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Obesity and Fattism - A Comparison to Three Models of Disability

Toby Brandon, Northumbria University
Co-author(s): Gary Pritchard

'Obesity' in recent years has rapidly become a moral panic and global crisis; the UK government has made it a priority to tackle both the causes and consequences of being 'overweight'. 'Fat', 'obese', 'overweight' are all used interchangeably by many writers and it is often unclear exactly what is being referred to. This paper will therefore explore these terms by drawing on recent qualitative research with 'fat' men conducted by one of the authors.

Fat people tend to be highly visible; they can be blamed for their size and even outcast by quarters of society. Clear discrimination against them can be demonstrated and the stereotypical language of insults around weight are perfuse and powerful in many societies. Although there is no specific protection against 'fattism' in terms of discrimination, such as in 'racism' or 'sexism', 'obese' people in the workplace can rely on various existing employment rights around unfair treatment at work related to their size. So the question is; can being fat be comparable to being disabled? This paper explores this through three contrasting models of disability; the medical model with its development and use of the Body Mass Index (BMI), the social model formed from the political movement around rights and the affirmation model with its reinforcement of positive identities. This debate also raises fundamental questions about the nature and definitions of disability itself. In conclusion it is proposed that 'fatness' is a complex social phenomenon which in a number of respects can be considered a disability and this has profound implications in terms of citizenship for a raising group within society.

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