Who Are You Calling Fat? – A documentary with the feel of a reality game show

Review: The participants in this ‘Bigger Brother’ format debate if obesity is a slur or a serious condition

Who Are You Calling Fat? – The participants  are a broad survey of attitudes towards weight and its consequences. Photograph: Sara Ramsden/Love Productions

Who Are You Calling Fat? – The participants are a broad survey of attitudes towards weight and its consequences. Photograph: Sara Ramsden/Love Productions

 

The subject of food comes up early in Who Are You Calling Fat? (BBC Two, Monday, 9pm), a documentary about people living with obesity that has the feel of a reality game show. Bigger Brother, perhaps. The nine new housemates consider their shopping for the week. Cornflakes for breakfast, cookie dough ice-cream in the freezer, and for their first meal that evening, a hefty order from Dominos pizza. They reach easy consensus on beverages, though, offsetting their calorie intake with Coke Zero, Dr Pepper Zero, “Zero all the way.” At least they agree on one thing.

Otherwise, the participants for the show are a much broader survey of attitudes towards weight and its consequences. “My personal opinion is we need to get over those ‘O’ words,” says Victoria, meaning “overweight” and “obese”. A self-described “anti-diet, fat-positive activist”, Victoria may be at the extreme end of the scale, promoting “body confidence” and “intuitive eating” through her online business. Consider it Fat as a Millennial Issue.

Everybody, you feel, could benefit from being a little more body positive and a little more health conscious

The “O words”, however, are not just ammunition in society’s cruel pursuit of fat-shaming, but medical terms with significant health risks, which affect a quarter of the population. Other housemates are confronting it. Take Del, a sales manager in his late 50s who reached almost 25 stone a few years ago, forced to medicate his high blood pressure and cholesterol, who finally underwent bariatric surgery, removing three-quarters of his stomach. Or Jack, who developed type 2 diabetes on honeymoon, and is now pursuing a better diet and exercise plan to lose weight and control his condition. 

Conversation about shared experiences around the dinner table becomes fraught with clashing perspectives. (As Jesus nearly put it, let he who is without stones throw the first sin.) “The science is out of date, problematic and actually very hurtful towards fat people,” complains Victoria, without elaboration, whose belief in bigger bodies she admits is evangelical. If that can make her one of the more infuriating participants – walking out on an amiably bluff diabetic amputee, Colin, because she feels lectured – she isn’t demonised either.

Victoria (left), Courtney (middle) and Babs (right) in the street taking part in Stand for Self-Love in Oxford. Photograph: Sara Ramsden/Love Productions
Victoria (left), Courtney (middle) and Babs (right) in the street taking part in Stand for Self-Love in Oxford. Photograph: Sara Ramsden/Love Productions

It may seem more exhibitionist than coherently political to invite others to pose with her in bikinis and blindfolds on a pedestrianised street, asking members of the public to draw validating hearts on their skin. But the event genuinely moves Babs, a retreating woman given to deep shame and anxiety about her weight. “I hate being this size,” she admits early, in tears. Of all the participants, her journey, and that of Jed, a comedian full of soft self-deprecation, shocked into action by Colin’s visit may be the most involving; not because they want to change, so much, but because they aren’t extremists, they’re somewhere on the scale. Everybody, you feel, could benefit from being a little more body positive and a little more health conscious. But at least they share a sense of humour. “The weight in that room just felt really heavy for some reason,” sighs a plus size male model, also departing Colin’s talk. Victoria smiles. “Well,” she says, “it is.”

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