Anyone who has ever been fat — and I have, seriously so — knows how often they’ve been made to feel ashamed. They are accused, unfairly, of being greedy, lazy or lacking in moral fibre.
The whole fat-shaming debacle is proving a difficult area of communication for doctors, whose job it is to warn patients of the damage to their health that can be caused by obesity.
Of course, it’s not necessarily what you say, but the way you say it that causes offence, and I’m not surprised dozens of patients have complained about being fat-shamed by NHS staff. It is appalling for a doctor to tell a morbidly obese woman it was ‘her fault because of the c**p she eats’, or for a nurse to laugh at a woman who said she was trying to maintain a healthy weight and add a sarcastic: ‘Well, obviously not.’
Jenni Murray admits she isn’t surprised dozens of patients have complained about being fat-shamed by NHS staff (file image)
For years as I struggled with my weight, I had a lovely GP who never once referred to my ballooning obesity. I’ve often wondered, as she was also overweight, if she was super aware of fat-shaming because she had endured it herself. She was kind and attentive, but I think she may have been afraid of insulting and upsetting me. She did me no favours.
When she retired, my new GP was a man: slim, much older than me and rather old-fashioned. He knew exactly how to approach my weight. At our first meeting, he had me hop on the scales: 24 st.
‘We need to do something about that,’ he said.
No criticism, no shame, just a warning about disability and type 2 diabetes — often the result of obesity — in a tone that expressed a genuine desire to help.
And note the use of the word ‘we’. He presented my problem as something with which he had sympathy and the search for a solution was to be shared.
It’s good news that all doctors and nurses are to be trained in how best to approach these difficult questions. There is a lot of research, as I discovered when working on my book Fat Cow, Fat Chance (out in paperback today), that points to the best way of talking about the obesity crisis.
Jenni (pictured) said we should all learn to accept that there’s no shame in being bigger than others, but body positivity should not extend to ignoring the health difficulties fat can engender
Professor Rebecca Puhl, a U.S. psychologist who has spent 20 years researching the impact of stigma on the obese, has found it drives the shamed into deeper distress. Parents, teachers and health professionals, she says, must learn that words can heal or harm. She recommends avoiding terms such as obese, extremely obese, fat or weight problems, particularly with adolescents.
‘Body mass index’ or just ‘weight’ are less likely to induce embarrassment or shame and avoid a child being driven to skip school, miss gym classes and comfort eat.
Nearly two years ago, a new family moved in next door. There were three little girls, six, eight and ten and a little boy of two. None of them spoke English, nor did their mother. Dad, a diplomat with the then government of Afghanistan, was fluent. Within weeks of attending the local primary school, they talked perfect North London. Yesterday, I talked with Bilal, their father. He no longer has a job, but his girls are super excited to be going back to school next week. As I’ve watched desperate parents trying to escape the Taliban, I want to hug my beautiful young Afghani neighbours. They have what every girl should have by right: friends, fun, freedom and an education.
My current GP put me on the road to appropriate medical help, understanding that obesity and weight loss are much more complicated than taking in less and putting more energy out.
The surgery for which I opted reduced the size of my stomach and altered my body’s response to eating. Seven years on, I’ve lost half my body weight and have no type 2 diabetes, so will not be a drain on NHS resources for years to come.
The cost of the surgery pays for itself within three years and should be more easily available on the NHS than it is now.
We should all learn to accept that there’s no shame in being bigger than others, but body positivity should not extend to ignoring the health difficulties fat can engender. It is a doctor’s job to warn us of dangers and advise us, but in the most positive way.
Remember, words can either heal or harm.
Anna’s glasses have gone – it’s love, actually!
Anna Wintour and Bill Nighy, both 71, (pictured) were photographed in Rome last week
Such a sweet encounter between Anna Wintour and Bill Nighy, both 71, in Rome last week.
He brought red roses. She took off her dark glasses and almost smiled.
Has the Wintour of Our Discontent finally found contentment?
Why isn’t there a good eco nappy?
I had my first son in 1983, when concerns about the proliferation of plastic products were just beginning to surface.
Aware of the environmental worries, I resisted the mod con of disposable nappies. Instead, I bought towelling nappies and little, reusable plastic pants, spent an age learning how to pin them safely and turned up my nose each time I passed the bucket in which they were left to soak. I lasted two weeks before succumbing to disposables.
The fact is, we’ve known for years that thousands of nappies are used for every single baby that’s born; that biodegradable ones leak and that plastic is not the benign product we once thought it to be.
So, why, even though we are able to fly to the moon and cars can drive themselves, has no one come up with a safe and effective nappy? Could it be the great inventors have not applied their talents to what’s typically considered to be ‘women’s work’?
Vigil’s giving me submarine flashbacks
Misstep: Suranne Jones in TV’s Vigil
A text pinged on my phone around 9.30pm on Sunday from my husband. ‘Are you watching Vigil? I’m having flashbacks.’ I replied: ‘I am. I went all wobbly when she slipped on the ladder.’
Memories of our early days together came flooding back. He was the engineering officer on an S class hunter-killer submarine. Once, in 1981, they came home early, ordered to explain their boat had been damaged by an iceberg. Many years later, I learned they had actually collided with a Russian submarine they were chasing, leaving a large hole in the outer hull of HMS Sceptre. It must have been terrifying. He said it sounded like a giant can opener ripping open the boat. No wonder he was having flashbacks.
I went on board once for a family day and slipped on the ladder. The submarine was dark, claustrophobic and smelled of cooked cabbage. I don’t know how they stood it.