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Adele fans have been up in arms after fashion guru Karl Lagerfeld, the 78 year old head of Chanel, said the singer was “a little too fat”. The comment has led to outrage, with outraged fans calling Lagerfeld a “cretin”. Is this reaction warranted? Contentious as it may be to point out, is it really fair to label Lagerfeld “vile” when he may have been... gulp... making a fair point?
The biggest problem with this particular outcry, as is so often the case, is that Lagerfeld’s comments were taken completely out of context. Though this often sounds like a cop-out, attempting to justify an ill-judged comment, in this case the defence holds weight. The headlines pick out the choice word “fat”, declining to add the crucial modifier “a little too”, which makes it sound like Lagerfeld launched into a rant about Adele’s weight apropos of nothing. This isn’t the case.
The comments were actually a small part of a wider comment about popular music artists, and he went on to praise Adele’s “beautiful face” and “divine voice”. Adele’s defenders, out in force, have questioned exactly what Adele is “a little too fat” for, as clearly weight has no bearing on talent or ability. Lagerfeld’s comments were obviously misjudged and unwise, given that conversations about weight are often tinged with controversy and Adele is such a well-loved and admired figure. But was he actually wrong?
A great deal of the controversy is rooted in the fact that it is simply not considered acceptable to make comments about people’s weight if they are overweight or obese. Countless numbers of Adele’s contemporaries are called “too thin” or “skinny”, pondering the ins and outs of their assumed diet and alluding to potential eating disorders. Such comments, arguably no less offensive, rarely if ever receive the same outraged response. Which brings us to the question... is it ever okay to call someone fat?
Societal norms would say no. Before Christmas, the National Obesity Forum urged people to tell their loved ones that they were overweight during the festive season. Though easily dismissed as a headline-grabbing gimmick, the Forum was surely making a valid point by suggesting that people are averse to making comment about the weight of their loved ones because they are too worried they will upset or offend. The problem is that surely the health of an individual is more important than temporary embarrassment. Perhaps a contributory factor to our growing obesity epidemic is a national aversion to appearing rude.
Adele is not a little too fat to sing. She is not a little too fat to perform. And she is not a little too fat to be a famous pop icon. But, generally speaking, being overweight is unhealthy, whether it is by a few pounds or several stone. In an environment of increasing obesity rates and concerns about unhealthy lifestyles, comments that address this issue - when made with a touch more sensitivity than was displayed by Lagerfeld in this example - should not be met with such knee-jerk horror and fury. We should be opening up a discussion about these issues rather than dismissing them outright.
So is it ever okay to call someone fat? No. But maybe it should be.