Wednesday 18 February 2015

Don't call me fat, it's a mental condition

When Churchill died 50 years ago, I don’t believe any of his obituaries included the word “fat”.

No one lamented that he had been snatched from us at a mere 90 years of age because of his cavalier disregard for healthy eating.

Instead his gargantuan appetite for food, whisky, Champagne, brandy and cigars was celebrated as a matter of national pride.

It remains so when any distinguished “person of size” hands in his or her XXL dinner pail. We learn that they were gourmets, never gluttons. People who “appreciated the finer things” and were always “larger than life.”

The "larger than life" Clarissa Dickson-Wright

Contrast this with our treatment of the obese working class, characterised as weak-willed, feckless chavs who need to have their benefits withdrawn to get them off their grotesquely oversized backsides, and be cajoled into gastric band surgery to stop them being “a drain on the NHS”.

I deduce from these inconsistent attitudes that it is not so much obesity we don’t like, as the native lower orders. But it is strictly non-PC to say as much, so we pick on certain characteristics – the dreadful names they pick for their children, say, or the sort of fast foods and ready meals they like to eat – and deride those instead.

As a fat person myself I thought I had a certain licence in the use of the word, in the same way as black and gay people are allowed to self-describe in terms that are strictly verboten for everyone else.
Nevertheless I received a stern ticking-off when I casually enquired of my wife “Who’s the fat kid?” when we were picking our son up from primary school the other day. There was only one of them in the playground, and it seemed the most natural way of describing him.

However, I was swiftly re-educated as to why this was as unacceptable as it would have been to highlight his skin colour or a disability.

Our elder son is already conscious of the importance of not getting fat, even though he is as slim as the fan mail folder in Lord Green’s inbox and has no interest in food whatsoever, regarding mealtimes as an inconvenient interruption to his busy schedule.

And, as already noted, he is entirely typical of his peer group.

Nevertheless we must apparently plough on with the crusade to remove sweets from supermarket checkouts, downsize chocolate bars and make drinking a can of fizzy pop as socially unacceptable as lighting up a Capstan Full Strength would be if they were still allowed to make such things.

I can tell you now what will stop this in its tracks, and it will be someone demonstrating a clear linkage between obesity and mental illness: “I eat because I’m depressed.”

I know this to be a fact of life because I’ve been a depressive and a bit on the large size for the last 40-odd years. I also know that I can alleviate my depression by cutting my calorie intake, sleeping less and exercising more, which also tends to reduce my avoirdupois.

But since every time I write on this subject at least one angry reader writes in to complain that you can no more cure yourself of depression than of cancer, I feel sure that my fellow fatties are aiming at an open goal if they can lumber far enough to get a foot on the ball.

As a child, I was always told not to mock the one monumentally fat girl on our street because it was not her fault: “It’s her glands.” And not, as I strongly suspected, too much time in Maynards and not enough on a skipping rope.

Now it will be the state of her mind.

As for the “saving the NHS money” argument, it’s cobblers. Because if the morbidly obese don’t die young of that, they will surely die old of something equally costly to treat.

Ultimately the only way to save real money on the NHS will be for us all to live in good health until we expire suddenly in our sleep. Perhaps helped on our way by a beneficent National Euthanasia Service.

Now there is a truly sinister thought to ponder. Meat pie, anyone?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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