|Image via Flickr|
The restaurant's hosts size up the guests before they escort them back to the table. If they think a Larry chair is needed, they make sure to switch out the seats before the obese man or woman is taken into the dining area.
So why do Larry chairs matter? As obesity becomes a common occurrence, institutions are forced to make adjustments to accommodate heavier and heavier people. These people might not even be aware that these adjustments are made.
We are now reaching a point though, where there are so many obese people that institutions can't change enough to meet the obese populations' needs. One example of this is the airline industry.
Obesity impacts the airline industry in a number of ways, from the weight of the plane to the comfort of the passengers. The greater the passengers weigh, the more fuel the airline must use to get from point A to B, which skyrockets business costs and ticket costs.
|Image via Flickr|
When addressing the problem of obesity, we have to be aware that it is not about body shaming. Obesity is not like smoking. There is a stigma with obesity. Many people unfairly label the obese as lazy, invalid, or uninterested in their own health. Obesity is not sexually attractive, as opposed to smoking which is often seen as rebellious and dangerous.
Because of the perception of obesity, the problem becomes one of tact. Essentially, how do you help an obese person lose weight without basically calling them fat? And how do you stress health over extreme weight-loss and eating disorders such as anorexia? Veganism may be one of the answers to this problem.
A healthy vegan diet can help people fall within a healthy weight range. The diet could work because it doesn't focus on calorie restriction, but rather the type of food a person eats. Focusing on nutrient-rich whole foods can help to change a person's eating habits and could possibly even change their metabolism.
The problem is that a vegan diet can still be very unhealthy and can still make you fat if you eat the wrong things. Vegan cupcakes and cookies do not a healthy vegan diet make.
Without the proper knowledge, veganism is just like any other fad diet and can end up doing more damage than good. This is why it is important to not just push veganism on people without helping them understand what comprises a healthy and balanced vegan diet.
This is why we were surprised by the insensitive and simplistic ad campaign by the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). PCRM has always advocated choosing health over merely treating an unhealthy lifestyle with pills. They have been a voice for prevention and wellness, instead of a mouthpiece for the pharmaceutical industry. That said, there is a difference between passionately promoting a healthy lifestyle and shaming the very people you are trying to help.
In their most recent campaign, PCRM suggested that vegans are more pleasing airline passengers because they are slim. You can see in the video below that they portray non-vegans as inconsiderate buffoons who smoosh their fat into your face as they scoot over to their seats. The vegan is an attractive and slim woman, although she does become annoyingly opinionated rather quickly (the punchline to a bad joke).
We find the ad troubling because it plays into a number of stereotypes that simply aren't true. First, obese people are not inconsiderate or unpleasant. Yes, it would be troubling if someone was invading your space, and obesity does cause problems for airlines, but obese people do not purposely invade others' space. We're sure they feel a great amount of embarrassment just trying to navigate the small spaces.
Also, the ad suggests that vegans, though attractive, are preachy and annoying. The first error in this assumption is that vegans are, by default, attractive. There are plenty of unattractive and, yes, overweight vegans. Though you can occasionally find a "preachy" vegan, there are no more than in any other group of people. If you have a preachy personality, you will be preachy about anything whether you are a vegan or not.
Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the ad is that it addresses problems that do need to be solved. We do need to reduce the weight of airline passengers. We do need to address obesity as it impacts society. We can't, however, do it by making broad stereotypes and shaming people. We, instead, need to provide more education, resources and support.
Though PCRM does provide useful information and help, many obese people may now be less likely to seek PCRM's assistance due to the alienating and judgmental ads. We hope that PCRM will keep this in mind in the future.
While we applaud their overall goal, we don't believe in obese-shaming as it perpetuates a cycle of unhealthy thinking, and it is just mean-spirited. Yes, obesity is everyone's problem, but we have to approach it with compassion and an awareness of the social stigma that obesity carries.