Last week I shared a letter from a gentleman who felt it was appropriate to comment on people’s weight. He felt that not doing so facilitated the problem. “In our effort to spare the feelings of the fatsos, we have become facilitators of their irresponsibility.” He felt that commenting on weight would help people take responsibility for how their over- weight condition effects those around them. “But if, indeed, one cannot even so much as allude to the issue of weight when conversing with a fat person, what then might induce fat people to take responsibility for the effects of their physical conditions upon other people?”
He cited overweight houseguests who could not care for their personal hygiene as one example. Overweight passengers in cars and on airlines were another. “And then there is the problem of the person in the back seat of my car, who is too fat to buckle him/herself into the seatbelt. If he/she doesn’t buckle up, then, in the event of a crash, he/she becomes a projectile in motion (and a very heavy one, at that, which would crash into the front seat occupants (including me) and cause grievous if not lethal damage.
“On a more individual level, if I cannot even obliquely mention weight, how am I to deal with the big, fat woman sitting next to me on the airplane, whose flab protrudes out into my own seat so I cannot comfortable sit in it? Which wouldn’t be so bad, except that it’s a night flight, and the cabin lights have been switched off, but I cannot stay up and read because her big size obstructs the reading light.
“Can I say anything to my fellow passenger without hurting her feelings? Am I supposed to complain to the flight attendant? And yet, the fatso lobby whines that it is discriminatory for the airlines to require people who cannot fit into one airline seat to purchase two seats to accommodate their big size.”
Rising insurance costs, which he attributes to the “obesity epidemic” was another way in which he sees people’s weight impinging on others. For these reasons he feels that there is merit in making comments to overweight people.
Thank you for your comments. I appreciate hearing from someone with the opposite point of view. I think you raise some valid issues. Obesity does impact on more than the overweight person. It can make others uncomfortable. But are there other ways of dealing with the problem that may be more effective than making the negative comments, which, I am told, have no positive effect on weight loss at all.
If a houseguest makes you uncomfortable for any reason, you do not have to invite them into your home. If you feel transporting someone in your car is a safety hazard for you or them, you do not need to give them a lift. And if your seat on the airline is not comfortable, you can quietly talk to the stewardess about changing it.
There is no question that any health issue impacts on us as a society and affects our health costs. It is as true of smoking, drug addiction, mental illness, chronic illness, hypertension, etc., as it is for obesity. The impact of almost all illnesses would be reduced if we as a society would strive for normal weight by eating better, exercising more, learning to react better to stress and in general, were more mindful of our bodies and took better care of them.
Shall we only insure those with no ill health potential or those that pass a criterion designed to cost the insurance company the least amount of money? Or do we have a commitment to help everyone with their health needs − even those that may not be able to foster optimum health for themselves at the moment?
Further, I think you may have missed the point of my column. It appears that these hurtful comments do not help the person deal with their weight problem. Often they can do just the opposite. If that is the case, then why make the comments in the first place? It is not facilitating a problem to keep quiet when the comments serve no constructive purpose and just exacerbate the issue.
If, indeed, comments on a person’s weight contributed to them becoming healthier and starting a program of weight loss I would advocate doing so in a kindly and effective manner. But they do not. These comments accomplish nothing, and as I have said, often make the situation worse. That is why I am so against them.
A dialogue on any topic is always constructive when it is presented in a respectful manner without name-calling. Different points of view are always challenging and enlightening and can often change a person’s opinion. Using derogatory words and descriptions often serves to lessen an argument instead of bolstering it. But I thank you for contributing to the discussion and always welcome a difference of opinion.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org