About Polly Chester

Polly is a thinker, writer and social worker with passions for human rights, caring for the environment, social justice, social policy, epistemology, philosophy and psychology

When  enquiring about ‘special seating requirements’ became part of her job, Polly Chester realised obesity is more than about the size of your seat.


I’ve worked in reception at a restaurant for close to ten years.

Recently, we made changes to the telephone booking spiel. Probably not the kind of changes you’d expect. Nothing to do with the menu, licensing, prices or anything else hospitality-related that would immediately spring to mind.

I am required to ask this question: ‘Are there any larger people in your group who have “special seating requirements”?’

If the answer is affirmative, there is a defensive barrage of phrases put forward such as, ‘Well yeah, I’m a big person, but I’m happy with who I am.’

To which I am dying to respond, ‘Are you really? Perhaps you shouldn’t be. Does the prospect of dying of a preventable, lifestyle-related illness make you happy?’

It is not uncommon for my workplace to have to refund people the money for their restaurant tickets on a full-house Saturday night.  Not because we overbook. It’s because by the time people arrive at their table, the flesh of a larger person has often absorbed their allocated seating space. It’s embarrassing for all parties involved, and costs the restaurant considerable revenue.

What’s happened to us?

Why is Australia so fat?STOP BEING FAT -

Illustration by Sindy Sinn

According to the Queensland Cancer Council, 65% of adults in Queensland are overweight or obese. In Queensland, of all places, where the weather is so consistently beautiful that there’s hardly reason not to get outside and get active.

Experts say that the solution to this problem lies with education. One suggested strategy is food labeling. Fair enough. But as a society, have we grown so dumb that we can’t understand how a carrot is healthier than a chocolate bar without the provision of detailed nutritional information? We don’t need food labelling. We need poisonous ‘foods’ that kill people to be taken off the market.

Want to talk strategies?

Let’s start with fast food.

It should be illegal.

But that will never happen, so instead I’d like to suggest at the very least that it should be made available only to people of ages 18 and above. Feeding children fast food as a treat, staple or otherwise is counter-intuitive; stunting development and growth and replacing lost energy with trans-fat, salt and sugar. Feeding children fast food is tantamount to child abuse. As a parent, it is up to you to make responsible food choices for your children.

Another strategy would be to raise taxes on fast food. I believe it is more important than raising taxes on cigarettes in terms of the overall health and well-being of the population. The worst-case scenario would be that people keep buying fast food because they are addicted; much like people are to cigarettes.

Even so, the Government could use revenue raised from fast food tax to pay for healthcare to fix lifestyle-related illnesses and to pay farmers a subsidy to make fresh fruit and vegetables cheaper.

Many Western cultures have a preoccupation with health and beauty that borders on obsession. People are driven nuts over their appearance to the point of eating disorders. For this reason we promote a culture of self-acceptance, particularly targeted at young women, to discourage them from employing such desperate measures as forgoing nutrition in order to be thin. Unfortunately, unhealthy people misuse the term self-acceptance and use it as justification for ill health. They’ll sit there happily self-accepting all day long, ploughing through litres of ice cream in front of the telly, while the bare-boned health care system groans under the weight of preventable illness.

Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. I am not suggesting that larger people are all unhealthy. In fact, some of the measurements used to judge ‘healthy weight’ are considered bogus. According to the Obesity Action Coalition, the oft-used body mass index (BMI) scale is a poor indicator of healthy weight because it fails to take all elements of body composition into account and uses an overly simplistic formula: the weight of a person, divided by their height, squared. It might be an ok starting point for a goal-setting session with a personal trainer, but I can think of a few much better places to start…

1. Throw your scales in the bin. Weight is not necessarily a good indicator of whether your body has changed size. If your lifestyle were truly healthy, you wouldn’t be bothered with weighing yourself. What are you trying to prove?

2. Take a look in your fridge. Food is fuel and medicine. If you are eating for fun and pleasure, you need to get new hobbies. Sex is good for fun and pleasure. Try that. It usually burns calories rather than adds them; don’t make the mistake of adding dessert to your sex life (i.e. whipped cream) – it’s counter-productive.

3. Exercise. I’m not going to add anything by way of explanation. If you don’t know how to incorporate it into your activities of daily living, you’re not thinking about it hard enough.

If you find yourself in a conversation where you need to convince someone that you are perfectly happy to be requiring two seats in a restaurant, it might be time to address some issues.

Don’t use self-acceptance as an excuse for being sick and unhealthy. Practice self-acceptance while you’re out running in the sunshine and making the most of life.


(The views and opinions expressed on this page are those of the author alone and are not to be taken as medical advice. Please consult a GP for any health-related concerns you have. TBS.)