We’re once again trying to define "fat"

At the risk of offending everyone who is overweight–and a huge portion of our population is–I, nonetheless, proceed by declaring the following.

The Legislature has better things to do, more important things to consider, budgets to pass, legislation to vote on, laws to debate, places to go, people to see, than banning discrimination against fat people. Excuse me, overweight people. Petite jumbo. Carga larga. Portly. Porky. Chubby. Chunky.

People of size. That’s it. People of size. That’s what the airlines called them when they announced last week that they would enforce their regulation and charge "people of size" for two seats if they couldn’t fit into one. Way to go, American. Way to go, Southwest.

We’ve been through this before in the State House and the Commerce and Labor Committee, in its wisdom, defeated this legislation when it was introduced in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998, maybe even more years. I only know about the four when I sat on that committee. When I wondered about how much the people testifying weighed. Whether they would crash into the basement because three four or five hundred pounders sat on the same bench in the hearing room.

One of my House colleagues is trying to garner support for, you guessed it, "An Act Relative to Weight Discrimination." It would amend the section of Massachusetts General Law that prohibits discriminatory behavior on issues such as race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, sex and sexual orientation.

My colleague wants to add the word "weight." She thinks it would be "extremely beneficial to all those who have tolerated discriminatory remarks due to their size."

Sorry, but I won’t be signing on. Been there, done that. Or, not done that. And here’s why.

You cannot define fat. Example. If you are a 5 foot 3 inch woman, and a size 18, you would probably be considered overweight. Note I say probably, because I do not want to offend my shorter, heavier constituents. But, on the other hand, if you wore that size 18 and were 6 foot 2 inches, you might not be on the fat end of the scale.

A guy, six foot five and 225 pounds might be quite fit, where the same weight on a man 6 or 8 inches shorter would mean he is, here come the F word again, fat.

The fact is, we cannot ban discrimination of a condition if we cannot define that condition. And I am not quite ready to put height and weight charts into law, in case you’re thinking that they may define the situation

Now, if you can't define something, how can you enforce it? If two people apply for a job, and you hire the thin one, have you discriminated against the larger one? What if you just didn't like them? Or they had a miserable personality? How do you prove that?

Originally, the legislation, which I voted against, would have also banned discrimination against short people. How short is short, I asked, but proponents couldn’t answer the question. Because, short cannot be defined. Is it under five foot? Under five-five? The same for men and women? For Swedes and Koreans?

How about discrimination against the tall? My six-eight son is discriminated against, I guess, if you count having to pay more for clothes, or include hitting his head on door jambs. Or answering unending questions like, "How tall are you, anyway?"

Now, I am not ridiculing overweight people, or short people, or tall people. I’m glad to see catalogs and magazines including heftier women as models. And shopping for a suit at Filene’s recently, I noted that the plus sizes, or woman’s sizes, are in the same department with petites and misses sizes, not hidden in the back of the store as though our overweight friends don’t wear clothes.

And I know that everyone who is overweight does not necessarily overeat. I recognize that there are health conditions that can cause people to gain excessive amounts of weight.

Note how I am carefully trying to avoid the word "fat." Should I say weight-impaired? Or height-impaired?

"Fat" is fine, according to The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. I recall that, in 1997, the NAAFA sent a spokesperson, a good witness, to testify that fat people deserve rights as much as gay people, and blaming the hatred of fat people on, first, the $37-billion a year diet industry and, second, the media and the artificial standard of beauty promoted.

Fat discrimination, she said, affects the ability to obtain education, housing, and employment, and detracts from one's ability to marry. But, when asked, she couldn't remember one time when she had been discriminated against.

And, it's funny. The short person testifying that year said she was under four foot ten. I owned up to being six foot. And people regularly ask my son how tall he is. But, when I had an overwhelming urge to ask one more question to the NAAFA official, I resisted. The question was very simple. "Just how fat are you?"

Maybe I'll ask her next time.

Only Michigan has a statute protecting people from discrimination due to height or weight. And I hope Massachusetts doesn’t become the second.

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