A variety of personal stories

Alex Barston watches 'Who are you calling fat?' on BBC Two.

Despite a tabloid backlash claiming the programme to be ‘irresponsible’, I saw the BBC’s ‘Who are you calling fat?’ as a bravely documented example of how individual life experiences can form opinion on the topic of obesity.

Featured were nine individuals, all of whom manage excessive weight, albeit in greatly contrasting ways. For example, at one end of the spectrum was Victoria, a 35-year-old body positivity campaigner whose almost cultish views appeared to question the science behind obesity – at one point, she stated that “health is a social construct”. Conversely there was Colin, a type-2 diabetic whose battle with his weight led to amputation of his right foot, and Del who had resorted to stomach reducing surgery in order to support him in managing his weight.

Perhaps the most important and intriguing individual featured in the programme was Babs. Her journey throughout the programme highlighted anxiety related to her body size, emotional discomfort at the body positive attitudes of others as well as a renewed sense of confidence when stripping off in a swimming costume in the middle of the street. 

In the end, the debate went full circle with the introduction of a politician with an unsurprisingly unpopular view on the potential use of bariatric surgery in children. In addition, two mental health professionals explained the ins and outs of the DSM5 and ICD-10 classified Binge Eating Disorder before delving further into potential interventions for this, most prominently Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. These conversations appeared to strike a chord with a number of the individuals in the programme, but not all were so forthcoming to the idea of disordered eating… especially those from the body positive movement.

As a mental health professional, I think body positivity should of course be encouraged. It promotes healthy thought processes which reduce anxious and depressive feelings. However, in this programme Victoria failed to grasp – or perhaps, chose to ignore – the fact that obesity is also a public health issue. Indeed, the two are not mutually exclusive and an awareness of this could have been made clearer.

The programme can be commended for not pushing an agenda, although it perhaps made Victoria too much of a central figure. It successfully highlighted differing attitudes that arise in individuals who live with obesity. While unlikely to alter individual opinion on the subject matter, it certainly educated around the topic, allowing viewers to observe a variety of personal stories.

- Alex Barston is a mental health recovery worker.

- Watch now.

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