Think you’re a normal weight? So did I, until I got stuck in a lift at 2am. A big group of us piled in and it promptly broke. After the shock of screaming to a halt between floors, we were indignant. The lift said it could hold 12 people, and there were only 11 of us!
But a closer look at the lift safety sign revealed the truth. 12 people - at 780 kg total. That’s 65kgs a person, and none of us weighed that. Not that any of us thought we were fat, just normal. The average Australian weight is 71kg for women, and 85kg for men. What was this, a lift for gnomes? Sick gnomes on a diet? How could they expect real people to fit?
The simple answer is they don’t. On average, most Australians are too big. Too heavy for lifts, too large-breasted for one-size-fits-all tops, and too big for airline seats.
Although Australian airlines have said no, some of the Australian public is saying a big yes to increasing fares for obese passengers. According to poll on news.com.au, 85% of respondents would support a “fat tax”, and the comments are full of frustration at encroaching beer guts and “stolen” arm rests.
That’s a lot of normal people being annoyed by the evil that is fat people on a plane.
Or is it? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 54% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. But 63% of men and 59% of women believe that they are an acceptable weight. How many people calling for “fat tax” should be looking at their weight and waistband instead?
And that estimate of 54% of the population being overweight is the cheerful picture. The actual amount may well higher, as people tend to over estimate height and under estimate weight. Just as most people rate themselves an “above average” driver, most people think they are lighter and in better shape than they are. These days, it’s average to be overweight.
Overweight is the new normal, and the airlines don’t design for that. The seats aren’t made accommodate the average person. They are designed to pack in people and they use a study from the 1950s to do so. The recommendation is that seats should be 18 inches wide, but Qantas and Virgin offer 17 inches on many of their aircraft.
We’ve got bigger, the seats have got smaller. No wonder we’re feeling a bit cramped and uncomfortable.
The most uncomfortable flight I ever spent was 4 hours wedged between two rugby players. Their vast shoulders forced me into a forward crouch and their huge legs took up most of my leg room. These were seven-foot-tall muscle men who routinely tape their ears to their head and then charge into each other. Should I have demanded that they pay a fat tax? A tall tax? A fit tax? A “being healthier than average” tax? What tax would work?
A fat tax won’t work and is an insultingly simple take on a complex issue that affects a lot of Australians. It is a discriminatory knee-jerk solution that picks on a group with a lot of bad press – the overweight. And many Australians don’t realise when people talk about "fatties", they’re talking about them, the average, the normal – the overweight.
Let he who is without wobbly bits cast the first stone. If you think you’re average, well, don’t ask for whom the fat tax tolls, because it could well toll for thee.