Big Fat Facts Big Fat Index

Headless Fatties, Our Modern Folk Devils

Trigger Warning: Headless Fatties and Toxic News Articles

The identification of folk devils may reflect the efforts of powerful institutions to displace social anxieties


We've all seen the headless fat people that are used to illustrate news articles and segments on T.V. They're everywhere. These photos and videos often appear to have been taken in public, without the subjects' permission. They usually accompany articles with alarmist headlines. They've been around for a long time. I can remember cringing at the sight of them back in the '80s, when I was a teenager.

Their very existence is intimidating. "If I go out, will someone film or photograph me without my knowledge, and will I see my body on television or in the newspaper, used as an example of gluttony, sloth or disease, obviously meant solicit disgust and disapproval?"

Objectifying? Dehumanizing? To the nth degree.

This is nasty stuff. I hesitate to link to these pictures on BFB, because I find them morally repugnant. But, these are the images that are used to fuel the "obesity epidemic" moral panic, and I think we should examine them.

Here's a highly unscientific sampling. I'll link the headlines to the articles.

1. Reuters: Obesity costs US health system $147 billion: study
2. Herald, Scotland: Cost of obesity could reach £3bn a year and hurt economic growth
3. Evening TImes, Scotand: Gastric band ops could help beat obesity epidemic
4. Daily Mail: Obesity 'causes 19,000 cancer cases every year'
5. Washington Post: Rate of adult obesity climbs in 28 states
6. BBC News: Obese teenagers 'show signs of heart disease'
7. Time Magazine: How Childhood Trauma Can Cause Adult Obesity
8. Daily Mail: Obese? That's because you eat too much, says top doctor
9. Telegraph: Obesity linked to cancer in women
10. MSN: Fats mix and obesity linked: study

There are a lot of observations that can be made about these. My little roundup of some common features:

70% appear to be taken without permission (all women, except one is unclear)
30% appear to be stock photography (all men)
Most appear to have a 40+ BMI
Most are wearing clothing that is super-casual, too small, or both

The percentage of ultra-casual and ill-fitting clothing is striking, although the woman in the MSN article, uniquely, is wearing a lovely dress that fits her well. Everyone else dresses in a way that would imply to thin people (to whom the lack of availability of nice clothes in large sizes may not spring immediately to mind) that they're indifferent to their appearance or unaware that they've gained weight. I think this is meant to imply that they have LET THEMSELVES GO, my friends. Oh, the terrible lack of discipline and self consciousness. Our civilization is surely in decline. /sarcasm

We're obviously meant to find large bellies objectionable. Occasionally, images of people with big butts are used as well. Also, while approximately 33% of Americans (for example) are classified as obese by BMI, only 6% of Americans have a BMI of 40 or over; over 80% of obese Americans have a BMI of 30-40. A person with a BMI of 40+ isn't representative of what "obesity" usually looks like, yet very fat people are over-represented in headless fattydom. I'd say that a pretty significant percentage of the people shown here have BMIs over 50, which would make them statistical outliers. Perhaps this is supposed to reassure the common, garden variety person whose BMI is in the obese-type-one (BMI 30-35) or two (BMI 35-40) range that the article isn't really about him or her, because he/she is not that fat? Or perhaps, it's meant to reassure thin, middle class people that the 33% of Americans who are obese aren't part of their community or social group? Because, if these obese people are friends and colleagues that they know to have reasonable habits, then how can they hold them in contempt and view them with disgust? How can they transfer the guilt they feel about their own over-consumption - their MacMansions and their SUVs - onto the bodies of others? How can they make the tragic and compelling story of America's/the West's decadence and immorality not about themselves?

The other thing that really struck me about this - something I'd never noticed before - was the difference in how men and woman are treated. I did additional image searches, and it was borne out. Women are usually photographed in public, without their knowledge or permission. I'd say that this reflects the idea we have that women's bodies are public property, and it's a form of body policing.

That woman on the left in the Telegraph article; the one with the baby carriage? That's roughly what I look like from the back in sweats. Jesus. They even fit her and look okay. But there she is, Ms. "Obesity Linked To Cancer in Women." That's what happens when you let your guard down and wear stretchy clothes in public. Is that a water bottle in her friend's hand? Are they out walking for exercise? Quite possibly, and this is what happens!

Our bodies aren't disgusting. However, using them in this way is. How many fat women are afraid to be seen on the street in exercise clothes because of this type of thing? Am I the only one?

On the other hand, I don't want to imply that what they do to the men is any less messed up. Most of the images of men appear to be stock photography, and their bellies are practically fetishized. They've got measuring tapes wrapped around their exposed stomachs; belts that won't fasten. Shirts off, or with buttons popping. Exposed upper bodies seem to be almost a requirement. The media is obsessed with fat men's round bellies and moobs. Why is this so striking? Too feminine-looking, perhaps? An echo of a pregnant woman's figure? Softness where the ideal™ is a rock-hard six pack? And why stock photography rather than candid beach shots, or whatever?

I wonder if headless fatties - the ones that presumably haven't signed releases - have any legal recourse.

Note: The phrase "headless fatties" was first used to describe these images by Charlotte Cooper.

Kiss-in Makes the News | There is nothing they will not do to make a buck...

worrier December 2nd, 2010 | Link | "The other thing that really

"The other thing that really struck me about this - something I'd never noticed before - was the difference in how men and woman are treated."

First off I liked your comments and agreed with pretty much everything you said. It's really refreshing to be in a place where people take how fat people are treated seriously, and say that it isn't ok. Off this site, in Real Life TM, I've only had one single person (apart from a couple of therapists, and that's their job) say anything but "just ignore it, just don't let it bother you, they're just not worth bothering about" etc.

Second off, I was really surprised when you'd said you'd never noticed that fat men and women get treated differently before. To me it's something that's always seemed to be there, especially in the media.

I know that fat men get treated crappily too, and I don't want to dismiss this or minimise it. But I've got to say that I don't think how fat men are treated reaches the scale of how profoundly badly fat women are treated. I don't want to offend or dismiss fat men and their experiences, but I don't know how else to say it.

lilacsigil December 2nd, 2010 | Link | I am a headless fattie!

There was a photo in my local newspaper one day of a fattie-from-the-back and I'm fairly sure it was me by the clothes and distinctive hairstyle, used to illustrate a story about a woman (not me!) fighting alcoholism and obesity with marathon walking. I cut my hair.

Maybe it's not so much the case in the US, but a lot of headless fattie male photos in Australia seem to be taken in public, too, especially at or around the beach. There's still stock photographs of both sexes, but there would be only very slightly more men, I think.

One time that this backfired was when my local newspaper took a picture of a headless fattie holding a salad roll and sitting on a bench in the main street, illustrating an obesity epidemic article. There were many letters to the editor asking them why they'd show a woman eating a healthy lunch, and what is she supposed to do, and do they have her permission? The newspaper apologised - it was great!

DeeLeigh's picture
December 3rd, 2010 | Link | Lovely. Fits right in. And

Lovely. Fits right in. And the study they're discussing? It's American, and it doesn't control for health insurance status. Of course, heavier people are less likely to have health insurance because it's much more expensive for them. That could affect your health quite a bit...

LarryG December 5th, 2010 | Link | Hi everyone, I joined this

Hi everyone,

I joined this site many years ago, but this is actually my first time posting. I wanted to respond to Worrier's comments about fat men. I know it's very easy to equate fatism and feminism, But from a morbidly obese guy's perspective, please try not to, because that makes me feel even more invisible than I already do. I feel my experience is minimized enough as it is as a fat man.

Well, it is true to a certain extent on the surface that fat men may appear to have it somewhat easier than a fat woman because of the media, this is in actual fact, only on that normal BMI, vs. overweight BMI scale.

Once, you get into obesity and morbid obesity, men don't have it easier at all, and you end up feeling pretty discriminated against and ignored. For example, when I weighed close to 500 lbs, most people assumed me, because of the pitch of my voice, breast fat, etc. to be a woman! I was ma'amed constantly, given the faux catcalls, etc. When I was younger, I suffered physical and verbal assaults because of my weight. And, this can still continue today. This isn't just the domain of females. Many people on the street assume, that someone morbidly obese, unless they're sporting a beard, is female.

As far as dating goes, I know it seems to be almost conventional wisdom that obese men can have any woman they want, but it seems like time and time again, women my age with high BMIs, while certainly facing challenges due to their size, are anything but virgins and have no problems getting a man or a woman for that matter, and have had several partners. Many have husbands or partners, but the same sample of obese men (lifelong), I'm willing to bet the majority are single. Talking the issue of morbid obesity here, not happening at age 40+.

For morbidly obese men, the majority of the time, if they have been that way most of their lives like myself, they are virgins, and many have never even dated. At least you have BBW communites, but seldom do you see BHM communities. Yes I know chubby chasers exist, and yes I know it's a matter of confidence overall.
And, I admit as a man, I can "get away" with not being so harshly judged on the lower end of the scale. And, yes, even as a large man, admitting to male friends that I like women of size as well as normative-weighted women, is actually not popular (which is weird).

But overall, being morbidly obese is tough, and I feel like my experience is further negated when it is dismissed as being "easier". It is anything but. Morbidly obese men are often assumed to be women actually. And, this is the reason I posted. It is assumed the vast majority of those in the photos were women. Really? How do you really know? I saw many bodies that resembled mine at that high weight. I had large breasts, and a round figure. The only ones that could definitely be seen as women were the ladies with the stroller. Otherwise, all others were ambiguous. Even the person in the pink shirt could be a male. This is another reason in my larger sizes I avoided bright, pastels.

I have since lost to around ~300, sometimes lower. I am NOT advocating a diet, just stating a fact, as a lifelong fat man. So my figure has adjusted to what is more socially acceptable as being male, and that actually takes some getting used to. Anyway, this is long, point of this being, in a way the fat acceptance issue and feminism are similar, but they are also distinct, and as a male when I saw Worrier's comment, I felt even further dismissed and ignored than I already do. And, I felt moved to share my experience. Apologies for it's length. It's hard to surmise this in a few sentences. In short, being a fat guy isn't a walk in the park. In many many ways, fat women have it "easier" from my perspective. Certainly a larger selection of clothing (important!) from regular stores (!), I cannot buy pants at Walmart or Target in my size, but a larger woman can buy a dress. Fat women also have a very large community and sense of sisterhood that is missing for BHMs in large part. I'm not saying it isn't there, but heavily weighted in women's favor.

And, I too, because I don't fit the norm, have felt my body to be "public property", completely denigrated, simply because this is how I have always been. I've never been "acceptable" to the public as far as weight since I was about 6 or so. I remember stares from the age of 9 or so, verbal taunts, physical attack, etc. It waxes and wanes, and it is certainly a matter of confidence, just stating, I really don't think it's any easier at all, just different. We aren't given a break as males, unless you get to the smaller end of the range at overweight/average/thin. In that very narrow zone, it's true, but for the most part, in the greater obese range? Not so much. My two cents, Apologizes for the length of the post. Sorry my introductory comment was epic length. I just felt the need to get this out there.

worrier December 5th, 2010 | Link | Hi Larry, I'm sorry that I

Hi Larry,

I'm sorry that I basically said that things are easier for fat men. I'm also sorry that I minimised your experiences. It sounds like your experiences are very, very similar to mine. That surprised me, I had thought that men hadn't received quite the same level of extremes of abuse and ridicule that women did. I've experienced many of the things you have, catcalls, verbal abuse, people lecturing me out of the blue. Having a lot of difficulty finding clothes I could wear, let alone clothes I liked. It's interesting you said you felt your body was "public property". I have felt that for many, many years, decades really. It's like if you're fat your civil rights and your right to privacy have been cancelled, you just don't qualify. Thanks for telling us what things are like for you.


strawberry December 5th, 2010 | Link | Larry, I for one am glad you

Larry, I for one am glad you posted. Definitely, we need more input from men. I do sympathize with the gender business - people hate when others don't seem to clearly stick to one gender or the other. Those of us women who have or have had PCOS (a condition related to lower insulin sensitivity and producing such delightful effects as extra fat and extra male hormone, resulting in some male secondary sex characteristics) have a good idea of what that's like. I myself have had problems with excess hair, not just on the face but seemingly everywhere - arms, legs, hands, chest - fast-growing too and contrasting greatly with my skin tone. As for finding clothes, I'm not going to say which gender has it worse; we have it different. Anatomically, women's fat distributes itself in more variations than fat on men does. On the other hand, if need be, we can wear a large shapeless piece of material with a neckhole as a dress of sorts, whereas men don't have that option. I don't know the full range of sizes carried by Walmart so can't comment on that.
Saying that fat men have it "easier" does not at all mean that fat men have it easy. What it means is that a) there is less misogyny involved (although there can be some, as in your experience), b) that a man who weighs 250 pounds will get on better than a woman of similar weight, c) that the entertainment media occasionally show a fat man paired with a slender woman, but hardly ever the other way around, and d) men are historically valued less for their looks than women are.
It's only fair that you point out some ways in which a fat woman may have an advantage.
I hope you will feel comfortable about posting more, perhaps in the forums. There are some awesome fat men around here who do post on occasion, and many of us women would like to hear more from all of you.

Lillian's picture
December 5th, 2010 | Link | Women are called fat if they

Women are called fat if they don't meet the Hollywood standard. I've been called fat when my weight was in the normal BMI range for many years. I'm now in the overweight range. I still wear straight sizes. I just bought clothes at a thrift store size 10 jeans, medium shirts although my weight is now getting close to the obese range, middle-age spread, I suppose.

Now, that I am overweight, I'm told I'm not fat. When I wasn't fat in my teens and twenties, I was called fat all the time. I now know it was probably due to the way that I dress; I thought I was fat and ugly so I dress frumpy. In my late twenties, I was told that I had a cute little figure by a worker acquaintance and suddenly I was no longer perceived as fat. My weight hadn't changed. My attitude did.

In the beginning of Fat Head, a movie on Hulu, the filmmaker shots a number of headless fatties. He tells us it took him hours to shoot that footage and if over twenty-five percent of the population was that size it would have only taken him ten minutes. Then, he says that he's obese. He looks normal size to me. He obviously looks normal size to most people or he wouldn't use himself as an example. I don't suggest watching the movie because of the misinformation in it. It's like an info-commercial promoting an Atkins like diet which most people believe not be healthy for the long term. Still, the first five minutes, make the point about headless fatties.

Tobysgirl December 5th, 2010 | Link | I really enjoyed your post,

I really enjoyed your post, LarryG; I think it's the first time I've heard a man who was fat when young describe his experiences.

I was harassed about my weight when I was young and made to feel HUGE, and I weighed 160 pounds when I was 16 years old (5'6"). I must say the harassing was done by family members and had far more to do with their emotional problems than my weight. I never had any trouble with boys or girls being interested in me. I would like to hear more people's experiences with weighing 200+ pounds as children and what they had to go through.

So I was glad to read Lillian's post about the filmmaker trying to find fat people to shoot as headless fatties. I leave the farm occasionally (!) and when I look about me -- in the state of Maine, an incredibly FAT state if one believes the statistics -- I see a few thin people, mostly average-weight people, some chubby people, and a few fat people. Are all the MORBIDLY OBESE types, such as myself, supposedly never leaving the house?

This original posting is BRILLIANT in my opinion.

Lillian's picture
December 6th, 2010 | Link | My boyfriend is 'morbidly

My boyfriend is 'morbidly obese'. He hates that term. He dresses well. He covers his belly by buying his pants larger than most fat men do so the pants belt above his widest part so there is no apparent hang over. I think men that wear their pants low look very bad. I know it's the fashion, but it's a fashion that many people don't like.

My boyfriend wouldn't be photographed as a headless fatty because his belly is covered by clothes. He's wide all over. I think he's very sexy. When we are out, most people respect him. If they don't respect him, it's because he's an intelligent Black man - nothing to do with size. Some people have a fear of intelligent Black men which is utter crap.

I probably look smaller than I am since when I'm out I'm with him. I wear straight sizes, medium shirt, size 10 pants bought last week. My weight is in the overweight range. I feel like I'm fat due to the abuse I was given over my weight as a teen and a young adult. Next to my man that is nine inches taller than me and weighs more than twice my mass, I look absolutely petite.

richie79's picture
December 15th, 2010 | Link | I too find headless fatty

I too find headless fatty pictures morally repugnant, ever since I read Charlotte Cooper's original deconstruction of the phenomenon (used on several occasions to illustrate complaints to the BBC to which unsusprisingly I never received a response, much less a satisfactory one). And I believe the motives behind their use are far more sinister than first thought. In particular the point about the use of headless fatty pictures in the 'disproportionality' element of the moral panic merits repeating, nay, shouting from the rooftops. (As a side note, I noticed that 'Obesity' is now listed as an example on the Wikipedia article about Cohen's research, with citations linking to this fantastic Epidemiology article).

Unfortunately (in the UK at least) I don't believe you have any legal recourse against being photographed in a public place without your permission (some years ago, I lost a very heated exchange on this very subject with someone who'd posted a 'candid' shot of a fat teenage girl on Flickr for mockery). Bizarre I know in a state where there have been numerous examples of the police and authorities misusing already heavy-handed anti-terrorism legislation to harass photographers taking snaps of tourist landmarks, but there it is.

As a former fat guy who's recently (inexplicably, and certainly not intentionally) lost a bit of weight, I would generally agree with LarryG's experiences. I suspect that whilst the definition of 'fat' is perhaps a little higher for men (particularly when compared to the ever-stricter Hollywood standards to which women are expected to conform), once you're into the realms of being noticeably fat (3-400lbs and above) the daily experiences of discrimination are broadly similar. I too had (and to an extent still have) great difficulty finding jeans and trousers (pants) in the UK, where most stores top out at about a 36-38" waist max, and had to buy them on visits to the US, and have experienced fat-phobic workplace bullying which due to its subject nature wasn't taken particularly seriously.

On the other hand I have had several long-term relationships with women and am now happily married to a wonderful American. Don't rule out Internet dating, however sniffy some (including elements within the FA community) may be about it. And my experiences of FA spaces and the Fatosphere vary greatly - in some I felt most unwelcome, in others people proved very interested in my experiences as a man and lamented the lack of others in the Movement.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

Bilt4Cmfrt's picture
December 15th, 2010 | Link | Funny thing is I just

Funny thing is I just recently commented on the recent TSA debacle somewhere and how people are getting so excited about being 'touched' by strangers at the airport and how 'degrading' the scanner photos are.

Really? Welcome to my world.

I'm fat and all I've had to hear about for the past few years is how disgusting it is to have my fat ooze over into somebody else's seat and touch them. As if I LIKE having some stranger touching ME. As if I get some perverse enjoyment from cramming myself into a seat three sizes too small for hours on end.

Degrading photos of me being taken and viewed by, Grud-know-who? See; the title of this post.
Newspapers, magazines, TV shows, news programs, they've all been doing this for YEARS. I'm always wondering when, not 'if', I'll pick up a newspaper and recognize the picture, setting, or cloths of the person being depicted as the poster-child for 'The Obesity Crisis' as being mine. Yet nobody seems to be concerned about my modesty / dignity. At this point, I'm beyond worrying about what some putz in a security booth might think of my, virtual nude, scan graphs. So why would I be sympathetic to their discomfort over the prospect of having that same putz getting his giggle off over theirs? The difference? I know who's at fault for all my, air-travel, suffering. And it ain't the people I'm traveling WITH. Well, mostly it ain't the people I'm traveling with. It's the institutions and businesses that i pay, good money, to get me where I'm trying to go to.

As for the Headless Fattie phnom, I think, at this point, that it's something of a tradition with the media. Yeah, there's probably a certain amount of malicious intent involved when almost EVERY obesity article is accompanied by a headless fattie photo but there's also an element of 'this is just what's always been done' mindlessness. In fact, if you actually read enough of the articles these pics get tacked to, you'll find a lot of that, pre-processed 'Fat=bad / fat=death / fat=disgusting' crapspiel recycled and regurgitated into the text of most of these articles. Blase-blah-blah, 'Obesity Crisis', Drone-drone-drag, 'HealthCare Costs', copy-paste-repeat 'Calories in/calories out'. The 'Obesity Crisis' as fluff piece filler to balance out a page or burn time at the bottom of the broadcast hour. And it could be that Folks are getting a little bored with the kid running around shouting 'Wolf' every five minutes. This would be nothing but a good thing if that's truly what's going down.

Weather this is the long awaited fade-out to that particular aspect of healthist bullshite or just a pause before the next assault, the issue of fat and gender is still a pretty sticky brier.

I've always been fat but I've also been fortunate. Even at my heaviest (close to 400 Lbs) I've never had to deal with some of the more ugly things that society can throw at us and I am WELL aware of the fact that a lot of this has to do with the fact that I'm male. However, the fact that I'm male, fat, and POC has increased my awareness of the subtle nature of what can be and is done to anyone exhibiting a 'difference' in this society. And it chaps my ass no end when confronted by those who seem to think racism or homophobia somehow different or more important than size discrimination. Discrimination is discrimination. How is this different? And please don't come with those tired 'But you can change' or 'no violence against fat people' arguments. If it were so easy to change, most would. Or you might talk to someone who's loved one has DIED because of disinterested, misdirected, or distracted medical care that couldn't manage to get past the fact that they were fat. The other thing that chaffs is what seems like a lack of participation in F/A by men. I've rationalized it as a propensity for less communication on the part of males in general, an unwillingness to discuss this particular aspect of male life publicly, and the vague idea that men might actually feel this an issue that doesn't , really, concern them. Truth is, I don't know why there aren't more guys participating in the F/A.
Which is a real shame, because this is DEFIANTLY an issue that effects us. In some aspects, just as much as it does women. Probably means that I'll just have to keep my annoying presence up until the rest catch on, I guess. Evil

Learn how to Logic- Lesson #8
Fatness is NOT an indicator of moral standing.
Nor does being thin make one 'Good', 'Healthy', or even 'better'.

richie79's picture
December 28th, 2010 | Link | Back on the topic of

Back on the topic of headless fatties, I think I'm going to complain to BBC Newswatch about this* charming little stocking filler, broadcast on last night's 6 O'Clock News and focusing on research about British men having allegedly gained over a stone between 1985-2000 (oh, how I wish Sandy Szwarc was still around to debunk this stuff) which broke over Christmas. I don't think I've ever seen as many bellies and portions of takeaway food stuffed into one two-minute piece, but the part that really got up my nose was the statistics sequence, with the data superimposed over (and 'rounded' to fit) the mid-section of a large woman, the film of which had been slowed down for added effect. Leaving aside the no doubt dubious methodology used to generate said data (and the issue of why they never focus on the three-quarters of the population who by implication must fit within their 'normal' and 'underweight' categories?) I have little hope, based on past experience, that any complaint would be taken seriously or responded to, but I feel that this one is so thoroughly unpleasant and so offends me as a license-payer that it's worth raising.

*segment is at approximately 13.46; unfortunately it's only on iPlayer so international readers may not be able to view).

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

richie79's picture
January 11th, 2011 | Link | As an update on my above

As an update on my above post, I actually received the honour of a reply from the Beeb complaints dept! Not one worth the electronic white space it's typed on (it seems to deliberately skirt around every point I raised, and apparently the Audience Logs, far from being an 'important document' make good lunch-break humour fodder for BBC employees), but it's a response nevertheless.

Complaint and reponse posted below for those who are interested; sorry about the length Shocked

"Dear Complaints Supervisor,

I write with regard to the BBC News at Six bulletin, broadcast at 5.10pm on December 27th 2010, and specifically a segment toward the end of this bulletin involving the results of an Oxford University study about British men getting heavier between 1985 and 2000.

My concerns with the report are twofold. Firstly, and relating specifically to last night's piece, I felt the presentation dripped with anti-fat prejudice and was about as far from an impartial presentation of the facts as it was possible to get. I found the excessive use of what activists within the field of fat studies call ‘headless fatties’ (anonymous photographs or video of the mid-sections of larger people in public places , taken and used without their knowledge or permission and used to illustrate ‘news’ articles about obesity) offensive, dehumanising and unnecessary. Given that people of the size generally shown (BMI 40+) comprise only about 5% of those labelled ‘obese and less than 2% of the general population, the constant use of their images to illustrate these articles also exaggerates the extent of the ‘problem’ in the public perception and thus constitutes inaccurate reporting. The use of slow-motion shots and superimposition of statistics onto the belly of a large woman struck me as a puerile attempt to mock the subject of the shot (and by extension all fat people) whilst the use of images of fat people consuming stereotypically unhealthy fast food perpetuates the myth that this is responsible for ‘excess’ weight. Indeed the overwhelming focus on food and overeating (when numerous studies have indicated that the reasons behind some people being larger than others are myriad and complex, often including genetic and evolutionary factors) played into popular and simplistic stereotypes that all fat people are invariably personally responsible for their situation because they consume too much and exercise too little.

My second complaint relates more widely to the contradiction between the respect afforded by the BBC toward other stigmatised and minority groups and its complete lack of respect, at every level, for those who happen to be larger than is considered socially acceptable. For those within a nascent fat civil rights movement which has developed partly in opposition to the constant stream of defamatory and contemptuous attacks emanating from the mass media, the BBC has for many years been one of the primary culprits in the demonisation and stigmatisation of larger people, both through an excessive (bordering on obsessive) focus on news stories about fat and weight and with the way the issue is treated within light entertainment programmes. Reportage is frequently one-sided, ignoring evidence which disputes either the extent or implications of ‘obesity’ within society, and the same 'experts' (notably Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum, an anti-obesity organisation) relied upon for sound bites with only occasional, token attempts made to involve those with opposing views. I understand that whether legitimate or not, concern over the supposed 'obesity epidemic' has been at the top of the news agenda for almost a decade despite the entire panic being based on an increasingly contested BMI scale and recent statistics showing stagnation or falls in measured rates across all categories (ignored, of course, by the BBC). However the tone of reporting has been far from partial and indeed has displayed a level of prejudice which would not be tolerated were any other group within the rich breadth of human diversity concerned.

Human beings have always come in a range of shapes and sizes, and it’s time for the BBC to embrace this and to understand that fat people are not some sort of evil, scourge or menace to society – most of us are productive, tax-paying, law-abiding citizens whose alleged £4bn annual cost to the NHS (most on surgeries and treatments which the establishment insist are required before we can be accepted into mainstream society or considered ‘healthy’) is dwarfed by the £18bn cost of dementia, a condition associated with the extended lifespans to which we are all now expected to aspire through 'virtuous living'. Some of us even pay the TV license and are thus entitled to enjoy your news and current affairs output without constantly having our bodies mocked by producers and disproportionately problematised as a major social issue."


"Dear Mr Edwards

Reference CAS-495261

Thank you for contacting us regarding ‘BBC News at Six’ broadcast on 27 December 2010.

I understand you’re unhappy with a news report on obesity. I note you found the images of the general public to be offensive, unnecessary and will promote a negative impression of the general public as being overweight. I also note you feel our reporting to be biased against those who are overweight.

We are aware of the wide range of people who watch our news programmes during the day but, equally, we have a responsibility to report the main news events. Part of our Editorial guidelines states that we may uses images and filming of the general public to support our reports. When filming openly in public and semi-public places, we do not normally obtain express consent from individuals who are incidentally caught on camera as part of the general scene:

I believe the main premise of the report was highlighting that there has been an increase in the UK of people who are overweight and the health risks associated. There was no intention of offensive or to encourage any negativity. As I am sure you are aware we are committed to impartiality, and our journalists, presenters and programme makers are well aware of this. They are expected to put their own views to one side when carrying out their work for the BBC. They seek to provide the information which will enable viewers to make up their own minds

I appreciate you feel quite strongly about this matter and I’d like to assure you that I have registered your concerns on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers. The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content. The logs are also published on the BBC's intranet site, so are available for all BBC staff to view.

Kind Regards

Gemma McCartan
BBC Complaints

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"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

DeeLeigh's picture
January 12th, 2011 | Link | Great initial letter, and

Great initial letter, and the reply was just absurd. What a bunch of bullshit. I can just picture a group of twenty-somethings laughing as they pieced together that garbage from a selection of "approved language."

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