When did obesity become okay?

No, honestly; when did it start being OK to be overweight, to embrace obesity and in some cases, celebrate it?

Brands like Dove with their ‘real beauty’ campaign and Debenhams with their ‘reality catalogue’ have started to include larger sized women in their advertising.

It’s clever PR and it works.

By shining a light on bulging middles and flabby bums, wobbly thighs and lardy tums they claim to be enhancing women’s self confidence. They know their customers are getting fatter, and they want to be seen as a place that services the needs of their customers.

No overweight person views the size eight mannequin in a shop window and sees themselves; they need to see larger models in order to visualise what the clothes would look like on them, and vóila, the good people of Debenhams are kept afloat by the portly pound.

Latest figures indicate 61 per cent of Irish adults are overweight or obese. Worldwide, obesity has nearly doubled since 1980.

People who are overweight die on average seven years younger than their slimmer, healthier counterparts. Oh, and fat people are costing Ireland almost €4 billion a year – between missing work, blocking hospital beds and developing chronic illnesses; the swollen cost of thinness lost puts even more pressure on the public finances.

Let’s not kid ourselves that Unilever (who make Dove) give a damn about women’s feelings. Unilever, like any business, want to make as much money as possible flogging things. By convincing women that they needed hair dye and lip-wax and eyelash curlers; that they smelled bad, were hairy and dull-skinned, they made a healthy profit of €2.7 billion in the first half of 2013.

If you advertise your products with only thin, attractive women using them when 1.5bn people worldwide are overweight, you are ignoring the elephant in the room and you’re missing out on a hefty whack of cash.

The best PR is invisible, so by purporting to challenge the cultural and social norm that is thinness, these companies emerge like bastions of liberal, feminist thought.

It may be called the “real women” campaign but I bet the ad execs are thinking ‘Dove, Defenders of the Chunky Chick’ and Debenhams “Love the Lardy Lass Collection” as they sit pondering how to sell more stock to their already voracious consumers.

One in four Irish school children are overweight or obese and the message we need to send out is that it’s not OK to be overweight, it’s not OK to celebrate obesity and it’s not OK to encourage it.

Plastering pictures of pudgy people on bus stops and crying “celebrate your size!” is not the right direction to go in. “You’ll drive them to bulimia!” you shout, “They’ll all develop eating disorders and starve themselves to death!”

Not so. Eating disorders are not primarily about food and are categorised as a mental, not a physical illness. Psychological, familial and sociocultural factors are all linked to the development of an eating disorder, and the disorder can be an expression of desire for control; controlling something in their power when they feel unable to cope externally.

The obsession with being happy with your body is being forced upon us; such constant moaning about how ‘important’ it is to love your body puts the wrong kind of message out. You shouldn’t love your body if it’s a bulging, heaving mass, racing only towards an early grave. Nobody but the most niche sexual perverts wants to love that body.

By re-affirming the ‘love your body’ mantra it gives people an excuse to stay plump, telling themselves that it’s ok to have another doughnut, ‘cause they love themselves.

Weeks ago it was Eating Disorder Awareness week in Ireland – roll on Reality Check Week.

Theresa Newman is a final year Journalism student in DCU.

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