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Don’t hate Jamelia for addressing teen obesity

UNDER FIRE: Loose Women panellist, Jamelia

SO JAMELIA is under fire for daring to share her opinions on weight.

The UK singer-turned chat show panelist came under fire for comments she made on Loose Women yesterday (April 21), as the panel discussed the issue of obesity among teenagers and whether the availability of plus-size clothing encourages those teens to stay overweight.

All four of the panellists – Ruth Langsford, Coleen Nolan, Janet Street-Porter and Jamelia – expressed concern over the issue of obesity amongst teens. Yet it was Jamelia’s suggestion that clothing for people who are both underweight and overweight shouldn’t be easily accessible on the high street that sparked a whirlwind of criticism.

Having watched yesterday’s episode of Loose Women, I think the subsequent Jamelia-bashing has, unfortunately, taken the focus from the issue at hand.

The panellists were discussing whether there is any correlation between teenage obesity and the availability of plus-size fashion.

Ironically, Street-Porter said during the debate: “I think we’re all really hesitant to talk about it because it’s one of those subjects that people will be really on our case if we say anything critical about an 18-year-old girl who’s a size 20.”

How right she was.

But while she and Nolan both expressed obesity concerns, with Nolan saying she doesn’t think it’s right “to encourage being overweight” and Street-Porter saying she didn’t want to “normalize being morbidly obese,” it was Jamelia who earned the backlash.

The Superstar singer began by saying: “I do not think it’s right to facilitate people living an unhealthy lifestyle” – which is pretty much what Nolan and Street-Porter had said previously.

The Birmingham-born star was then pressed further by Langsford, who asked her: “Then what do you do? Do you have a cut-off and say, ‘right, size 18 and after that, we’re not gonna make any nice clothes for you’?”

Jamelia responded: “Well, in the same way, I don’t believe that a size 0 should be available. It’s not a healthy size for an average woman to be.

“In high street stores, you’re catering for the average woman – there’s a healthy range,” she continued. “And I don’t believe they should be providing clothes for below that range or above that range. Yes, have specialist shops, but I do think you should feel uncomfortable if you are unhealthy.”

Enter the furore.

DEBATE: The Loose Women panellist discuss the issue of teenage obesity on yesterday's show

One person commented on Twitter: “Very easy for slender Jamelia who can walk into any shop to say plus size clothes shouldn’t be readily available. #depressing.”

Another said: “Jamelia needs a reality check. Walk a mile in a plus size person’s shoes and then let’s hear your opinion again. #notaclue.” And one even suggested she should be dismissed from the show, saying: “I seriously think Jamelia should be sacked from Loose Women. I thought they represented every woman, not just thin ones.”

Firstly, I find it quite telling that most of Jamelia’s critics are up in arms about her thoughts on plus-size clothing, but very few have noted that she said exactly the same about size 0 clothing too.

So essentially, people are ok with lauding shame or concern on those who are underweight, but they’re up in arms when the same sentiments are made about people who are overweight?

Secondly, I didn’t get the impression Jamelia was suggesting that not stocking plus-size clothing in high street stores was the definitive solution to ending obesity.

To me, she was offering the suggestion that making clothing for both overweight AND underweight people less available on the high street, might make some teens feel “uncomfortable” enough to do something about their weight.

And who’s to say she hasn’t got a point?

IDEAL FIGURE?: One Twitter user made reference to Jamelia's 'slender' frame

We’ve had healthy eating campaigns and initiatives to encourage more exercise amongst young people and still, obesity remains a problem. So who’s to say an overweight teenage girl, who is, perhaps at the stage in life where she’s more fashion-conscious, might not be encouraged to address her weight if she struggles to find her size in high street clothes stores?

Is it any different to the thinking that banning smoking in public places – thereby making it more difficult for smokers to light up as often as they might like to – could encourage some smokers to quit the habit altogether?

After the smoking ban was introduced in public places in the UK in 2007, many smokers did indeed quit. So if there’s a chance that a new initiative may well improve people’s health, is it not worth discussing?

Jamelia is not the authority on all things weight-related. She was just offering an opinion and people are well within their rights to be offended by that opinion.

But is it better that we have no discussion about teen obesity, make no suggestions and avoid the issue altogether, so as not to make overweight young people feel uncomfortable? Who is that helping?

Obesity is no joke and if we’re serious about raising a generation of healthy youngsters, we need more suggestions, not less. Rate her or hate her, at least Jamelia came up with something.

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