Confirmation bias.

I came across an interesting series of photos taken in shopping malls in 1990 a while ago on Retronaut. The photos were interesting in and of themselves, particularly since I was a teenager at that time, and it reminded me pretty fiercely of emo days of yore – but I noticed something else.

Check out the fifth comment on the page: “I like the lack of self-consciousness people seem to have in these pictures. I also notice the almost total lack of obese people. Wonder what changed in only 20 years?”

Really? An “almost total lack of obese people”? I beg to differ.

In virtually every crowd scene, and most photos with groupings larger than 5, there are plenty of “overweight” and “obese” people in those photos, especially in the background. (Which says something about the photographer, too.)

Keep in mind that “overweight” and “obese” look a lot different than the headless fatty photos accompanying “obesity crisis” articles would have you believe. (Don’t believe me? Check out the Illustrated BMI Categories set on Flickr. And remember that this woman is “overweight,” and this woman is “obese,” according to BMI standards.)

I’ve started to think that when people hear that a third of Americans are obese, they think that 33% of us actually look like the photos they see on the news. And sure, some of us do look like that*Β  – but only a very small fraction of the population does. (Something like 2%.)

Fat people have always been around. I was a fat teenager** in 1990 – just like some of the kids in those photos. You can argue the point that there are more fat people now (which is something else entirely, and is debatable in its own right), but you can’t argue that there were virtually no fat people 20 years ago.

I think what’s changed in the past 20 years is the level of vilification fat currently has in our culture. That’s my opinion.

Teen girl with terrible 80s hairdo is captured mid-sneeze.

*And all of us, fat or thin, deserve to be respected and treated well regardless of size. No ifs, ands, or buts.

**I was not in pain in the photo. I was sneezing. It’s the only photo ever taken of me…mid-sneeze. (Circa 1988.)

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Category: Fat


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