Being fat in Japan is no longer a matter of shame or embarrassment: the size of your waist is now determined by law.
Concerned about rising rates of both in a graying nation, Japanese lawmakers last year set a maximum waistline size for anyone age 40 and older: 85 centimeters (33.5 inches) for men and 90 centimeters (35.4 inches) for women.
Under Japan’s health care coverage, companies administer check-ups to employees once a year. Those who fail to meet the waistline requirement must undergo counseling. If companies do not reduce the number of overweight employees by 10 percent by 2012 and 25 percent by 2015, they could be required to pay more money into a health care program for the elderly. An estimated 56 million Japanese will have their waists measured this year.
I am back in Japan, living in Tokyo for a year, and one of my Japanese co-worker recently stopped joining the other men for lunch at restaurants; instead, he began bringing a small bento box. When I asked why, he said his wife believed he was getting fat and required him to eat her pre-approved portions.
Not surprisingly, there are unintended consequences. Eating disorders are prevalent, especially among young women. When Ralph Lauren was criticized by the U.S. media after digitally altering an image of already-slender supermodel Filippa Hamilton to make her appear even skinnier, I was not surprised that a company executive said the advertisement had only appeared in Japan.
Maybe you are thinking, "Good. Too many fat people in the world. Maybe this is the way to get people to quit being so obese."
I guess I don't see it this way.
For me, regulating someone's waistline is akin to telling a woman what she can do with her body when she is pregnant. It's called privacy. It's a matter between a person and his/her doctor. Your doctor may tell you that you need to lose weight to maintain your health. But the government? Mandating your weight?
I keep thinking about Ceaucescu in Romania, who, determined to see birthrates rise in his country, outlawed abortion. Women underwent mandatory pregnancy tests at work. And the orphanages filled to capacity with abandoned children.
How can a government tell a member of its populace what the limits of its body is? How can the government tell any woman that she must stay pregnant?
If the idea that someone could come up to you in a restaurant and tell you not to eat dessert because your waistline exceeds the national standard, imagine how it must feel to have a total stranger tell you that you must carry a baby to term?
For me, there's no difference.
Privacy is privacy.
Body sovereignty is body sovereignty.