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Thursday, June 11, 1998 Published at 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK

Health: Latest News

Fighting the shape police

The Taking Shape campaign is featured on BBC Local Radio

Vanessa Feltz on fat prejudice
Vanessa Feltz was 32 when she made her big break into television. She thought she would be treated like other TV presenters, but instead found she faced a barrage of fat jokes. Hailed as Britain's answer to Oprah Winfrey, she was called "Mrs Blobby in reinforced heels" and her breasts were compared to a World War I barrage balloon. She still recalls every single insult and has reluctantly become a crusader against fattism. She told the BBC's Taking Shape campaign that nobody should let prejudice get in their way.

"Everyone who writes about me has to write 'larger than life', 'tubby', 'hefty', 'weighty'. They never just say Vanessa," she said.

"I am on television. Everyone can see what I look like. I am on there looking fat. I do not need to be described as fat every single time people write about me."

Discrimination against fat people can have long-term effects
Vanessa didn't want to be a crusader for fat women, but was pushed into it because of the lack of other role models. She says there is only Dawn French and Hatti Jacques in Britain and Hatti Jacques is dead. "There really isn't anyone else," she said. She now feels "an ambassadorial responsibility to wear pink, orange, cerise and aubergine and turquoise and emerald, very high heels and big flamboyant jewellery".

She hopes taking part in the campaign will help larger women feel better about themselves. She advises: "So don't just sit there and let the shape police tell you what to do. You can do anything you want to do. For goodness sake, the best of times is now."


Prejudice against fat people is widespread. The stereotyped view is that fat people eat cakes all day and are lazy. Sometimes this can affect their chances of getting a job.

There have been several high profile anti-discrimination cases in recent years. Discrimination can lead to a downward spiral of low self-esteem and depression, which can have long-term effects.

Attitudes to food can vary vastly
Attitudes to fatness and food can vary widely among different cultures and families. In some cultures, people are expected to eat with gusto. In others, food is associated with emotional need.

Women are particularly prone to comfort eating when they are depressed, often getting caught up in a cycle of binge eating and starvation.

Many get hooked on crash dieting to shake off weight and some become obsessed by shedding the pounds. The most important thing is to develop a healthy attitude to food.

Dieticians can help develop healthy attitudes to food
After a lifetime of unhealthy eating, this can be hard. Dieticians can help. Many advise a gradual approach, slowly cutting out fatty foods and replacing them with fruit and vegetables.

It is not necessary to give up cakes and chocolate for good. As long as these are rationed and seen as occasional treats rather than everyday necessities, they can be part of a healthy diet. A more balanced diet keeps off the weight better than any amount of crash dieting.

BBC Local Radio is running a series of information items as part of the Taking Shape campaign.

If you'd like advice on how to lose weight successfully, you can also call the BBC ActionLine on 0800 888806. There is a free pack of very useful information, which includes tips on how to establish a healthier eating pattern, some specially developed recipes and a free fridge magnet to help you stay on course.

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