Are you telling me that you don’t turn your nose up at an incredibly obese person walking in the streets? Or avoid sitting next to a fat person on the train. Even I’ve done it… and I’ve been that fat person! I always had an empty seat next to me on the train, which you think would be nice, but it actually sucks because I knew it was because I was fat (NB: this could be due to the fact that I love talking to people on trains.. which doesn’t bode well with living in London).
Stigmas are completely born out of social norms. We stigmatise people who don’t fit our culture of what is deemed healthy and desirable. Actually if you think about it, stigmas are evolutionarily advantageous to us. Back in the day when plagues were rife it would make complete sense to avoid someone deemed unhealthy. No-one want to kiss the gross guy with the black plague! You’d die! Obviously I can understand the smoking stigma too… no one wants to inhale passive smoke.
However, sitting next to the fat person will not harm you in any way (apart from the fact that maybe you’ll have slightly less room to wiggle your feet… and maybe they’ll steal your lunch… and maybe they won’t shut the fuck up if it’s me). Working next to the guy with depression isn’t going to affect you either. Yes, in essence these problems are ‘unhealthy’ to the person, but that really shouldn’t concern an onlooker. Why, as a culture, do we look down on fat people?
Well, it’s become normal in our society to stigmatise overweight people (and people with depression for that matter.. but that’s for another time). So what’s the real issue here? Well, have you ever been at the end of a stigma? I’m fat, Jewish, gay and I used to smoke… I’m a WALKING stigma! I can tell you that it absolutely sucks. It made me unhappy.. and you can read here in my last post that emotional eating definitely causes weight gain. Weight, like other mental illnesses, is self-perpetuating. It’s the old Fat Bastard “I eat because I’m unhappy and i’m unhappy because I eat”
Don’t just take BJOD’s word for it – look here for recent research which shows how stigmatising overweight people causes them to eat more… It’s a terrible loop which will only continue.
So, what should you take from this? Be nice to fat people, don’t stigmatise… and sit next to them if there’s an empty seat on the train 🙂