Obesity epidemic generates new termsJanuary 30, 2011
by Liz Walter
According to the World Health Organization, there are now over a billion overweight people in the world, 300 million of them obese. As tends to happen with any issue of major importance, this trend has generated a number of new words – including one that describes the global phenomenon itself – globesity.
As with so many areas of anxiety and embarrassment, the emphasis is very much on humour. The term muffin top, referring to a roll of fat over the waistband, gained instant popularity, probably because the image is so perfect and in a way rather gentle – we can all picture that muffin swelling over the top of its case, but the muffin is something associated with pleasure, not with disgust. The humour and positive feel of the term serve to soften it , making us feel more able to use it freely. The image has begun to be used for other body parts too, so that we now see, for example, an article on thigh-length boots warning against muffin leg, and a journalist on a celebrity magazine complaining that she ‘looked like a Pirelli-type tower with an alarming amount of breast muffin spilling over the top’.
Not all the new words dealing with obesity are as pleasant as those incorporating the muffin. On the subject of breasts, men’s unwanted ones are a particular feature of obesity. Public figures from Simon Cowell to Tony Blair have endured photographs of their man-boobs or moobs splashed around the world’s media, and some men have resorted to moob jobs to get rid of their hated he-vage (the male version of ‘cleavage’ – the area between a woman’s breasts). While women may be happier to see an increase in breast size, they will certainly not want the back boobs which appear when excess flesh is squeezed over tight bra straps. Nor does anyone welcome chubrub, the rubbing of skin between overweight thighs, or excess flesh on the upper arms, known as bingo wings. These somewhat distasteful terms have been particularly popular in media outlets that seem to delight in embarrassing celebrities and politicians.
Not surprisingly, experts trying to deal with the health implications of this trend have come up with some more technical-sounding terms. Anything that promotes weight gain is obesogenic, and recent research has been looking at the possibility of infectobesity – the idea that some people’s excess weight is caused by infection rather than diet.
Of course, many people make great efforts to try to shed their excess pounds. Some methods appear fairly harmless, for example calorie offsetting, a practice that involves using special armbands that calculate the amount of energy used so that the user can balance this against their calorie intake. Others, such as bet dieting, where a person places a bet on their desired weight loss as a financial support to their own willpower are more eccentric. Still others are downright dangerous, such as the hair-raising diabulimia, the reported practice of diabetics missing insulin injections in the belief that this may help them to lose weight.
However, being fat is not regarded by everyone as undesirable. For some, generous curves are definitely fattractive, and the idea that anyone can be TFFF (too fat for fashion) has been decisively rejected by retailers responding to our increasing size. Already, today’s fatshionistas can have their pick of stylish clothing, and it will be interesting to see if more positive terms come into the language in future, be it through the efforts of fat activists or through advertising departments with their eyes on a profitable market.
Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Walter. Published by permission by Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved.