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3 Reasons I’m Not Outraged that the EU Ruled that Obesity can be a Disability

I was shocked that the Mayor of London had the following to say about the recent EU obesity as disability ruling, “It is totally and utterly ridiculous to class this as a disability.  It is an insult to those who are truly disabled.”

shame london mayor

His Worship wasn’t the only one to express outrage.  Here’s a random sampling from the twitterverse;

eu-tweets

Whoa there Boris and twitterverse!  Who made you qualified to know when a person has or does not have a disability or what should constitute said disability?  I’m not outraged at the ruling nor do I think it’s an insult to people with disabilities for the following 3 reasons.


The EU, unlike many irresponsible headline writers, did not rule that obesity = disability.  The court ruled it may be in specific situations.  If the EU had whole hog declared that obesity is a disability I’d have disagreed strongly with that.  The ruling is meant to empower a known vulnerable group of people by keeping them employed and insisting that employers reasonably accommodate them in said employment.

This all sounds familiar because disability advocates have been working on the same goal for years.  Battling hiring prejudice because poverty limits free agency, decision making power, and can increase vulnerability.  Disability lawmaking efforts have been so good in the EU, the lawyers involved leveraged the existing disability laws as the best way to empower another disadvantaged group.  It’s actually a huge compliment to how awesome and powerful disability rights have become.  😀


People with disabilities can be fat, just like anybody else.  Actually they’re statistically more likely to be fat because they have a disability.  Factors like reduced mobility, weight gain caused by medication side effects, and poverty linked obesity all affect people with disabilities.  In short, plenty of people belong to both camps.  People with disabilities battle enough prejudice without further weight based prejudice.  It’s hard to be outraged by something that will further protect people from ridiculous discrimination based on appearance.  We should all be judged on our merits, not our measurements.


Fat shaming is prejudice.  Advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities should not be used as a cover to discriminate against another group of vulnerable people.  Hate speech takes many guises, disability advocacy should never be one of them.


The mayor of London and his twitter compatriots don’t realize how much harm they are inflicting.  Online shaming and prejudice hurts people; with disabilities and without.  With an extremely active digital disability community, all advocates should be concerned about the negative ramifications of online shaming.  The New Yorker article Trial by Twitter does an excellent job of exploring the pitfalls of online shaming and the impact it can have in the real world.  Wired Magazine’s article Why You Should Think Twice About Online Shaming is a great read and there’s even a book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed documenting the horrific experiences of people who were wrongfully publicly shamed online.  Monica Lewinsky’s Ted talk even covers the subject!

Shame is incredibly destructive.  Brene Brown, whom I have referred to on this blog before, correlates shame with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying and aggression.  It’s considered to be most dominant feature of modern poverty and is closely linked to suicide.  People with disabilities are vulnerable to many of the these factors.  Depression and poverty being the two foremost in my mind.  When people experience shame it puts them at risk and that’s not okay.  His Worship, the Mayor of London as an influential public figure should know better than to judge people based on their appearance, or make shame based prejudicial comments on behalf of a community he is not member of.

The disability community is an incredible ambassador for promoting the respect of all people.  Fat shaming, along with any other form of discriminatory prejudice is not okay.  For further reading I recommend Jes Bakers The Militant Baker blog.  Note, not all her blogs are work appropriate.  Cheers to you all for working towards respect, ability, and merit based communities.


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