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Shame: The Inner Driving Force That Preserved the Health of Ancient Rome

Obesity is a problem which will not go away and can no longer be hidden under the carpet. To be overweight is now the norm rather than the exception. This epidemic is now the world’s number one cause of avoidable sickness and premature death. Governments around the world are considering laws to curb the sale of fatty foods and fizzy drinks, but they’re ignoring a far more effective strategy, which was widely used by the ancient Greeks. It’s a social controlling technique commonly referred to as shame. In Sparta, men stayed slim because they knew they would be ostracised if they developed a bulging belly and flabby thighs. Socrates danced every day, not because it gave him joy, but because it helped him maintain a socially desirable svelte figure. Today, many obese individuals deny that they’re carrying excess flab. We do them a favour if we can shame them into recognizing the ugly truth. This was the view of Seneca, the Roman philosopher, who proclaimed: ‘Shame may restrain what law does not prohibit’

Tubby children are used to being teased. For years at school they’ve been called piggy, grub-tub, slobber chops and jelly belly. The term ‘greedy guts’ dates back at least four hundred years. But this sort of ridicule does not sit easily with the older generation. Today, it’s not politically correct to draw attention to a person’s bulk. Self help groups

like Fatism.org, have been set up to restrain what they term as ‘fat discrimination.’ They claim that every day millions of fat people are being laughed at, and openly abused, because of their weight. This they maintain is a ‘hate crime’, perpetrated in a world where to refer to a person in any other way than a human being would normally brand the accuser as a prejudiced, narrow minded bigot. In their eyes ‘weightism’ is on a par with sexism and racism, an argument which totally overlooks the fact

that while people can’t choose their sex, or the colour of their skin, they can determine whether they’re fat or slim. People who would be ashamed to go out in public with dirty clothes and matted hair, are nevertheless prepared to waddle down the road displaying rolls of surplus fat which reveal how little they truly care about their bodily appearance and personal wellbeing. The great shame today is that we have ceased to feel disgrace about our personal appearance from the neck downwards.

This was the point clearly made by Chris Friend, writing earlier this month in the Philly Post. ‘In genuflecting to political correctness, Americans shun shame. ‘It has become a nation so afraid to offend, that it turns a blind eye to its biggest problems, such as obesity.’ We only overcame the risks associated with nicotine addiction when it became socially unacceptable to smoke in public places. So it should be with obesity. As a start, Friend suggests that when they’re boarding a plane, overweight passengers should be required to stand in a separate queue marked ‘Obese passengers here’. From here they’re be led to extra wide seats, for which they’d be charged an additional premium. The same would apply to buses and sport stadiums, where seats are being made several inches wider to accommodate the larger rumps of the average American adult. This means fewer seats and therefore higher prices, which penalises those who maintain a healthy weight. From now on we should encourage people to see themselves as others see them, and shame them into preserving their health and personal appearance.

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