Sun, Oct-27-19, 07:57
BBC Documentary: Who Are You Calling Fat?
Who Are You Calling Fat?
28 and 29 October, 2019
Episode 1 of 2
Over a quarter of British adults are now obese. We are regularly told that obesity is one of the leading causes of health problems and premature death, and that the impact on the NHS is growing. So what is life like for those whose appearance is, increasingly, the subject of public scrutiny?
In a thought-provoking series, nine people who live with obesity, or who choose to call themselves fat, move in together to explore what it means to be larger bodied in Britain today. For nine days they confront each other with their own truth about being big. What, if anything, should they do about their weight? Should they love their bodies and embrace their size, or should they strive to get healthy and lose weight?
The housemates have starkly differing views - and even agreeing appropriate language to describe themselves causes friction. The growing Body Positivity movement encourages plus-size people to be proud of their bodies, and has reclaimed the word fat. They believe that people need to love themselves to be happy and that dieting is doomed to fail. Others are concerned about the risks of developing serious health problems and believe that weight loss is the main path to health and happiness.
In the first episode, the group meet and settle in a house in the Oxfordshire countryside and begin to share their personal stories. As Del starts to tell them about the bariatric surgery that he feels has saved his life, Victoria accuses him of having stomach amputation surgery and the battle lines are drawn.
Sarah, the director of Obesity UK, campaigns to end stigma and increase access to services for people living with obesity. But 'fat activist' Victoria wants to fight stigma her own way, on the streets. She challenges the group to join her in a public stand for self-love in a busy city centre. She strips off to her bikini and encourages passers-by to draw hearts and write supportive messages on her body. Babs, who struggles to accept her body, is horrified at the idea of revealing herself in public. Courtney thinks it is one of the best things she has ever done in her life, but what will the passers-by think?
Lorry driver Jack has recently put his own Type 2 diabetes into remission with a regime of diet and exercise. He wants the rest of the group to understand the seriousness of the disease and invites guest Colin to the house. Former night club manager Colin recently had a leg amputated as a result of Type 2 diabetes. He says 'I inflicted diabetes on myself. I love eating, it’s my downfall. I found it difficult not to eat all the chips.' But Victoria says she found his language was food shaming. She says 'Crisps, chips and chocolate are morally equivalent to salad'. As a result of Colin’s warnings, stand-up comedian Jed, who has not been to see a doctor for six years, decides to go and get a health check.
As the first half of their week draws to a close, Miranda organizes a Fatty Olympics in the garden. As Jed, Sarah and Jack look on, the household has become increasingly divided.
Episode 2 of 2
Obesity is rarely out of the headlines. With levels doubling in the last 20 years and over one in four people classed as living with the condition, it is one of the leading causes of serious health consequences and premature death. This series gets behind the statistics and gives a voice to people who are often discussed, but rarely heard.
In the second episode, the group dig deeper to understand how they became big in the first place and turn to look at what society should do about it. They also get to enjoy a dance class, comedy gig and family barbecue.
Babs and Victoria battle their differing opinions on whether fat bodies can be attractive – with devastating consequences.
Babs reveals her own history of disordered eating and says that for her binge eating feels like a drug addiction. She wants to explore what help she may be able to get. Sarah, the director of charity Obesity UK laments the short-sighted way in which the NHS treats people who struggle with their weight.
The group receive the results of a survey of public attitudes towards people living in larger bodies and are divided over the revelations. 69% of people in the survey think the rise in obesity is becoming too much of a burden on the NHS. For Babs the idea that obesity is a drain on the NHS is a given, but not everyone agrees. The survey also asked if children who are obese should be encouraged to lose weight. 84% of people in the survey said they should.
Fat activist Victoria disagrees - she believes encouraging children to lose weight can lead to eating disorders.
The group are visited by geneticist Dr Giles Yeo who reveals the results of their DNA test. He explains how some of them carry genes making them crave fatty foods and that their genes play a role in their current weight. For Jed, there are surprises in his genes that cause him to rethink his own weight journey and question where the burden of personal responsibility lies.
The arrival of two Parliamentarians working on the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on obesity causes friction as the group struggle to agree on what the future should look like for people living in bigger bodies, and some are left questioning whether the fight to end obesity means the eradication of them as people.
It is stand-up comedian Jed's 29th birthday and he celebrates by doing a spot at a local comedy club. But will the rest of the group appreciate his self-deprecating humour as he laughs at his own weight? For plus-size model and influencer David, representation is entirely serious.
Who are you calling fat? The truth about living in a larger body
‘Can you imagine being in a house with eight other fatties?” So asks 34-year-old Victoria en route to the Oxford home where she will reside for eight days as part of Who Are You Calling Fat? – a BBC documentary that shows how differently those living with obesity feel about their size by incubating them, Big Brother-style, to tussle over deeply divisive issues.
Because being fat, you quickly realise, is complicated. Not least the word itself. Sarah, the 37-year-old director of Obesity UK, has struggled with it since regaining the 8st she lost in 2013; Victoria, a body confidence coach and self-described “fierce fatty” sees it as nothing more than an adjective. For civil servant Babs, those three letters are wrapped up in nearly 50 years of shame; she has never worn a T-shirt for fear of the comments her bare arms might attract.
With obesity – and the associated stigma – at a record high in the UK, living in a larger body leaves you with two options: accept your size, or do something about it. Del, 57, who has lost 10st since having bariatric surgery and now runs marathons, is evangelical about the benefits of being smaller; David, a 24-year-old plus-size model, wants to encourage young men of a similar shape to love their bodies as much as he does his.
Participants’ weights are not explicitly stated, but the statistics – including the oft-repeated line that Britain will be the “fat man of Europe” come 2025 – are concerning. A quarter of British adults are obese, a condition which, coupled with diabetes, costs the UK more each year than the police, fire services and justice system combined; 22 per cent of four and five-year olds are overweight or obese, a figure that rises to 34 per cent for 11-year olds. Conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and hypertension are all associated with living at larger weights, though can be reversed with healthy lifestyle choices.
Yet for many, the “eat less, move more” mantra is just not that simple: studies suggest that 95 per cent of those who diet will regain the weight they lost, and more.
“My weight has consumed my whole life for as long as I can remember,” Sarah says, “and I’m so passionate about [my daughter] Emily not having that consume hers … I just want her to enjoy food and not to see it as the enemy.” While expecting, her weight contributed to being diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. “I felt like I was a bad mum already,” she says through tears.
Indeed, having been smaller, it is only now that Sarah, whose role involves working with the government on measures to reduce obesity stigma, realises how short-sighted the “weight-loss goal” can be: “I lost an extreme amount of weight – I went from absolutely no exercise to completing an Olympic distance triathlon, and completely pushed myself outside of all the boundaries I’d ever had.”
But this apparent outward “success” prompted “a dark journey, because the weight started coming back on slowly over the next few years. I really struggled to understand what was going on because in my head, losing weight was the answer … And actually, the reality of living with obesity is that there is no destination, and there is no quick fix. It’s a case of managing it for the rest of [your] life.”
This concept becomes clear to Babs throughout the course of the programme. She took part in order to challenge “people’s perceptions that fat people are lazy” – a grandmother-of-two, she works full time, goes for 30-mile bicycle rides, and lost 11st in eight months on the Lighter Life programme. But when she became ill and unable to follow the plan, she plunged back into the pit of self-loathing that began when her parents split when she was six.
Comfort came from food, forming a grip from which she has been unable to extricate herself ever since. Hers is easily the most heartbreaking part of the show because she is so heartbroken herself: desperate to change, but ultimately unable to do so. During the programme, she is diagnosed with binge eating disorder – but after attempting to seek help on returning home to Sussex in the months since filming, has been told by her doctor that he is “unsure” what kind of treatment will help.
For Victoria, a former recruitment consultant who has now made it her life’s work to “help women exude confidence, magnetism and power while staying true to themselves”, the idea of trying to downsize – rather than being happy at your current size – rankles. Via online coaching, TED Talks and 26,000 followers, she is an ardent proponent of body positivity – a predominantly online movement that advocates contentment in your own skin, whatever that looks like.
Having found her own appearance “disgusting” growing up, she objects to the terms “overweight” and “obese”, describes herself as an “intuitive eater” – eating what she wants, when she’s hungry – and does not acknowledge the correlation between type 2 diabetes and larger bodies.
Which is where she and Sarah, who has a background in pharmacology, come to blows: fat people refusing to believe the medical disadvantage they are at makes her “blood boil”, she says. “It’s about being aware of the consequences of living with obesity, rather than naive to it.”
Those consequences are made explicit when Colin, who lost a limb due to obesity-induced type 2 diabetes, drops in. So, too, when they are visited by Dr Giles Yeo, a neuroscientist who tests their genetic predisposition to obesity and explains how it could be working against their weight loss.
By episode two, each camp has “set their battle lines” – the body positive and the significantly less so – and neither will be moved.
“Body positivity is a big defence mechanism that’s designed to maybe make people who are not necessarily happy with themselves feel better,” opines HGV driver Jack, 31, who offsets a pizza on the first night with a run the next morning – behaviour that, Victoria declares, makes him a “good fatty”.
Conversely, Courtney, who once lost 5st on extreme diets before becoming ill and regaining weight, now loves her how she looks: “I can honestly say I wouldn’t change it.”
As for Babs, when asked whether she would give up a year of her life if she could weigh less, her answer is an unequivocal yes: it would mean “quality time” with her loved ones, and the simple feeling of “being accepted” in society: “I don’t feel like that now.”
If the show helps one person understand the complexities of being fat, she tells me, it will be worth the tears, the anguish. It strikes me that Babs is still wrangling with understanding that herself.
Who Are You Calling Fat? is on BBC Two on Monday and Tuesday night at 9pm
Last edited by Demi : Sun, Oct-27-19 at 08:04.