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From : 
Yap Yok Foo <yfyap@pop.jaring.my>
 
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bmalaysia-owner@yahoogroups.com
 
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Subject : 
[bmalaysia] BP : The Fat Club
 
Date : 
Tue, 16 Apr 2002 07:31:45 +0800
 
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From Bangkok Post
16 April 2002

The Fat Club

While providing respite from an often hostile public, a unique
organisation works to make the world a better place in more ways than
one

Story by ONSIRI PRAVATTIYAGUL
Picture bySOMKID CHAIJITVANIT

Together, Karuna Morris, Akorn Buranont and Prinya Chan-thorn can fill
any room with laughter thanks to their self-deprecating banter and
good-humoured asides. But as founders of the Fat Club, their mission
is no laughing matter.

While most people realise that not everyone can be as slim and
beautiful as the cast of Baywatch, being overweight carries a certain
social stigma. People who are physically larger are always an easy
target for jokes and ridicule, much of it heartless and hurtful.

It was this typical, negative reaction to obese people that drove the
trio into forming the Fat Club two years ago in the hopes that
overweight people would not simply be treated as the butt of jokes,
but rather as a resource that could contribute to the well-being of
society.

It all began when the three founders, all of whom work in show
business, met at a social function. They knew right away that they
were meant to be comrades. They cemented the bond through frequent
phone conversations and informal meetings.

``Then we thought that we should get together and do something that
would benefit our country. We wanted to use our obesity as a tool to
better society,'' Prinya said.

He was the one who came up with the idea to found the club. With help
from friends and colleagues in the entertainment industry, it was up
and running in no time.

More than 6,000 people subsequently expressed interest and joined up.
However, only a hundred or so members turn up on a regular basis.

A young organisation, the club has no set rules about the types of
activities it will engage in. Basically, they will do anything for a
good cause, ranging from fund-raisers for charity to staging plays to
entertain people.

``Sometimes, we campaign for donations and clothes to give to flood
victims or other charity organisations. We appeared once at the Red
Cross Fair and entertained people free of charge,'' Prinya said.

Most important of all, the club acts as a support group. It runs quite
a few programmes to boost the morale of members.

``We held a beauty workshop for obese ladies, since we often have
problems in that department. We hired an acting coach to teach these
women about comportment so that they can be confident wherever they
go,'' Karuna said.

The club sponsored self-defence classes as well, she added.

For the founders, satisfaction comes from realising they have helped
members foster a better self-image, helping them to have more
confidence in themselves.

``We know that people who are overweight often feel ashamed of their
body. That shame lowers their self-esteem. It's hard for some of them
to go window-shoping at a mall because they're afraid someone will
make fun of them.

``We're proud to say that after spending some time at the club, with
our help, these people are not afraid to venture out any more in
public,'' Karuna said.

She added that the understanding and support they received at the club
had helped these people face the world.

Akorn said the club was so popular that the side street where its
office is located has come to be called the ``fat club soi'' and the
building in which it is housed is known to all and sundry.

``If you're overweight and happen to be walking past the soi, people
often call out directions to the fat club without being asked, Isn't
that amazing?'' Akorn said, using the word ``fat' with no apparent
qualms.

Although it will stick with its ``fat-people-doing-good'' concept,
individuals of ``average'' size are welcome to join in club activities
too. ``Some members are actually very skinny,'' said Akorn. Prinya
added: ``They wanted to be a part of our group because we're such a
happy bunch and they have fun just hanging out with us. Anyway, we
welcome anyone who has a good attitude toward overweight folks like
ourselves.''

Despite the overwhelming response from members and the obvious
benefits which the club has been to them, the trio of founders have
been forced to slow things down a bit because of a lack of funding.

``We have, more or less, emptied our own pockets, so the activities
and the club are on hold right now,'' Prinya said.

The Fat Club asks for a contribution of 500 baht as a membership fee.
Unfortunately, not all members have paid up _ thus far they have
collected the membership fee from only about 30 people.

Karuna understands that some members are not well off, and can't
afford the fee. He said the club would not deny access to those who
fall short on the financial front.

The three founders have been trying to obtain sponsorship to keep the
club going. Although the group received a lot of publicity when it
first began, the excitement has fizzled out, and they have not yet
succeeded in securing any financial backing.

``Sometimes, when we ask for donations, we feel like the last shred of
our dignity has left us!'' Karuna mused good-naturedly.

``Some people just brush us off or stand us up. It's horrible. And
sometimes they don't want to give us any money because they think that
we're already rich. We're large, so we must have a lot of dough to buy
all the food to stuff our faces _ that's a misconception and a
stereotype. Another is that everyone expects us to be jolly all the
time,'' she said.

Their last attempt to salvage the club involved staging a play, but
the effort flopped due to lack of public interest. ``I guess no one
wanted to see a lot of fat people on the same stage!'' Akorn
exclaimed.

Although the club's gatherings and charitable outings have become less
frequent these days, the members remain closely knit.

``We still talk. I can get phone calls at two in the morning, so one
way or another the club still exists,'' said Karuna. ``It's like every
single fat person on this planet has our number,'' she added,
laughing.



The trio may be sad that their club is on the ropes, but that hasn't
stopped them from spreading the message that there is more to life
than being ashamed of one's body, and that while it's perfectly
alright to try to stay in shape, mentally beating oneself up over
excessive weight is not healthy.

``We want all overweight people who are still in hiding to know that
they can come out and rejoin society, and they mustn't look at
themselves as some sort of a problem. We can be anything that we want
to be. Don't ever think that you're not worthy,'' said Akorn.

Like it or not, the social chaff and fat jokes will remain,
particularly in Thai society where one's appearance can be the subject
of harsh comments or exaggerated praise, even from complete strangers.

The club founders' advice: hold no grudges.

``You can't treat it as a problem and let it eat you up,'' Akorn
pointed out, adding, with a grin: ``Try to turn your weak points into
strength. You'll be so much happier that way. And you can always make
fun of your tormenters in return.''

Another problem faced by overweight people is pressure from their own
families, which can lead to thoughts of suicide. During the club's
short existence, members heard reports of at least one attempted
suicide.

``My parents used to come down on me really hard,'' Prinya revealed.
``They used to force me to run laps in the park in the morning but I'd
go there and take a nap instead. One day my mother, in her high heels,
came running after me and caught me snoring!

``My dad was really tough and scolded me about my weight all the time.
I was close to snapping, but I decided to have an honest talk with my
parents, and now they accept me for who I am,'' he said, adding that
his heart goes out to those who might be undergoing the same domestic
turbulence.

``The only way to get through it is two-way communication,'' Prinya
said.

The three founders realise that changing society's prejudice against
overweight people won't happen any time soon. Neither do they expect
to have much luck changing the way Thai people judge others based on
their appearance.

That's why they are banking on the younger generation.

``Parents must teach their kids to be kind and respectful toward
people who are different so that they will not grow up to become
mean-spirited adults,'' Akorn said.

He himself has encountered more name-calling (``Fatso!'') than he
cares to remember.

Although Karuna, Akorn and Prinya are not trying to elicit sympathy
from the public, since they are strong, capable individuals in their
own right, they want to remind people that prejudice and name-calling
can inflict pain, knowingly or unknowingly, on those who are
overweight.

``Society has to understand that we are real people. We have emotions.
We have feelings. We are human beings, just like everybody else on
this planet.''

u If you'd like to contact the Fat Club, call Prinya on 01-912-0336.

http://64.4.16.250/cgi-bin/linkrd?_lang=EN&lah=c7a2e6840bb78c63d8ff8cb7bd8966a1&lat=1018948682&hm___action=http%3a%2f%2fwww%2ebangkokpost%2enet%2f



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