How Fat Pride became the new battleground in America’s culture wars
From TOM LEONARD IN COLORADO
Restaurants and theatres could face lawsuits if their seats aren’t wide enough
No one should feel bad for me, except my struggling shirt buttons
A staggering one in six US deaths is linked to obesity. But liberal states, in thrall to yet another woke crusade, are adopting laws that make overweight people victims with the right to sue anyone for discrimination. And it surely won’t be long until it happens here...
SITTING picturesquely in the foothills of the hiking and skiing mecca of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder isn’t known as America’s fittest city for nothing.
Intimidatingly hale and hearty, it’s a place where bars and restaurants are dead by 9pm so locals can fit in an early morning ski or mountain-bike climb before work.
It sits at 5,430ft above sea level so endurance athletes from all over the world come to train here. Boulder’s social calendar is packed with a daunting series of strenuous events including an annual 10km road race that attracts 50,000 runners, a plunge into an iced-over lake and a ‘Tube To Work Day’ in which commuters hurtle down the rapids of a river clinging to car tyre inner tubes.
And then there’s the annual Halloween Dash, when residents run naked down the city’s main street in front of cheering crowds wearing nothing but a hollowed-out pumpkin on their head. Anywhere else the locals might be just a little self-conscious but not Boulder, where many people are only too happy to show off their athletic physique.
Which makes it so extraordinary that Colorado, America’s slimmest state, where Boulder is situated, is set to become the first state in the US for 50 years to ban ‘fat phobia’ by law. And it is not alone in its aims to legislate in this way. Across America, politicians have been planning laws to add a person’s weight to the list of characteristics such as race, age, religion and sexual orientation that are protected from discrimination.
Urged on by ‘fat pride’ groups which have sometimes served as official advisers, several other states are considering similar laws, including New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Jersey.
Meanwhile, cities across the country have already started passing laws aimed at preventing discrimination against the fat – San Francisco, Washington DC and, as of last month, New York City, among them.
As the case of super-fit Colorado shows, the drive for fat acceptance is more about ideology than health.
Conservative states such as West Virginia and Kentucky, with the worst obesity problems in the country, are having no truck with such laws. But staunchly Democrat Colorado, woke to its core, sees itself as one of the most progressive beacons in the US. In 2014, it became the first state to legalise ‘recreational’ cannabis.
In fact, in almost all cases it is Leftwing cities and states that are pandering to the ‘anti-fattist’ lobby with new legislation – and very often the same ones that have tried to decriminalise drug use with disastrous consequences in terms of increased addiction rates and crime.
Health experts warn that the new legal protections could further fuel the appalling problems of obesity in the US caused by sugared drinks, highly processed junk food and sedentary lifestyles by normalising the condition.
As with Black Lives Matter and MeToo, new battles in the culture wars invariably start in the US and then inevitably spread to the UK.
Indeed, the battle against fatphobia is already taking hold in Britain.
In 2018, London-based Danish comedian and fat acceptance campaigner Sofie Hagen accused Cancer Research UK of ‘fat-shaming’ after it had the temerity to run a campaign raising awareness that obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking.
‘How the f***ing f*** is this OK?’ she wailed on social media, demanding the adverts be withdrawn.
Describing dieting as ‘dangerous’, she insisted it ‘has been proved time and time again to be one of the worst things you can do to your body’. The charity countered that only 15 per cent of people know about obesity’s link with cancer and its campaign was based on scientific evidence.
In America, some 42 per cent of adults are now technically obese (compared to around 30 per cent or so in Britain). The percentage of US children who are obese has quadrupled since the 1960s and now stands at around one in five.
The result of all this obesity is crushing health problems – drastically increased rates of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer – as well as a huge estimated annual medical cost of nearly $173billion (£138billion) in 2019.
Black and Latino people are disproportionately affected with half of adult African-Americans obese – which perhaps helps explain why Left-leaning politicians are so desperate to accommodate the anti-fattist lobby.
Intriguingly, the US fat acceptance movement has a long history. In 1967, 500 people staged a ‘fat-in’ in New York’s Central Park to protest against bias, where they ate, and burnt diet books and photos of notoriously skinny model Twiggy.
The same year, a writer called Llewelyn ‘Lew’ Louderback wrote an article in the Saturday Evening Post under the headline ‘More people should be fat’.
In 1969, Michigan became the first US state to ban workplace weight discrimination, followed by Washington state which classified obesity as a disability which could not be used as grounds for refusing to employ people.
But in the intervening years, nothing much changed with regard to obesity legislation – although campaign groups such as Fatties Against Fascism and the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance were emboldened by a controversial 2013 vote by the influential American Medical Association to designate obesity a disease.
But now things have changed. And many fear the consequences of the flurry of new laws – which, of course, appear deeply compassionate on paper – could be disastrous both for health and for business.
They warn that weight discrimination laws could not only end up fuelling obesity but open the floodgates to endless and often frivolous lawsuits against employers and businesses.
An employer who fails to give an oversized employee a sufficiently big desk or a restaurant that makes the mistake of seating a calorie-challenged diner at a cosy booth table could find themselves being sued. In the Big Apple – if such a nickname is still permissible – the new law introduced last month bans employers and businesses from discriminating against fat people in employment, housing and access to ‘public accommodations’ such as shops, hotels, schools and recreation
facilities. It allows for limited exemptions, such as the police and fire department, when someone’s weight could hamper their ability to do their job.
Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business advocacy group which fought the new law, said anything like theatres that don’t have wide enough seats or taxis without extralong seat belts could now be considered ‘discrimination… and require costly modification’. She also pointed out that there was no evidence that overweight people faced discrimination in the city anyway.
Joe Borelli, the Republican leader on New York’s City Council, said he was worried the new law would ‘empower people to sue anyone and everything’. And in a telling dig at the body acceptance movement’s claims to be fighting against oppression, he added: ‘I’m overweight, but I’m not a victim. No one should feel bad for me except for my struggling shirt buttons.’
An indication of the kind of law suits and discrimination claims that could soon face businesses and public services came from the evidence given by fat acceptance campaigners to New York politicians when they were considering the new legislation. Victoria Abraham, 22, who boasts 122,000 followers on Instagram where she calls herself ‘Fat Fab Feminist’, said she had trouble with subway turnstiles that were too narrow while desks at New York University were too small.
Tracy Cox, a soprano at the city’s Metropolitan Opera, testified that she’d experienced body shaming in her career and that, in her job, ‘a fat singer is the rare and remarkable exception’.
She said work colleagues had ‘countless times’ encouraged her to develop an eating disorder or have surgery. Some parts of the US are refusing to give way to the fat rights lobby. The Supreme Court of Texas, the 18th-fattest state, ruled in June that the morbidly obese weren’t covered by its anti-discrimination law, saying that ‘excessive weight is a physical characteristic, not a disability’.
The ruling followed a lawsuit brought by a 28-stone A&E doctor who claimed she had been illegally sacked from her job over concerns she could not stand long enough to treat patients.
However, fat acceptance campaigners feel the momentum is going their way. These activists, many of whom reject the medical evidence of the health risks, have become more aggressive in promoting fat people as victims of oppression and denouncing anything that sounds like criticism of being overweight as a personal attack and even a hate crime.
Decrying obesity is even racist, some say. Academic Hailey Otis claims that, historically, fat phobia boiled down to racism.
‘White people tended to be thin, or at least that was kind of the common perception, and people of colour were larger and therefore less civilised,’ she says. Dr Otis grew up in Colorado and says she experienced ‘a lot of judgment’ from people there because they didn’t consider her to be healthy. ‘Fitness-and-health culture is a… coded way of still excluding fat people and enforcing stigma against them.’
It is this politicisation of obesity, making it an identity issue, that has fuelled the new legislation among liberal states such as Colorado which actually has the lowest US obesity rate of 25 per cent.
There, state lawmakers are working on two weight discrimination bills for next year’s legislative session that together would ban discrimination by employers and housing providers as well as ‘weight-based’ bullying in schools.
One proposal is to include weight in a stringent new antidiscrimination law which Coloradan law firms have warned could allow people to sue their employers simply because a colleague made a ‘disparaging’ remark.
The legislation is going ahead despite the fact that a comprehensive study by Colorado University earlier this year found that a staggering one in six deaths in the US is related to excess weight or obesity,
A 28st doctor was sacked for being unable to treat patients... then she sued
and these conditions boosted the risk of dying by anything from 22 to 91 per cent.
‘Studies have likely underestimated the mortality consequences of living in a country where cheap, unhealthy food has grown increasingly accessible, and sedentary lifestyles are the norm,’ said Professor Ryan Masters, who led the research. ‘This study and others are beginning to expose the true toll of this public health crisis.’ Meanwhile in Boulder, a city so liberal that the pedestrian crossings are marked out with the rainbow colours of inclusion, The Mail on Sunday found a surprising lack of sympathy for giving new protections to the dangerously overweight.
Autumn Gooseff, 21, says she has a medical condition that makes her vulnerable to diabetes so weight control is a serious issue for her. ‘I work out six days a week, do spin classes, and go hiking with friends at weekends,’ she said. ‘There’s a very big difference between those who are overweight and have a healthy lifestyle, and those who don’t care and try to find excuses or blame others.’
Shop manager Isaac McCarty, 29, was one of many locals surprised to hear that Colorado of all states felt it needed to protect the obese.
He admitted that although he has a close friend who really does have no control over his weight, he feared anti-discrimination laws might discourage those who could benefit from trying to lose weight.
‘I think we might be doing a disservice to people who are overweight if we’re accommodating them in making poor health choices that are within their control,’ he said. ‘My main goal in life is to love people – but there are boundaries to that.’
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