Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Sneers at fat people are not fair, but don't bite my head off

A quarter of women and just over a fifth of men in the UK are now classed as obese
A quarter of women and just over a fifth of men in the UK are now classed as obese

Fattism is the new racism. Yes, it's a word now. Whether officially recognised I do not ken, but it's bandied about by the New Puritans. I've some sympathy with the concept.

It implies disapproval of judgment. You should take people as individuals, never judge them in groups. Also, you should never tell people what they should never do.

I should get to the point. American scientists have found that bloaters – to use the technical term – are less likely to get into university than skinnier students. The implication is discrimination.

Researchers at Bowling State University found that fellow academics favoured thin candidates in face-to-face interviews – but there was no difference in interviews over the phone.

Previous studies by British researchers found overweight people were less likely to be hired because employers assumed they'd be lazy.

Hmm, tricky one. Does fatness imply lack of willpower? Not necessarily. Often, it can be ignorance about diet.

For years, I was a couple of stones over my fighting weight, much to my bewilderment, as I always ate "low fat" food and never had fish suppers.

Then, I realised it was all about calories – different kettle of fish suppers altogether – so I cut down on these and my weight fell off. Now I eat fish suppers regularly, as a treat, because I can.

Fatness is a problem in many places because it's a cultural norm.

There's a small town I know where the high street is lined with pound shops and everyone walks with a stick. It's almost a badge of pride.

Here, too, bloaters abound. Indeed, the sign on the edge of town says: "Careful drivers and fat people welcome."

In this pound-abounding place corpulence has become the cultural norm, particularly among females (the inevitably shaven-headed men are often bicep-heavy and "fit" in an attack-dog sort of way).

How did all the women get fat? Well, firstly, because all the other women are fat. That's a bit fried chicken and egg but the original cause, I believe, lies in the constant quest to stimulate the taste buds.

Often as not, too, an abundance of leisure time feeds the need for snacks as diversion. This is Crisp County, UK.

In some ways, the portly norm is an admirable triumph of the human spirit, resisting the media's exaltation of skinniness, which makes of bodies mere coat-hangers from which to drape fashionable clothes.

And it's a riposte against fattism – the prejudice against lardbuckets. But is this concept helpful?

I suspect so, but the trick is not to let it become devalued. Look at racism. The concept is helpful. It identifies a bad thing.

But, while it started off – and remains in essence – useful, by the time anti-racism is adopted by the mob as a fashionable attitude, it becomes devalued because nearly everything become racist and folk become scared to open their mouths. One form of oppression replaces another.

The real baddies, meanwhile, take advantage of this. Racists ridicule over-the-top allegations of racism and so seem reasonable.

Similarly, we're all wise now to the bigots' trick of saying other folk are bigoted against them. Oppressors now cry out for their civil liberties.

Fat people, meanwhile, cry out for crisps. So, let's be aware of prejudice against the overweight. But, at the same time, let's not get too heavy about it.

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