My brother is also a good example of the kind of mitigating circumstances that sometimes attend being grossly overweight. Between being beaten up with a metal baseball bat in 1998 and broadsided by a careless driver while on his moped two years later, he boasts that his body clinks with "24 pieces of titanium" that set off alarms at airport security. The resultant chronic pain has made it impossible for him to exercise. The fact that my brother is fat is not, altogether, his fault.
However. He also eats too much.
I have buckets of sympathy for the obese, often subject to cruelty, ridicule, denunciation and contempt. Fatties are the one subgroup you can still make fun of on the BBC and not lose your job. Likewise, I sympathise with their recurrent sense of hopelessness. Dieting is odious and can require years of determination and sacrifice. I entirely understand the impulse to say screw it and have another piece of cake. But the "fat pride community" doesn't want my sympathy. They want acceptance. They want respect.
Respect, yes, for their feelings, for their humanity. But I won't simply "accept" that my brother is fat, and his only chance at a future is to refuse to accept he's fat himself. Nor can I quite put obesity on a par with being black, female or homosexual. While discrimination against heavy people should be illegal (save when fielding, say, job applications to lead tourists up Mount Kilimanjaro), to equate fat with race, gender and sexual orientation is to cast obesity as an unassailable state over which we have no control.
A once amply-proportioned friend of mine was at last moved to go on a successful all-liquid diet when his doctor said starkly, "I don't have any old, fat patients." My brother is only 55, and without drastic intervention — gastric bypass surgery or a sudden resolve on his part that I fear is unlikely — I doubt he'll see 60. My brother is eating himself to death. I love my brother dearly, and I can't support any political movement that would have him believe he can be "healthy at any size".
An hour or so after this column was filed, Ms Shriver's older brother suffered a sudden respiratory crisis during a visit to their parents, and was admitted to hospital in New York. He died of cardiac arrest on 23 November 2009.