Pudgy pop stars aim at obe­sity prej­u­dice

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By REUTERS in Tokyo

Com­pe­ti­tion is cut­throat among Ja­pan’s thou­sands of pop-idol wannabes, but a unique con­cept is win­ning fame for a band of “chubby” girls de­ploy­ing their cheeky cute­ness to com­bat prej­u­dices against obe­sity.

De­spite one of the low­est rates of obe­sity in the de­vel­oped world, Ja­pan has a grow­ing num­ber of un­der­weight young women, who rely on ex­ces­sive di­et­ing to sat­isfy so­ci­ety’s em­pha­sis on be­ing slim.

Heavy peo­ple are the fre­quent tar­get of jokes in the me­dia and use of the deroga­tory debu, or “fatso”, re­mains com­mon.

En­ter Pottya, a pop group named af­ter a slang word for chubby and con­sist­ing of four young women who are not es­pe­cially hefty to West­ern eyes, but well above av­er­age weight in Ja­pan.

“Peo­ple as­sume that be­ing chubby is a sign of lazi­ness or lack of self-dis­ci­pline,” says Michiko Ohashi, the group’s heav­i­est mem­ber at 87 kilo­grams and a height of 1.67 me­ters.

“I be­came an idol with the hope of chang­ing that im­age. If they see us work­ing to make our dreams come true, we can show that chubby peo­ple can work hard.”

First treated as a quirky joke at its de­but in 2015, the group’s im­age is chang­ing, with the re­lease of two al­bums and a grow­ing ros­ter of live con­certs and tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances.

Mem­bers range in weight from 63 kg to 87 kg for the 26-year-old Ohashi, and their av­er­age of 76 kg is about 26 kg over the Ja­panese av­er­age for women 13 to 18 years old, ac­cord­ing to the Health Min­istry.

Their body mass in­dex, which com­pares weight to height, ranges from 27.4 to 31.2. Doc­tors con­sider an in­di­vid­ual with a BMI above 25 to be over­weight, and one above 31 obese.

“We’re re­ally heavy, but we want to use that to shake up the idol world,” Ohashi says.

Pottya has pas­sion­ate devo­tees, many of whom de­scribe them­selves as over­weight.

Fans gather to meet Pottya mem­bers for a high-calo­rie lunch each month, with the menu of one re­cent meal fea­tur­ing rice, noo­dles, chicken and pota­toes — all fried.

The group was an in­spi­ra­tion, says Miho Kishi, who was bul­lied about her weight as a child.

“They’ve come out and are ac­tu­ally sell­ing them­selves as chubby, which has given us chubby women a lot of hope and courage,” says the 25-year-old.

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