Journalist and presenter Michael Buerk has never been shy when it comes to voicing unpopular opinions.
He’s commented on matters such as age discrimination and gender inequality, leading former newsreader Anna Ford to comment: ‘He’s a dear old-fashioned chauvinist of the first order.’
This time his attack is on the overweight, who he deems ‘weak, not ill.’
In his column ‘Leave the Couch Potatoes Alone’, he sadly reflects and reinforces the popular opinion that all fat people are lazy TV junkies with no interest ranging beyond the biscuit tin.
Not only is this untrue, it is harmful.
The criticisms which abound in the piece are the sort of snide comments fat people are faced with every single day, gradually eroding their sense of worth and any kind of confidence.
It is the thoughtless and misplaced aspersions cast by Mr Buerk that can lead to overweight people developing mental health issues and afraid to go to the doctors for fear of being termed a flabby disgrace.
There are no shortage of first-hand accounts from people who have felt shamed by their healthcare professionals for their weight, and studies have confirmed the prejudice exists and the urgency with which it should be tackled.
I often think of the comedian Jo Brand’s sketch in which every GP visit, whether about her eyes or her elbow ended with the doctor’s comment: ‘You really ought to lose some weight, Miss Brand.’
Slim people are energetic, strong-willed and intelligent, while stupid fat people are floundering in apathetic self-pity while reaching for their seventh sticky bun.
As a size 20 woman I often feel that my body is somehow public property. I’ve had complete strangers approach me to share their Weight Watchers stories, fellow commuters tell me that walking would be better for me and Tinder matches say they’d really like to sleep with me, but they wouldn’t want their friends to know.
I have had to learn to separate my physicality from my value as a person, which is far from easy when even highly respected and intelligent journalists feel entitled to term me a greedy couch potato.
Somehow, being wobbly means my body is up for discussion by whosoever feels they’d benefit from a brief surge of smugness. Because make no mistake, if being fat is considered a failing, as Mr Buerk’s column so obviously asserts, there can be no greater achievement than remaining svelte in a world so populated by ‘fat-soaked convenience rubbish.’
It is an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality, where being slim is heralded as good while being fat is shameful. Slim people are energetic, strong-willed and intelligent, while stupid fat people are floundering in apathetic self-pity while reaching for their seventh sticky bun.
It may surprise Mr Buerk to hear that fat does not automatically mean unfit. I would highly recommend triathlete Krista Henderson’s blog Born to Reign, which is dedicated to plus-sized athleticism, or take a peek at the infinitely flexible Jessamyn Stanley’s Instagram page where the full figured yoga teacher demonstrates her skills thanks to years of dedicated exercise.
To give him his due, I do applaud Mr Buerke for not lambasting about obesity’s cost to the NHS, in my opinion, correctly pointing out that ‘Who can calculate how much an obese person would have cost if they slim?’
However, his damning attack of ‘It’s your fault and you can put it right. Stop guzzling’ is beyond offensive.
This blame mentality, that being fat is automatically a problem and is something you ought to change again reinforces the negative view of fatness.
It fails completely to address how challenging weight loss can be, especially if emotional issues or personal problems underlie your relationship with food, as is the case with me.
One cannot simply ‘stop guzzling’ because humans need food to survive. Mr Buerk’s stance is not dissimilar to Cancer UK’s recent campaign which likens obesity to smoking related illnesses. The implication being that fatness can just stop, by putting down the Oreos.
Mr Buerk may have lost 9.52kg during his stint in I’m a Celebrity…Get Me out of Here but that hardly makes him a weight loss guru.
In fact, it is people who have never struggled with their weight and see nothing wrong with criticising other people that remain a problem in our image obsessed society.
All you can tell by looking at me, Mr Buerk, is that I am fat. You cannot tell anything about my lifestyle, my health, or my mind set based upon my waistline.
Please bear that in mind. From your admiring couch potato.