Why Are Fat People Ridiculed In Anime?
by Justin Sevakis,
In the time I´ve been watching anime, I´ve noticed how fat characters, mostly male ones, are portrayed as characters that love to eat a lot and only have food in their mind. It happened with Chouji in the Naruto Franchise, and even DARLING in the FRANXX´s Futoshi has joined on the same class. Why is it that these bad portrayals of fat people are happening in anime?
While Japan and the Western world (namely America) do have a lot in common socially these days, there are still a few areas of societal discourse where Americans are usually shocked and offended at how Japanese society operates. (The reverse is also true, of course.) One thing that is completely at odds with Western society these days is how Japanese society reacts to obesity. While America and the Western world deal with skyrocketing obesity, the fat acceptance movement and the sheer number of overweight people in these countries have made it pretty politically incorrect to shame fat people. Fat jokes don't show up much in movies and in late-night TV anymore. When they do, it tends to be in a far less judgmental tone than in comedy of earlier eras.
But when it comes to overweight people, Japanese society at large does not mince words. Large people are told, point blank, that they need to lose weight. Comedies with large characters tend to be a non-stop cavalcade of fat and overeating jokes. Clinically obese people in entertainment are basically treated like walking punchlines. At only 3.5% of the population (compared to 33.7% of the US and 28% of the UK and Canada), the overweight are a pretty small minority and are thus easy targets. The overwhelming stigma is that being obese is simply a sign of overeating and sloth, and entirely preventable.
Some of this is due to general societal pressure to fit in. Many public spaces are cramped, and taking up too much space is seen as something of a nuisance to others. Finding plus sized clothes in Japan (or even "normal" American sizes) is next to impossible. And with obesity and its related medical issues contributing in a major way to ballooning health care costs in the US and around the world, a significantly obese population is also seen as a threat to Japan's socialized health care system.
There are myriad reasons why people of all ethnicities tend to be thinner in Japan. Japanese food is much healthier than you generally find in the West. Portion sizes are smaller. People walk and ride bicycles a LOT. And even still, many Japanese individuals still find themselves under pressure to lose weight, either from their own beauty standards or their peers. Even the government takes the matter extremely seriously.
With Japan becoming more and more like the rest of the world, eating more processed and fast foods and not getting much exercise, the Japanese government took pretty extreme action, in 2008 passing the Metabo Law (so named because it's trying to prevent metabolic syndrome, the combination of factors that cause obesity-related disease). This law set a maximum waistline for adults between ages 40 and 75: men must stay at 85 cm (33.5") or below, while women's waistlines can't be any wider than 90 cm (35.4"). These measurements come from recommendations from the International Diabetes Foundation.
Annual waistline audits are conducted by every company in Japan, and those with waist sizes deemed too wide are recommended for medical counseling. Companies and governmental organizations with a non-compliant work force are heavily fined. The law was originally aimed at curbing obesity by 25% by 2015, but in reality the number has only gone down by a mathematically insignificant 1%. Obviously such a thing would never, EVER, EVER fly in America, or in most other Western countries.
Being an overweight person sucks pretty much everywhere, and I'm pretty sure that there's absolutely nothing to be gained from telling someone they're fat. They know. Some people have decided to feel good about their body shape. Other people are hiding a deep sense of shame about themselves. Either way, being told they're fat is only going to ruin their day. I don't know what the solution to the obesity epidemic is, but the results of the Metabo Law prove that shaming people accomplishes nothing.
As with many Japanese societal expectations, foreigners are usually given a pass for being too big. I've heard stories of larger tourists noticing old people on mass transit shooting them dirty looks, but it's exceedingly rare for anyone to actually say anything. Native Japanese, however, are told point-blank that they need to lose weight, even by acquaintances. It's simply not the taboo that it is in the West.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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