ABC News covered this story about the Chawner family in England, who were recently the subject of a scathing article in Closer Magazine, what appears to be a British celebrity magazine equivalent to People or US Weekly.
The article explains that the Chawner family, with a combined total weight of 1, 160 pounds, does not work and lives solely on benefits provided by the government.
What is interesting about this article is the way that it crosses multiple political and social discussions that we often have in the fatosphere and in feminist circles. The article questions the validity of allowing a family to live soley on government benefits while it also talks about the problems that he Chawner family faces related to their weight.
Husband Phillip has diabetes while wife Audrey has epilepsy. Both conditions prevent them from working now. Daughter Samantha, 21, weighs 221 pounds and says that she has applied for over 500 jobs as a hairdresser and has been turned down every time. She attributes this to her weight, implying that she was turned down for these jobs because of prejudice against her. I can see this being a particular problem in the beauty industry, as we have been told time and time again that fat is just not beautiful.
However, the article also brings up some more issues that are often discussed in the fatosphere. The ABC News article quotes Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical College Weight Management Center, as saying that fat is the “last acceptable prejudice,” an idea that has constantly been rejected not only in the blogs I frequently read, but also in my own life. See this post from Fillyjonk over at Shapely Prose.
What is particularly confusing about ABC’s attempt to cover this story is that the Chawner’s first point out that their weight is hereditary, but then ABC debunks that claim. However, several studies in the past year or so have proven that weight is a product of your gene pool. Again, see Kate Harding over at Shapely Prose.
The confusion continues as the reader is expected to blame or admonish the Chawner’s for receiving these kinds of benefits. As I recently said in a guest column I published in my local paper, it is not our job to judge the reasons why people become homeless, or in this case, disabeled. Rather, we should support them as is our job as fellow human beings. But even with that stated, the ABC News article still tells us that Audrey has epilepsy, which is not related to weight, and that Samantha has no immediate health problems that would prevent her from getting a job. The article does not state when Philip was diagnosed with diabetes, so an argument could be made that even his diabetes is not weight-related. But again, even if all of their problems were weight related, should we really be expected to judge and condemn this family?
Of course, the public normally answers “yes,” but weight is not should not be a public issue.