Monday, April 28, 2008

5406: Bulging Bias.

From The Chicago Tribune…

Lending heft to an anti-bias campaign
Massachusetts bill aims to stem discrimination against the overweight, but some don’t want a ‘green light’ to be fat

By Lisa Anderson, Tribune correspondent

NEW YORK — In an overwhelmingly overweight nation that worships thinness, many describe prejudice against the obese as one of the last socially acceptable biases. Advocates for the plus-sized, particularly activists in the “fat acceptance” movement, want obesity to become a category legally protected against discrimination, like religion, race, age and sex. But not everyone agrees.

One such law, to ban discrimination against weight and height, is pending in Massachusetts.

“I think it would help mostly because it would send a message that fat people are equal citizens. It’s not in the litigation rates, but the rights consciousness that comes after legislation,” said Anna Kirkland, an assistant professor of women’s studies and political science at the University of Michigan.

Kirkland, who said she is not overweight, is the author of the just-published “Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood,” which examines the question of whether weight should be a protected category.

Currently, people can seek protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but they must prove their obesity is a disability and, in some cases, that it is caused by physical traits beyond their control.

“Right now, fat is just a marker of bad character, an undesirable personal trait that people bring on themselves,” said Kirkland, who prefers the word fat to the ambiguity of overweight and the clinical-sounding obese. “What you’re doing is forcing the law to force social change.”

According to generally accepted medical standards, about two-thirds of Americans are overweight (a body mass index of 25 to 30) or obese (a BMI over 30). It is a situation so entrenched in popular culture that it provides the basis for such reality shows as “Bulging Brides” and “The Biggest Loser” and for 242-pound Texas yoga teacher Abby Lentz to provide classes in “HeavyWeight Yoga: For the Body You Have Today” in her Austin studio.

But not everyone, including the corpulent, considers anti-weight-bias legislation a good idea.

“Legislation happens when people are too childish to police themselves,” said Sue Ann Jaffarian, author of the Odelia Grey mystery series starring a 220-pound heroine who is a reflection of her creator.

“But, as a fat woman, I don’t want a green light,” said Jaffarian, 55, who worries that such a law would validate what some consider unhealthy weight. “The downside of legislation is that the prejudice would go more underground.”

[Read the full story here.]

No comments: