My cousin, in search of an eligible bride, recently received some photos and bio-data of a girl, who was our distant relative and whom we have never seen before. My cousin found her quite eligible because of her good education, employment, wealth, beauty and very fair complexion. (The last quality is only to emphasise that she even had this additional but important qualification which we Indians seem to be obsessed with.)

On knowing this, some of our close relatives who knew her well rang us up to inform that the woman was not as slim as she was in the photos but was an obese “drum”, “rejected” an umpteen number of times and hence “unfit”. They even cautioned us not to get attracted by the hefty dowry which had been hiked only to compensate for her biggest “disqualification” (obesity). Despite such stiff opposition, we went ahead to see the girl. It was a pleasant conversation wherein my cousin expressed his desire to know the girl’s expectations and opinions about him.

Baseless discrimination

Later, during an informal chat with our relatives, I learnt to my horror that my cousin’s desire to know the bride’s opinions about him had become the joke of the day. For it seemed ridiculous even to her own parents that the girl, who was obese and hence “rejected” many times, had been asked about her opinion and expectations, as if she was not entitled to such things.

An internet search on obesity and social attitudes revealed the stereotypes, stigma and discrimination the obese people face in society and the negative attitudes these generate in them. The obese people are discriminated at home, in education, employment, social circles and are cast as lazy, gluttonous, adamant, mean and wicked. They, along with those having AIDS, are the least preferred as sexual partners/spouses and ranked far below the physically challenged and mentally ill. Obese women are not so social due to the stigma. They usually prefer obese partners in marriage.

All these reveal the discrimination and stigmatisation of the obese (especially women) which leads to low self-esteem. One of the reasons seems to be the outcome of the fashion industry which is obsessed with slimness. What is more disturbing is the commercial stigmatisation and exploitation by various enterprises as can be seen in many advertisements.

Obese people are also portrayed as gluttonous forgetting that their genetic makeup is one of the reasons for obesity and many even have a normal diet. But stigmatisation only leads to isolation, frustration and eating disorder in the obese. The most important thing is to promote positive psychological and social attitudes among and/or towards the obese in society.

Keywords: ObesitysocietyhealthAIDSstigma

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