Overweight in Japan: Between discrimination and marshmallow

There is no denying that discrimination is not just about ethnic origin or religious faith. So much so that a number of people have, in recent years, started to point out what they have termed anti-fat racism or fat phobia. A person is considered to be overweight when their BMI (Body Mass Index) is equal to or greater than 25, obese when their BMI is equal to or greater than 30. The BMI is defined as the body mass divided by the square of the body height, and is universally expressed in units of kg/m2.

According to the latest WHO figures, 1.4 billion individuals over 20 years of age were overweight in 2008. 500 million of them, including 60% of women, were obese. The number of overweight people doubled between 1980 and 2008 and 35 % of the world’s adult population was overweight in 2008, with 11% of obese. Although statistical data about a country in particular is difficult to come by, Japan is probably one of the least affected countries.  

There may be several reasons for this, first of all Japanese eating habits. They are indeed comparatively healthy as they are based on a low-calorie, low-fat diet and involve low meat consumption - witness the traditional Okinawa diet (Watch out, Mc Donald’s!). It may be that the metabolism of Japanese people plays a part in the elimination of unwanted fat but it is also important to underline that Japanese children are often very seriously involved, as part of their education, in one or several physical activities until they reach adulthood. 

The comparatively low number of chubby individuals among the Japanese population in a country where being different tends to be considered as a lack of manners, adversely leads to discrimination even stronger than in other countries. In Japan, a fat person will be called デブ debu or ぽっちゃり pocchari. There was even a chubby-only program on TV Tokyo between 2000 and 2008 called Ganso! Debuya which gave birth to a new word in Japanese: デブタレ(ント) debutare(nto), “fat artists”. An idol group named “Chubbiness” (Avex) was inevitably created in the wake of the program and has been surfing the wave ever since. 

The Chubbiness band released its first video clip in August 2014:

In January 2015, a new band named Pottya has just been been born based on the same concept:


It is difficult to trace the origin of the following photo montage that frequently appears on Japanese forums or social networks and aims at categorizing  Japanese women on the basis of their supposed percentage of fat: 

It is a very relative measure compared to many other countries!  

Some time ago, this tweet made the buzz by presenting a screen capture of a page of a Japanese women’s magazine that called chubby women マシュマロ女子 "marshmallow girls".

Is  the term, globally deemed less aggressive and funnier towards overweight women, going to live on?

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Posted by Gael
Editor in chief
Gael is founder and responsible for Kanpai's publication. In love with Japanese culture, he travels to Japan regularly since 2003 and shares his information and tips.
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