Helena Wadia: Mathilda, do you remember the first time that you became aware of body image – or of your body, and what it looked like?
Mathilda Mallinson: It’s hard to kind of pinpoint the earliest, because it was so present throughout being a teenager. But you know what, it was probably ballet, because I did a lot of ballet at a young age. I did it at school, and I also did it at the Royal Academy of Dance. And we would have comments made about our weight fairly often, particularly by one teacher… You know, the classic ballet pose, you have to tuck your tummy in and have as flat a pose as possible. And she’d say things like “Oh, that’s not easy to do with a food pouch around your belly. Or things like, you don’t want wobbly bits when you’re trying to balance!” And this is an environment in which you were really competing for any praise. They didn’t dish out. And when your body was a factor in that praise, people started to become competitive about bodies. And yeah, I mean, I’m talking, you know, age seven, age seven or eight or something.
Helena Wadia: Wow. I’m sure a lot of people have very similar stories. I have very similar stories. I went to an all girls school and looking back on it, disordered eating was rife. There was a time where there was a fad for only eating a bowl of cereal a day. And it was almost like a competition of how little you could eat. And we thought that was normal. But the issue was, I felt like no one was telling me it wasn’t normal. Because being thin was like currency. It was like the best thing you could be.
Mathilda Mallinson: Yeah and, the media did nothing to challenge that! Whether that was in TV shows like Friends, which we all loved, you know, ‘Fat Monica’ – having fatness as the entire joke – or films with the ‘fat best friend’ trope or the news reporting on the ‘war on obesity’, there was such a huge onset of media telling us to be smaller.
Helena Wadia: Absolutely. And now, it really takes years and years of unlearning to address these biases that we all have inside of us. And we have to address that anti-fat bias exists everywhere, and has very real life consequences. Like did you know that plus size candidates are less likely to be hired for a job, and of those currently employed, they’re also less likely to be promoted.
Mathilda Mallinson: So this really manifests in workplaces. I wonder how else it’s systemically present, this fatphobia?
Helena Wadia : Well, I’ve also been finding out that there are many doctors, nurses and general health care providers who hold these biases, because they’ve also been raised in a time of panic about fatness. So I’ve been speaking to plus sized people about their experiences with healthcare, and what – if anything – is being done to address medical fatphobia.
Mathilda Mallinson: And I’ll see you back in the studio with some very special guests to discuss everything around this media storm…
[COMPILATION OF NEWS CLIPS THAT REPRESENT HOW THE MEDIA TALK ABOUT FATNESS]
Mathilda Mallinson: Welcome to Media Storm, the news podcast that starts with the people who are normally asked last.
Helena Wadia: I’m Helena Wadia.
Mathilda Mallinson: And I’m Mathilda Mallinson.
Helena Wadia: This week’s investigation: Fatphobia: Healthcare by size…
Helena Wadia: [On the London Underground] So… this wasn’t how I was going to start this investigation. But, I’m walking through London Underground station to get a train and I’ve already seen three adverts for some kind of a weight loss app or food plan in the like… one minute I’ve been here.: I’ve just got on the tube and I’m literally sitting in front of another advert…
Helena Wadia: Being told to lose weight is almost unavoidable. TV shows, films, adverts, your family, your friends, have often all prescribed to the same school of thought for years – that fat is ‘unhealthy’, and that thin is ‘healthy’. But what we’re not really being told is that… that’s untrue. And not only that, this rigid line of thinking has real life consequences.
Helena Burton-Jones: I stopped going to my GP…
Katherine Irene: I have put off a lot of appointments…
Professor Batterham: I was completely shocked by the way she was treated…
Helena Burton-Jones: I just try and deal with it at home now.
Helena Wadia: Weight bias in healthcare refers to harmful attitudes towards people deemed to be overweight. Often it manifests itself in doctors over-attributing all of a plus size person’s health issues to their weight – even if that’s got nothing to do with it. Research has shown that doctors repeatedly advise weight loss for fat patients, instead of running appropriate tests, which results in misdiagnosis. I asked plus sized people to contact me if that had happened to them, and I got a lot of responses. Just a heads up, some of these are voiced by actors, as the people behind them wanted to remain anonymous.
Plus Size Person 1: There was always a conversation about my weight…
Plus Size Person 2: The nurse proceeded to give me weight loss tips…
Plus Size Person 1
Whether that was about if I had a migraines…
Plus Size Person 3
The consultant was not interested in any aspect of my health or the chronic illness apart from me being fat…
Plus Size Person 2: I told her I am sensitive to diet talk…
Plus Size Person 4: He he ignored that specific question and returned to my weight…
Plus Size Person 3: It still made me cry…
Plus Size Person 5: I said I played sports, swam, did weights classes, had a low heart rate and blood pressure, it took three
Plus Size Person 4: It took three or four more questions from me to get him to provide an answer to my original question…
Plus Size Person 5: He started telling me what foods I should or shouldn’t eat…
Plus Size Person 2
He told me to stay away from cheese, avoid bread, as they are ‘bad’…
Plus Size Person 4: He told me he was more concerned about my weight and age than the medication I was taking…
Plus Size Person 1: He said MRI scanners aren’t big enough for overweight people…
Plus Size Person 5: He would not stop or move on to any other subjects…
Plus Size Person 2: Without knowing that I had an underactive thyroid…
Plus Size Person 1: All those years I was going to the doctor asking for pain relief, he just advised me to lose weight.
Helena Wadia: As I spoke to plus sized people about their experiences, there was one particular issue that kept cropping up… Endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow outside the uterus, such as in the ovaries and the fallopian tubes. 10% of women worldwide have the condition, and it can affect anyone with a uterus regardless of their weight. It’s a long term condition that’s often very painful, and can have a significant impact on a person’s life, and even cause infertility.
Helena Burton-Jones: I was in so much pain that my entire body went numb, and I would just be lying there, like completely frightened, and not knowing what to do, and just pouring buckets of blood basically.
Helena Wadia: According to the charity, Endometriosis UK, it takes eight years from the onset of symptoms to get a diagnosis of endometriosis. There’s no official data that shows how long it takes if you’re plus size, so we ran a survey with only plus sized people and asked the same question to find out. Our results showed that the average time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis was 11 years. Many of the responses spoke of it taking over 20 years. For Helena Burton-Jones, getting a diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis took wading through multiple instances of medical fatphobia.
Helena Burton-Jones: I looked up the symptoms, and I realised that there was definitely a correlation. So I went to my GP. And I mentioned it. And what he said was, “Well, it’s not that, you’ve got a bad period because you’re overweight”. And I said, I don’t think it’s that because I’ve had a bad period since I was like 12/13 years old. And I wasn’t overweight growing up. But it took me a full year of seeing him constantly, saying please, I was literally begging him, like, please give me a referral, please. And he just wouldn’t, he would just be like, “No, it’s because you’re overweight”. All he would give me a referral for was a nutritionist. He would say things like, “there’s no point wasting the NHS’s time, when all you need to do is lose weight. Once you lose weight, if you still have bad periods, then I’ll refer you to the NHS”. How much is he going to know about the level of pain that’s meant to be experienced for a period? You’re not – you know, periods are bad, they’re never going to be fun – but they’re not meant to be so painful that you can’t do stuff. Only in my own experience of having had doctor’s appointments pre from when I gained weight, and then from when I gained weight, the way I was treated was so different. And I think… it was just in terms of like, they would just be rougher with me? And I can’t – because it wasn’t the same doctor each time so I can’t say definitely that it was just because I’d gained weight, but I did notice like, needles were being pushed in more roughly, or I was being handled more roughly, or with less respect or less kindness and that kind of thing.
Helena Wadia: Katherine Irene has had similar experiences. From her first symptoms to confirming endometriosis, it took 17 years.
Katherine Irene: I was too embarrassed to go to the to the GP, so I went to the nurse. And the nurse said to me, “Well, you’ve got to watch your weight now because you’re a teenager, you’re growing up. You’re becoming a woman. And weight is going to be an issue.”
Helena Wadia: How old were you then?
Katherine Irene: I think I was about 12 or 13? So maximum I would have been 13. And I don’t ever remember really ever considering my weight before that, that I ever needed to think about it. And yeah, so from then on. It was always kind of “your weight is a problem”. I remember being told that I just didn’t have a very high pain threshold, and maybe I should lose weight. And I was just like how – those two don’t connect?! I got bitten by a horsefly, and it like swelled up. And my GP took that opportunity to also tell me that I’m overweight, and that my BMI is really high and to put me on the scale, and I was like, no, no! You don’t have to be weighed every appointment, you don’t have to have that, like, really humiliating conversation about well, “you’re this weight, this is your BMI”, which also doesn’t actually tell you – it isn’t an indicator of health in any way – to then be told “well, you’re at really high risk of diabetes”, never looking at what I’m eating and never looking at my exercise, just looking at my BMI and going, “No, you’re obese”.
Helena Wadia: What Katherine’s talking about here is that BMI, a person’s weight in kilograms divided by their height in meters squared, it’s still used as a measure of health in medical settings. But looking into it, there’s quite a few problems. Firstly, BMI wasn’t designed by a medical professional. It was designed by a mathematician in the early 19th century. The person who designed it also said that it was never intended for use in individual healthcare – it was a quick tool used to assist the Government in population studies. Secondly, when BMI was created, the data used was from white males. So the current BMI cutoffs still used today are calculated around white men, and don’t consider a person’s gender or ethnicity, both factors that can affect weight and fat distribution. And so – Government policies and treatment access that is based on a person’s BMI could adversely affect women and people of colour. Katherine says she was lucky she knew about the nuances of BMI and could ask not to be weighed. But, she says, plus sized people have to constantly advocate for themselves at doctor’s appointments – and its tiring.
Katherine Irene: If you want to lose weight, that should be respected. If you don’t want to lose weight, that should also be respected. And there should be healthcare available for both of those scenarios. For so long, you can’t advocate for yourself because you don’t have the language and the understanding and that you know your body, you know there’s something wrong, but how do you vocalise that at like 12 or 13? In my 20s, I was like, “No, I’m not taking this anymore, you have to do something for me”. But then because I had people advocating for me as well… additional people on top of my family. Yeah, it’s, it’s a wild ride.
Helena Wadia: Helena has also asked not to be weighed at doctor’s appointments multiple times.
Helena Burton-Jones: I’d say about like, 80% of the time when they say that they want to weigh me, I say okay, fine, but don’t tell me what it is. And about 80% of the time they accidentally let it slip, even though I’ve said don’t tell me.
Helena Wadia: And when you say accidentally, you are saying it’s not accidental?
Helena Burton-Jones: I don’t think so.
Helena Wadia: Due to her experiences, Katherine is now a menstrual wellbeing coach, helping others with their menstrual cycles in a judgment free zone. She created a space she didn’t have at the time she needed it. It’s an example of what’s been done to ease discrimination in healthcare, but I wanted to see if there was any wider training for GPs. I came across a course from the Royal College of Physicians, titled ‘Raising the topic and discussing obesity with patients’. It was created by Professor Rachel Batterham, a doctor who specialises in looking after people who have – and she uses the medical term – severe obesity. She works at University College London and leads weight services at University London College hospitals. She told me what the course entails.
Professor Rachel Batterham: Our understanding, scientific understanding, of the drivers of increased body weight and obesity, its impact upon health, and how to treat it, has so changed over the last 5 to 10 years, that actually we need to get that knowledge across to all healthcare professionals. So that they understand that actually, obesity isn’t just somebody being greedy, there are complex causes, genetic causes, some of the medical causes, and also health inequalities. And to just say, “eat less, move more” is not helpful. And then there’s a whole section on how to discuss weight in an empathetic manner with a patient and how to start off the conversation. So the first really important point is to ask somebody’s permission to talk about their weight. So if they’ve come to see you for another problem, to ask the patient first, rather than start talking about a topic if they don’t want to talk about it. So it’s all about framing it and really thinking about the person and using person first language. So somebody is, first and foremost, a person. But we often say, oh, an obese person. And we’d never say that. It’s like saying a cancerous person, you’d say, a person living with cancer, or a person living with obesity. So actually trying to get the words right and how we talk to patients about their weight in a sort of an empathetic manner as we would with any other health condition. For some reason, obesity is just, sort of, not managed in the same way and not with the same level of respect and dignity to patients.
Helena Wadia: I asked Professor Batterham what she thinks about one of the main messages that pervade society – that all fat people are unhealthy and need to lose weight. This was her response.
Professor Rachel Batterham: The impact on a person’s health depends on where the fat is, depends on the age, and depends on lots of different factors. So as a medical professional, my job is to assess an individual and tell them what the risk of their weight is on their health. So for some people, their health might not be impacted by having higher body weight. But if I see somebody in there at greater risk of type two diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, then it’s my job as a doctor to explain that. Now, everybody makes choices. We all make choices in our life about what we decide – be it how much alcohol we drink, how much exercise we do, whether we smoke, whether we drive a car, whether we do high risk sporting activities – and I think as long as people know what the risk is to their health, then they can make an informed decision. It’s up to everybody what body they’re happy in.
Helena Wadia: The course Professor Batterham created started in July 2021. The Royal College of Physicians tell me that since the course started, over 750 individuals have enrolled. This person-first, empathy focused course on understanding the multitude of factors behind being plus size is a step to eradicating medical fatphobia. But can one course stand up to a mainstream media that tells us to always be smaller? That takes us back to the studio.
Mathilda Mallinson : Welcome back to the studio, and to Media Storm, the podcast that starts with the people who are normally asked last.
Helena Wadia: Today we are talking about fatphobia, body image and diet culture in the mainstream media, and with us are some very special guests.
Mathilda Mallinson: Our first guest is a journalist, content creator and body image & self love advocate. She’s also the author of Fattily Ever After: A Black Fat Girls Guide To Living Life Unapologetically. It’s the amazing Stephanie Yeboah.
Stephanie Yeboah: Hi guys, thank you for having me!
Helena Wadia: Our second guest is an artist and owner of the body positive art shop Queer In Colour. She’s also an author and her book, Queer Body Power, will be hitting the shelves in March. It’s the wonderful Essie Dennis!
Essie Dennis: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Mathilda Mallinson: So we’ve heard Helena’s investigation into how it is often harder for plus sized people to receive accurate healthcare. We heard quite a few stories of doctor’s appointments. What are your initial reactions?
Stephanie Yeboah: I think for me, this is something that has been the bane of a lot of plus size people’s lives for a very, very long time. Me included, I’ve had quite a bit of experience dealing with doctors who seem to prioritise weight over health. I do think that there does need to be a radical overhaul with regards to how plus size patients are treated within the healthcare industry.
Helena Wadia: Essie, especially in regards to endometriosis and kind of, how long it took people to be taken seriously, what are your initial reactions?
Essie Dennis: Fatphobia around endometriosis is like a really, really big problem. But I did have an experience, I think it was around November, where I went to a gynaecologist and I was completely doubled over in pain. I was on a lot of different pain medications, I was in a really bad way. And she was just like, “so I think a lot of this might be to do with your weight. Have you tried exercising?” I ended up just bursting into tears. I was like, how can you possibly say that to me when I can’t even go on like a walk out to the shops these days? Then she was just like, “Well, I need to weigh you” and I said well I prefer if you didn’t because I used to have an eating disorder and that makes me uncomfortable. And she was like, “no, no, I need to weigh you”. So she took me out to this scale which was like out in front of everyone in like the gynaecology ward, and I just heard people laughing, and I was just in such a state about it. And I went back to my GP and I told her about the whole experience and she was like “That is awful. This has nothing to do with your endometriosis. People of all shapes and sizes have endometriosis and all of us should be able to get care. Do not let them push you about with this.”
Helena Wadia: Essie, it’s great that you have a great GP, you know, the majority of experiences that I’ve heard have not been great. I wanted to find out what was being done about it, if anything, so I interviewed Professor Batterham, and she’s developed a course on how doctors can raise the topic of a patient’s weight when speaking to them, and how doctors can better understand the complexities of – and she uses the term – obesity. Is this the way to target medical fatphobia?
Essie Dennis: Yeah, I think it’s a really good idea. Obviously, the word obesity, like I’m not sure necessarily how I feel about that, and that word being used.
Stephanie Yeboah: It’s one of those words that is so cold and clinical and accusatory. If it is the actual case that somebody’s weight is directly affecting their condition, then there is a way to speak about these things with empathy and with care. And a lot of the ways in which doctors talk to patients, unfortunately, and being doctors you think they would know this, but they really miss the mark when it comes to mental health – that can even lead to eating even more because it’s like an emotional response.
Mathilda Mallinson: Let’s talk about the language used in the mainstream media around this topic. You mentioned the word obesity. Stephanie, you use the word ‘fat’ a lot on your social channels. Essie you use ‘chubby’ a lot. We spent a lifetime being told that these words were bad or hearing them used in actively hurtful ways. Is using them kind of a reclamation?
Essie Dennis: I mean, I feel very comfortable with – in fact, I use ‘chubby’ just because it was one of those words that was always used against me. It’s a specific word that for some reason, you know, at school and just with teachers, and it’s like, “oh, she’s a bit chubby, isn’t she?” You know, that was the word that I always got. So I was like, I really want to use that word in a kind of, I’m cute, I’m round, like a cute little raccoon or something. You know, I just want to think of like sweet words, words that make me feel happy and joyful. And I find it very, very liberating.
Stephanie Yeboah: Yeah I agree. ‘Fat’ was a word that was used against me. The annoying thing about that word is that it is now literally seen as an insult. So it’s not even like a body type. Like people can be short, tall, athletic, lean, what have you, but the word fat has been so villainised over the years that people automatically associat it with ugliness. I think it will take a very, very long time – maybe like a couple generations from now until we can get to a point where people do feel comfortable using it – but for me, I call myself that, so that’s not really – it’s not really hitting the way they thought that insult was gonna hit because I am so what else do you have? Like, if being fat is the worst thing that I can be then I feel like I’m doing pretty well in my in my life.
Helena Wadia: Everybody, especially women and marginalised genders, and especially fat women and marginalised genders, are constantly bombarded in the media, with messages telling us that our bodies are wrong. Like in summer we’re told to “get a bikini body”, after birth we’re told to “get our body back”… as if it went somewhere… And in the new year, we’re told “New Year New You”. What do you think is really behind those messages?
Essie Dennis: I feel like there’s so much to do with consumerism around how we talk about bodies, especially in that way. It’s like we have a new season for clothes and we have a new season for bodies – a capitalist hellscape sort of situation. I’m hearing now that apparently big bums aren’t in anymore because I’m on TikTok and I see kind of younger queer people, for instance, follow me and it’s just like, Kim Kardashian is getting rid of her butt. So we have to change our body. But it seems to be from a very consumer standpoint. For one, all our bodies, especially women and marginalised genders, our bodies are often seen as consumables. And if they’re not consumable in some way, you know, like, sexually or aesthetically or something, then there’s something wrong with them.
Helena Wadia: It is part of a massive money making machine. If dieting worked, we wouldn’t have a new diet or a new fad or a new app every month, and the global value of the weight loss market is over $250billion. I think it is really important for us to note how much of the mainstream media is involved in selling a dream.
Mathilda Mallinson : A lot of these pieces, these articles, are actively e-commerce pieces. If these articles about someone flaunting their bikini curves, has, as the Daily Mail articles often do, has a post with the brand of that bikini, every time someone clicks through, then they get money. Whenever they post about diet regimes, and they link through to the trainer or whoever designed this diet regime, then the news outlet that’s presenting this to you as a piece of reporting gets money for selling the diet product, the fashion product. So I don’t think we really acknowledge quite how connected the news media is to that commercial enterprise.
Stephanie Yeboah: And these kinds of diets, like the keto diet, Lighterlife, liquid only diet. These are diets that I’ve also done in my past. It’s equivalent to almost eating disorders. And you have magazines and publications who like to promote this because it’s like they work in tandem with the diet industry, which makes so much money off of fatphobia. They make so much money off of people’s insecurities. They like to create things for us to be insecure about. Bloody ‘hip dips’! What is that? Like, I don’t understand why this is now part of our general lexicon when it comes to, okay, so your hips dip inwards, like it’s the literal shape of your pelvis, it goes in, it goes out
Mathilda Mallinson : Wait, what? Are we supposed to feel bad about hip dips?
Helena Wadia: Here’s the point where I tell you that Mathilda is not on social media. We’re all supposed to feel bad about our hips, Mathilda, that’s all you need to know.
Mathilda Mallinson: The images that mostly appear alongside these articles are of headless fat torsos. What kind of message do you feel like this sends?
Essie Dennis: When I was younger I think it really affected my feelings towards my own body, because I didn’t really look at my own body, like it was just a whole thing, I’d look at it in parts, and I’d look at all the parts that had to be changed. Just if I could change that little thing, then it would be fine. If I could change all these bits, then it would be fine. And I think that’s what it does, like it completely dehumanises fat people. And then it makes you think that your body is just in selective bits, rather than you are a whole human being who’s glorious and wonderful. And you don’t need to somehow look at all these tiny little parts of yourself to change.
Helena Wadia: It’s also sending the message as if no fat person would be willing to have their face in a picture. Because they’re like, so ashamed of it.
Stephanie Yeboah: Yeah no, it’s the fact that they, they always cut the heads off, it’s almost like you don’t get to have that kind of ownership over our bodies. It gives people more of a reason to be able to give us unsolicited advice and to troll us, to insult us, to abuse us, to oppress us, because they don’t see us as whole people. They don’t see us as whole human beings who have thoughts and feelings and perspectives and can be successful and can be deserving of love and can be healthy. They just see us as these broken parts that need to be fixed, we seem to just exist as people that are constantly insecure or constantly unhappy, there is just simply no way that that person can be successful and happy and in love and have a great job. And so the more that they show these images, the more – it’s almost like – the more they want to keep us at the bottom of this hierarchy of desirability.
Mathilda Mallinson : I suppose the argument that is most often made is that it’s not a phobia, it’s a legitimate health concern, “what about health?” Professor Batterham spoke about how some plus size people are healthy, some are unhealthy, just like some thin people are healthy or unhealthy. Do we think the media allows space for this nuance? Or do you think the media grinds down on a ‘fat equals unhealthy thin equals healthy’ dichotomy?
Essie Dennis: I mean, from my standpoint, in terms of ableism, I am unhealthy. I’m chronically ill, and I will be for the rest of my life. And does that mean I’m not a person? Does that mean I’m not a human being? Does that mean I’m not deserving of respect? Like, do you say that to other chronically ill people? Do you say that to people with cancer? Do you say that like, I’m sorry, I don’t understand why me being unhealthy means that I’m not a person anymore. But it’s this whole thing where this individualistic – where they’re like, I’m pretty sure your weight is self-inflicted, and it’s therefore means you’re a terrible person. And you just choose to sit and eat, you don’t have any discipline… like all of these things come around.
Mathilda Mallinson: And it’s all of these headlines that we’re talking about all of this diet-pushing messaging that equates weight with eating, and with exercise…
Helena Wadia: …rather than say, like a myriad of social, economic and environmental factors. Do you think Steph that “I’m concerned for your health” has just become like, a socially acceptable way of voicing fat bias?
Stephanie Yeboah: Oh, absolutely. I think that fatphobia is one of the last acceptable forms of hate crime. I genuinely believe that. It’s so normalised to just be horrible to fat people, people feel like they just have this authority to talk over our bodies. I don’t think that people should be using health as a way to give unsolicited advice. But fat people – we’re not stupid. Like, we also have that initiative where if we notice that something is wrong, and we genuinely think it’s probably to do with our weight, then let us deal with that. We don’t need outside opinions or strategies or shaming on our way. Like we’re not stupid.
Helena Wadia: You know, it’s really reminded me of our episode on how transgender people are reported in the media, because a lot of trans people who we spoke to spoke of how this kind of faux concern is just a way to show their bias against trans people – like suggesting that trans people should be really worried about the side effects of hormone therapy rather than their own lived experience of their gender. It’s that kind of thing of saying like, I know your body better than you do. Have either of you two ever been told you’re promoting obesity?
Stephanie Yeboah: Of course.
Essie Dennis: Classic experience online, classic. It’s happened to me a lot more recently, because due to endometriosis, I have gained more weight. It’s interesting because I have people who have actively been like, “I have to unfollow you now because I just feel like it’s unhealthy”. Like “you used to be thinner…”
Stephanie Yebaoh: Keep it in the drafts!
Essie Dennis: I used to model and I remember I was 15 years old and I went into a photoshoot. And this photographer took my leg, squeezed it, and was just like too fat, get her out. So I obviously was got out. And I was smaller. You know, I was 15 year old, and I was not, I was not very well, I had an eating disorder already. And I wasn’t, you know, my body is naturally bigger. So I just couldn’t get the weight down as much as I kept trying not to eat and they kept calling me to fat.
Stephanie Yeboah: That’s disgusting.
It’s that dehumanising thing as well. And like, you know, when you’re a teenager as well, you don’t have the kind of armour that you have when you get older where you know how to deal with that stuff.
Steph Yeboah: Again, it’s this hierarchy where fat people have always been at the bottom. We’re not seen as desirable. So when you do see a fat person, living unapologetically, wearing cool clothes or wearing crop tops, you know, showing off their bodies and genuinely loving themselves, people see it as an affront or as an attack to them. It’s almost like “your happiness in your fat body that I’ve always deemed unhealthy is making me feel insecure in my body because I’m slimmer than you”. Like “I don’t have half the confidence you have. Therefore I’m going to put you down” because again, because promoting slimness is so ingrained in our society, that it’s almost weird for people who are naturally slim who have grown up in this community, or growing up in this society, knowing that their slim bodies are the norm, seeing another body being advertised or perpetuated. You know, “promoting obesity” – we do not have multibillion pound campaigns telling slim people that they need to put on weight. We don’t have stores and shops who refuse to cater to anything below a size 18 for instance. Like there are so many systemic oppressive things in place that hold fat people back.
Helena Wadia: It’s ironic really because in the pursuit of health what has resulted is: a preoccupation with our bodies, is younger and younger people getting plastic surgery because they’re not happy with their bodies, is self-hatred, is eating disorders, is discrimination. And how is any of that healthy?
Mathilda Mallinson: Oh my god, I got told to get Botox last time I went for a wax.
Essie Dennis: That sounds like something out of Sex In the City.
Helena Wadia: That like didn’t seem real…
Mathilda Mallinson: Fully real.
Essie: That’s so funny.
Helena Wadia: Time now to have a look at some of the articles that are making headlines around this topic. Just before the slew of headlines about ‘New Year diet secrets’ came headlines around Christmas and so-called overindulgence. On the 23rd of December reported in The Times, The Week, The Daily Mail, the Evening Standard, and more, was apparently some ‘expert research’. I’ll read out the headlines: ‘To burn off Christmas dinner, just go jogging for six hours’, ‘six hour jog needed to burn off Christmas dinner’, ‘Burn off that Christmas dinner with a 12 hour 50 mile walk. Expert calculates how much exercise is needed to undo a festive blowout’. Now with these articles, I particularly want to talk about where responsibility lies, right? Because there is no mention, no caveat, no nothing, that going on a six hour jog may not be particularly good for you. How can we hold the media responsible for articles like this?
Stephanie Yeboah: I just think it’s just absolute rubbish. Like, so what? So what if somebody puts on a couple of pounds over Christmas, like somebody putting on weight does not mean that that person is going to keel over and die from a heart attack! It’s one of these things where it’s absolutely all to do with aesthetics and how people look, you know what, I honestly feel like there needs to be like a huge overhaul when it comes to journalism and PR and marketing and everybody behind the scenes. There needs to be more fat people in these spaces writing articles that inspire joy and diversity of thought and inclusivity when it comes to clothes. Again, it’s the media profiting and making money off of our insecurities. So yeah, we just need to wake up people.
Helena Wadia: So when I brought up this article, quite a few people said to me “well no one’s really going to go on a six hour jog though are they!” And I was wondering Essie, from like a disordered eating viewpoint, whether you think that’s true.
Essie Dennis: Oh, yeah, that’s not true. Yeah, orthorexia is quite well known as as a part of eating disorders, you know, over-exercising, a lot of exercising, is a big part of eating disorders, because it’s all about that kind of that obsession with calorie intake, and then having to get rid of it. I would spend my entire days exercising at some points, like, it was ridiculous, like, there’d be some points that I was like, okay, I have to lose weight in a day. This day, I’m gonna weigh myself at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day, and we’re gonna see if I’ve lost any weight at the end of this. That was how obsessive it was. And you don’t really get told, actually, this might be bad for you. Because exercise in any capacity is considered good, weight loss in any capacity is considered good, and so is food restriction. So when you’re doing it, people do tend to praise you, and be like, “Oh, I couldn’t have that discipline!” Because it’s all about discipline and restriction. There’s some kind of ingrained sense that restriction is morally good. And over-exerting yourself is morally good. And resting, or putting on any weight, or eating, or indulging in any way is morally reprehensible somehow. A lot of people with eating disorders do over-exercise, it’s a big part of disordered eating.
Helena Wadia: And the media I do think need to take some responsibility to understand that someone might read that and go on a six hour run.
Essie Dennis: And it will be a thing where someone will try and go on a six hour run, obviously not be able to do it, and then feel like a complete failure, and then not eat maybe for the rest of the day. You know these kinds of behaviours, which is something I would have done when I was really sick.
Mathilda Mallinson: Thank you for explaining that. The second headline we’d like to look at is from The Telegraph this week: “How gardening helps to burn calories in winter”. I’ll read out some quotes from the article: “Not only will your flowerbeds thank you, but your waistline well as well, with 300 calories burned, or depending how you look at it, five pigs in blankets justified”. It just really highlights the evermore creative way that the mainstream media markets weight loss, and I did see a follow-up piece in The Daily Mail. Where, okay, apparently Liz Hurley’s exercise regime is built entirely around just doing the gardening and the housework. And of course, the article linked through to the personal trainer who designed this regime, so it’s a prime piece of E-commerce, as we spoke about earlier. Steph, I can see you swallowing back exasperated laughter. What’s that about?
Stephanie Yeboah: Because I’m just like, I am a huge I’m very – what’s the term – green fingered. I have about 80 plants in my apartment alone. I love plants. Why? And I don’t understand why people are trying to just suck the joy and the fun out of doing things that make us feel good about ourselves! It really does lend itself to this whole other conversation about the wellness industry. Because ‘wellness’ for me is now kind of turning into the diet, the diet/fitness industry. The whole point of doing these therapeutic practices is to practice self-care, and constantly worrying and being anxious about how much you’ve lost or how much you burned during this therapeutic thing is not self care. It’s the very antithesis of it. Oh, yeah, they are not going to take gardening and that kind of stuff away from me. Like even housework. Housework is mundane, but I love it, because I don’t think about anything. People are having to now think about arm movements that they can do when like dusting the top of a cabinet.
Mathilda Mallinson: Have you not been doing Kegel crunches throughout this entire recording?
Stephanie Yeboah: Absolutely not. And it’s just like, I guarantee you in the next six months, there’s going to be like a feather duster that is going to be like, according to weight. So you can get like, it’s a dumbbell feather duster, like I guarantee it…
Mathilda Mallinson: First they came for fat, then they came for carbs, then they came for every moment of carefree enjoyment we have in our day to day life!
Stephanie Yeboah: Honestly no more. I’m tired of it.
Mathilda Mallinson: Thank you so much for joining us. Essie where can people follow you and do you have anything to plug?
Essie Dennis: Yes, so you can follow me on Instagram or TikTok, it’s @khal_essie, and my book’s coming out in March which I’m super-duper excited for, and go check out my art shop Queer in Colour – I do a lot of fun fat bodies in beautiful colours, and I have a bunch on my wall at the moment so it just makes me feel a lot of joy.
Helena Wadia : Amazing, and Stephanie, thank you also for joining us, where can people follow you and do you have anything to plug?
Stephanie Yeboah: Thank you so much, You can find me on Instagram and also my website which are both Stephanie Yeboah – my book Fattily Ever After is still out. And yeah, that’s about it, an article every now and again, but it’s mostly just me, you know, talking about body stuff or lusting after Jason Momoa or both, really…
Mathilda Mallinson: Thanks for listening. We’ll be back on the 10th of February with our next episode on homelessness. And next Thursday, there’ll be some special bonus content dropping, so make sure you’ve hit subscribe.