burger king and mc donalds sell icee and fries all summer long. and sell pancakes with butter and syrup as a popular breakfast choice esp. for kids reference///////// . 42% of Americans Obese by 2030...... The report also predicts that the proportion of Americans who are severely obese, meaning more than 100 pounds overweight, will reach 11 percent, about double the current rate. vegetables and fruits are included in eastern diet too. food is a personal choice.