British Women Too Fat

// 21 February 2007

It’s becoming more and more evident that we live in a culture characterised by extremes, extending far and beyond the disparity between those of us who love, and those of us who hate, Marmite. Oh yes, we can be completely infatuated and in awe of a celeb one minute, and in the next breath denounce them with vitriol and venom as the worst thing to crawl the earth since Russell Brand stopped brushing his hair (although his lack of hair care does add to his humour).

But nothing demonstrates this concept more so than the social significance invested in how much we weigh, with the front page of today’s Daily Mail reiterating the need for us Brits to improve our health. A recent report completed by the European Union concluded that British women are officially the most overweight in Europe, with British Men allegedly huffing, puffing and sweating not too far behind us on the gingerbread trail.

The report found that 23% of women in Britain are clinically obese (and 22.3%), meaning that almost a quarter of us are approximately two to three stones above our ideal weight, followed by 21.7% of German women, and 21.2% of Maltese women. The healthiest women are to be found in Italy, with only 8% classified as being clinically obese.

Experts are urging the Government to take measures to improve the health of the nation following the news that adult obesity rates in Britain have quadrupled over the last 25 years, meaning that the incitement of exercise and a diet that’s wise is long overdue. There are concerns that the convenience offered by fast food is doing nothing but propagate a generation of young women likely to be plagued by heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other ill effects emanating from obesity in later life.

This news comes as a shock considering the perpetual media attention surrounding the ‘skinny minny’, with newspapers and magazines daily saturated with images of the size 0 (UK size 4) model and celeb, so much so that the idea of being able to more or less disappear when we turn side ways has permeated the national consciousness as being synonymous with success.

We are told that to be thin is to be beautiful, but it appears that aspiring to this press generated aesthetic ideal has detrimental consequences to our health, and it is not surprising that at the same time as obesity levels soar in Britain, there is a corresponding increase in the number of women suffering from anorexia and bulimia. As some of us strive to emulate the curve-less figures of the celebs we envy through a calorie controlled diet, the rest of us become embroiled in a cycle of comfort eating, as we realise that we’ll never fit the template of the ideal woman irresponsibly imposed upon us by the fashion industry.

The idea of a woman dieting has therefore become stigmatised, seen more as an effort to try and achieve the body beautiful, rather than as an attempt to take responsibility for their health and fitness. This is why as a feminist it is difficult to discuss weight loss plans for fear of being branded a body fascist, a concern perpetuated by the frequent introduction of new and more fashionable means to reach emaciation on a regular basis (Zone Diet, Atkin’s Diet, Cabbage Soup Diet…etc.). But to ensure our personal health and fitness, as well as to take pride in the way we look as a result, in no way diminishes our feminist sensibilities, and what the Daily Mail article demonstrated was that regardless of whether or not the Reubenesque or skeletal figure is in vogue, it is our physical well-being and happiness that is the most important.

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