Every year, ‘World Obesity Day’ prompts a wave of articles on how to tackle the population’s “weight problem”. This year, though, the noise is even louder, as the World Health Organisation calls Covid-19 a “wake up call” for the public and politicians alike.
But a group of 30 artists, activists and self-defined “fat influencers” are having none of it.
While no one is denying that weight has been linked to an increased risk of severe Covid outcomes, the group – led by artist and political performer Scottee – wants to shut down the rhetoric of blame they say has been peddled by the British government.
The government’s ad campaign on obesity reportedly cost £10 million. Meanwhile there’s been “mass unemployment, a record number of redundancies made and an underfunded NHS having to self-fund its survival after a decade of austerity,” says Scottee. “They set out to blame fat people who died of Covid for their own deaths, whilst we bury 130,000 citizens.”
The artists, influencers and activists will be making a stand, with a ‘day of disruption’ on social media, including photos, cabaret live streams, a ‘fat show-and-tell’ zoom party and more.
Scottee believes weight has been used as a “smokescreen” to distract from the government’s handling of the pandemic, which he says has led to the UK having the highest death rate from Covid-19 of any country in the world.
“I want to readdress some of the balance and demonstrate that not all fat people want to be fixed or cured, and importantly, not all of us are interested in what you think of our bodies or our choices,” Scottee tells HuffPost UK.
“Fat people are often treated as stupid, organisations like the World Obesity Foundation and their followers talk about fat people as if we are completely unaware of what we eat, what food is and why we are fat – oh, babes, we know. Fortunately, many of us aren’t seeking to be fixed.”
Asad Ullah, a writer, performer and rom-com enthusiast, decided to take part in the project because the rhetoric on obesity this past year made him feel: “honestly? Shit.”
“Imagine going through a global doomsday scenario, living in isolation, and you see nationwide campaigns telling you you’re the problem, eat more apples and go for a walk,” he says. “That’s where your priorities lie? I’ve internalised a lot of that rhetoric, so it’s been a rough year physically and mentally.”
His aim with the content he posts during the 10-hour disruption is to be honest and reflect how he truly feels.
“There’s been joy and uplifting in my own fat gang and I wanted to give some joy back to everyone,” he says. “I also wanted to talk about the internal dialogue and horrible things I say to myself – fatness isn’t ‘straight line, happy-go-lucky, #BoPo, dance to Lizzo and you’ll be fine’ kind of vibes.
“It’s messy, hypocritical, lonely – so I’ve been really honest about my feelings about myself and my body.”
To see more of the campaign, follow the hashtag #WorldObesityDayHack on social media.
HuffPost UK contacted the government in relation to the comments made by Scottee and the activists. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Every death from this virus is a tragedy and our sympathies are with everyone who has lost loved ones. We are doing everything possible to save lives from a virus that does not discriminate, however, there is clear evidence that shows being overweight brings increased risk of becoming ill with Covid-19.
“We know that losing weight can be challenging which is why we have put in place a world-leading obesity strategy and, as part of our ongoing commitment to support people in achieving and sustaining a healthier weight, yesterday we announced a £100 million cash boost. This will help drive new initiatives and approaches to improving the nation’s health in the coming months.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.