opinion

KATE EMERY: It’s time to ditch the myth that overweight people are so because they’re lazy

Kate Emery
The Nightly
KATE EMERY: It’s time to ditch the myth that overweight people are so because they’re lazy.
KATE EMERY: It’s time to ditch the myth that overweight people are so because they’re lazy. Credit: Naomi Craigs/The Nightly

As I told my daughter when she asked loudly in the middle of the supermarket WHY IS THAT MAN SO FAT it’s rude to talk about other people’s bodies.

Unless you’re talking two heads or a third boob, a person’s body shape is usually the least interesting thing about them.

So, it is with a certain amount of reluctance — and a degree of hypocrisy usually reserved for parents lecturing their kids about screen time — that I come to talk about James Packer’s body. Or, if not about his body, exactly, then about the way he talks about his body.

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It’s a little more nuanced than the kind of conversation you can have with a seven-year-old in the Coles chiller aisle.

If you missed it, Packer did an interview in which he talked about his “constant struggles” with his weight. He’s been candid, over the years, about the ways in which both medication and a sweet tooth have shown up on his waistline.

Packer’s weight is nobody’s business but his own.

But his struggles say something about the stigma our society still attaches to being overweight and how much we get wrong.

For all that the body positivity movement has achieved — and as a millennial let me tell you things have improved since the days when we were all encouraged to view Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson as disgusting beasts who should have been chained to a gold bikini’d Carrie Fisher — people who are fat are still judged in ways that have nothing to do with the size of their thighs.

People who are fat are generally perceived to be lazier, less disciplined and less capable in leadership positions than people who are not fat. They tend to earn less at work, are less likely to be promoted and are more likely to have medical concerns dismissed by doctors, either because the doctors think losing weight will cure all their problems or because they’re deemed to be non-compliant or lazy.

(This isn’t me speaking, by the way, this is years of research).

James Packer needs a gaming operator?s licence for his plan to realise its full potential.

AFR 120731  photo by Louise Kennerley James Packer in his 1 park street office
James Packer. Credit: Louise Kennerley

When someone like Packer talks about his weight struggles it’s a reminder that the myth that fat people are work-shy shirkers is just that. Packer may have been born with a silver spoon in every available orifice, as the scion of a media dynasty, but his own business efforts prove he’s not lacking in discipline and work ethic.

With all the resources at his disposal — Packer is worth an estimated $2.8 billion — he can also afford personal chefs, personal trainers and enough Ozempic to tilt the world on its axis. And yet.

Packer has something in common with Oprah Winfrey, whose weight has famously yo-yo’d as her billion-dollar empire gets fatter.

If Oprah and Packer — very accomplished, very rich people — can’t make their bodies look how they want them to look then maybe, just maybe, fat people aren’t necessarily fat because they’re slobs with no self-control who don’t understand the mathematics behind calories in v calories out. Maybe body shape and body weight are a bit more complex than we’d like to believe.’

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 06: Oprah Winfrey attends the Los Angeles Premiere of Warner Bros.' "The Color Purple" at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on December 06, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stewart Cook/Getty Images for Warner Bros. )
Oprah Winfrey. Credit: Stewart Cook/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

Certainly, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest achieving a “healthy” body is not always as simple as moving more and eating less. Genetics, for example, play a bigger role than many have previously suspected.

Right now somebody reading this column is dying to tell me about how they lost 20kg through restraint and a gym membership. You don’t need to send the email: I believe you. I also believe there can be massive health benefits in not being obese.

My body works like many people’s in that I’m able to maintain a healthy weight by eating less than I’d prefer and exercising more. But that is not the case for everyone.

Even if it was the idea that carrying “extra” weight is still deemed to be a moral or personal failing it is as ridiculous as it is pernicious. A weakness for red velvet cake doesn’t say anything about your character except that you like red velvet cake and maybe we should remember that.

And maybe we should take the advice I hissed at my daughter and stop taking such a keen interest in other people’s weight, as though it signifies anything more than the number on the label of their jeans.

Although, obviously, this is pretty rich coming from me, having just written 800 words on a stranger’s waistline.

Feel free to have a word next time you see me at Coles.

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