Reading this little tiff in my hometown newspaper about fat acceptance, it struck me that it may be new in political history that we’re facing problems that we deliberately want to discourage at the societal level, but refrain from stigmatizing on the personal level.
With regard to the obesity epidemic, pretty much everyone agrees that at the societal level, having fewer overweight people is better for our economy, health, productivity and gross happiness. At the personal level, though, your weight is really none of my business, and the stigma against fat people is vastly disproportionate, cruel and counterproductive.
The UK is all debatey these days about social benefits, and the ‘culture of dependency’ that welfare for young, single mothers has created. Cash payouts to teen moms, the Coalition argues, only encourages behavior that, at the societal level, makes everyone worse off.
It seems to me that both obesity and teen pregnancy are things that, society-wide, we should be doing everything in our power to prevent. From bike lanes and subsidized veggies (obesity) to sex ed and community support (teen moms), governments are completely correct to advocate that reduction of these phenomena is a societal good.
That said, the minute a teenager gets pregnant, they deserve all the resources of the state to help them raise their child. Not only for their own basic dignity, but to break the cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity that drive rates of teen pregnancy in the first place. Those kids weren’t born to teen moms from any fault of their own, and they should have every opportunity for education, health and security.
The same paradigm should govern obesity: Try really hard at the societal level to prevent obesity, but accept that being overweight is significantly easier than not being overweight, and it doesn’t make economic sense to discriminate fat people out of the workplace, healthcare or beneficial social relationships.
The problem is that this strikes most people as a complete contradiction, and is really difficult to express in the precocious-fifth-grader vocabulary our politicians speak in. We can promote and we can stigmatize, but we have no way of saying as a culture ‘you shouldn’t be here, but you are. So let’s get to work.’