Enduring prejudice from our ‘fattist society’

Best friend: Fiona at her home in Dore with her dog Molly.                                                                                                PICTURE: sarah washbourn
Best friend: Fiona at her home in Dore with her dog Molly. PICTURE: sarah washbourn
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Slim is good and fat is bad. But now we’re persecuting overweight people, says one woman who gained two stones in two months – and lost the respect of her colleagues.

‘Don’t judge me; you don’t know my story.’ If Fiona Jagger were to wear a sign around her neck, that’s what it would say.

Fiona Jagger

Fiona Jagger

At the age of 47, she is the fattest she has ever been in her life. And she hates it.

She detests the way she feels and the way she looks. She knows only too well that her health is suffering. But what she loathes even more is the way people condemn her.

“We are living in a fattist society,” she says. “The comments and the judgements slimmer people make about us are incredibly hurtful. Overweight people are seen as greedy, lazy and lacking in self-control. It’s instantly assumed we are solely to blame for our weight.”

Fiona currently weighs 17½ stones. Just five years ago, her weight was 11 stones. Major health problems and a succession of vital operations caused the gain.

And the successful Dore businesswoman and mum of one was horrified to discover major differences in the way she was treated as an overweight woman- by complete strangers, business associates and even friends,

Fiona, who runs highly successful business The IT Trainer with husband Andy Hogg, is far from lazy. Last year, while still recovering from a hysterectomy and further surgery to remove her ovaries, she set up three small internet-based companies from her home office. And yet she has been made to feel like a coach potato stuffing herself with junk food, she says.

“I am so far removed from the stereotypical image people have labelled me with – as a lazy, unhealthy, food-obsessed slob.

“It’s my body that has let me down. Since turning 40 my health has been a nightmare. I was in and out of hospital and the weight piled on.”

Fiona’s health problems date back to her teens. At 19, doctors discovered one of her kidneys had died and disintegrated and operated to remove the infected tissue.

Her weight problems do not have such a long history, though. At 19, she was the perfect size 10.

After her operation, her weight plummeted to six stones. As her health returned, she got back to a healthy, normal size and got on with her life. She was still a slender size 10 when she got married in 1996.

But when she and her first husband tried to conceive, she suffered three miscarriages. The infected kidney had damaged her reproductive system; one fallopian tube had withered away.

But there was another major complication: she had two cervixes and her womb was divided in two. “I had probably started life as a twin; I needed two operations before I got pregnant with my daughter Katie,” she explains.

Fiona’s size hovered between a 12 and a 14 right through her 30s.

“I never had a problem with my weight; I was a happy, fun-loving person. I really enjoyed my busy life; I’d divorced and met Andy, becoming a step-mum of two.”

Her health problems resurrected themselves, though. She became crippled with abdominal pain again and doctors discovered an abscess the size of an orange on one of her ovaries.

Later that year, she and Andy were thrilled to find out they were to have a baby, but heartbreakingly, it died in the womb at four months just days before their wedding.

Afterwards, severe menstrual problems led to Fiona being fitted with a hormone implant. “My weight ballooned; I put on two stones in two months,” she remembers.

In 2011 she needed a hysterectomy. Laid up in recovery, more weight went on. Five months later, after further surgery to remove her ovaries, even more pounds piled on.

But Fiona hadn’t recognised the physical changes: “I had been working from home and wearing comfy clothes; when I went back into the business arena I suddenly realised how uncomfortable I felt, squashed into little chairs and getting so hot in meetings and networking events I would break into a sweat,” she says.

“And then I noticed some business people weren’t responding to me the way they used to. People who had previously listened to me now ignored me.

“They walked away while I was talking in a meeting. Or they started talking over me. It was as if I wasn’t there.

Fiona accepts that she now lacks confidence because she’s carrying excess weight – and that this factor could be making people react to her differently.

But for the main, she believes fattism is to blame.

“I think the key thing is we don’t as a society have a lot of respect for fat people; we assume they are lacking in intelligence because they have ‘allowed’ themselves to get fat,” she says, citing an example.

“When someone I know who works in sport looked at me I could see the disgust in her eyes. I’m not sure she even recognised me which means she either didn’t have respect for any fat person, or me as a fat person. I felt terrible,” she says.

“Now I tend to hibernate. I’m larger than I ever have been, and it is making me invisible.

“I work from home and do virtual networking; I tried to persuade myself I was doing it because it was a more efficient use of my time, but now I’m finally admitting it’s because I find it an emotional trauma to go to new meetings full of dynamic business people who aren’t overweight.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, new contacts judge me for being overweight until I open my mouth.

I have to fight to get across to them that I am a highly intelligent business woman. I can usually get that across within a couple of sentences.

“I always bring my weight into the conversation so that they have to acknowledge it and realise that is a physical result of emotional and physical trauma.

“I feel the need to tell them that I’m not happy with it, which is a pretty sad indictment of how prejudice makes you feel.”

Her weight also killed her social life after she walked into a pub and got heckled by drunken men. “They started calling me ‘Fat Heather from EastEnders’. I was mortified and from that point, I stopped going out socially.

“Fat people suffer so much prejudice. You can see slimmer people looking you up and down, as if to say; how the hell did she let herself go so much?”

Fiona’s ordeal in what she labels a fattist society has filled her with compassion for others.

“I feel so sorry for anyone who is overweight,” she says. “Britain has a big obesity problem and without doubt it needs to be tackled. But as people are becoming more aware of the problem, fat people are being persecuted.

“Those who are guilty of it probably don’t even realise what they’re doing. They think they’re being funny rather than hurtful. Haven’t roly-poly people been figures of fun for decades?”

She has decided to talk about her experience as an overweight woman to The Star in a bid to raise awareness of fat prejudice.

She is urging people to be more sensitive to the feeling of the overweight – and stop judging them.

“I think everyone should ask themselves: am I fat-prejudiced,” she says. “If the answer is yes, remember you do not know that person’s story.”

Learning to improve nutrition

Fiona has started 2013 with determination to slim down. She has a goal – to be 11 stones by the time she and her 14-year-old daughter go to visit family in Australia in December.

She has taken a course in healthy eating with Sheffield company Newlife Nutrition and is already seeing results from following her eating plan.

She’s also worked out an exercise programme with ballet, swimming and yoga at the core, plus long walks with her Great Dane Molly. A life coach is helping her to keep on track.

“I make no bones about saying no to parties and events where lots of food and drink will be on offer. I want to be slim; I will be slim,” she says. “One of the sad things about that, though, is that society’s prejudice against fat people has motivated me even more.”

Cruelty of social network

To prove her point about fattism, Fiona Jagger opens her Twitter account and, within seconds, finds a stream of offensive jibes about the overweight.

One reads: “My kids are watching The biggest Loser on TV. Good God. If I’d wanted to watch a bunch of fat people cry I’d burn down Krispy Kreme.’

Another reads: “Am I the only one who giggles inside when ~I see fat people eating?”

“Look at this one; it says it all,” says Fiona, opening a Tweet which states: “Thyroid problem, depression, medication. Fat people always have an excuse for being fat and it’s never “I’m lazy and I eat too much.”

“Says Fiona: “People talk about fat people as if they are animals – a different species.”

British psychotherapist Susie Orbach, writing in the Guardian last year, addressed the issue of our “fat-phobic world.”

“Today fat has become not a description, but a moral category tainted with contempt. Fat is perceived as a blot on the landscape of sleek and slim,” she said.

A US study has shown fat people are seen as less capable and less employable.

And a fat prejudice poll of 2,000 people by Reuters discovered 61 per cent believed obesity was down to “personal choices about eating and exercise” and that fat people only had themselves to blame.