No, it's not okay to be fat. Let's stop pretending that it is
We need to stop celebrating obesity, stop being offended, and open our eyes to what is happening to us
OMG, have you seen Angelina Jolie? She has lost so much weight that it’s a worry. To all of us. We’ve agreed that it’s not healthy – and, sorry, Angelina, not attractive – to be so skinny.
According to “insiders”, the stress of her divorce and custody battle over her six children have caused her weight to plummet to 35kg. “She’s practically living on ice cubes, and she’s so anorexic, her skin is sagging and her bones are almost breaking. She needs help, and fast.”
None of that sounds good, not even the bits that might conceivably be true. But it’s only normal and responsible – morally imperative, even – to express concern when someone is under-eating and clearly has emotional issues with food, isn’t it?Yes, it is. But let’s imagine for a moment that instead of losing weight, Jolie were gaining it. What would the reaction be if she were binge-eating Krispy Kremes and piling on the pounds? Would we be as censorious, as self-righteous, if she were overeating and had equal and opposite emotional issues with food?
Fat chance. We’d skirt carefully around the subject, self-censoring and shutting down debate, rather than risk being accused of bullying. But consider the evidence. Our children are becoming too overweight to run about the playground – 22,000 11-year-olds in the UK are severely obese. Britain has been crowned the most overweight nation in Western Europe and it is estimated that half the population will be obese by 2045.
Medical practitioners warn that a diabetes time bomb is ticking and its consequences could blow health services to tatters. Yet, so-called fat-shaming sits somewhere on the social media spectrum between racism and genocide. I seriously doubt whether UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn could cling on to power if someone uncovered footage of him tacitly criticising fat people, rather than Jewish people, such is the level of Twitter fury he would face.
Not that anyone should be blamed for being overweight. But I fear that, despite the health warnings and shocking statistics about our body mass index (BMI) and our heightened risk of everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s, the UK remains a nation in denial. Not just in denial, but hugely, harmfully defensive with it.Nobody, myself included, likes being told they are overweight. It implies we are weak-willed, greedy and unable to exercise control, and even if there’s truth in that (mea culpa), it still feels intrusive and insulting.
But the hour has come to stop being offended and open our eyes to what is happening to us and to our offspring.
Here’s a litmus test. If your neighbour’s kids were looking increasingly skinny and underfed, would you call social services? Now, what if those children were really fat and overfed, would you intervene then? I rest my case.
Last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced an energy drink ban for children, who will no longer be able to buy the caffeinated, high-sugar cans on sale in every corner shop. It was necessary, she said, because “childhood obesity is one of the greatest health challenges this country faces”.
Yet there are those in her party who argue that such a ban represents a “denial of choice” and that parents should do more. Of course they should. But they aren’t doing more, are they?
Wishful thinking about hearty weekend walks and porridge every morning isn’t going to save a generation from life-limiting weight problems. Understandably, we take umbrage at the authorities meddling in our affairs. I mistrust the nanny state as much as the next right-thinking person. But what choice do we have when faced with such a public health catastrophe?The personal has become political for the simple reason that we are too busy feeling offended to acknowledge and “own” our food issues. A combination of deliberately addictive fast food (additives disrupt the brain’s ability to register satiation), genes, low exercise levels and poor food choices has led to rocketing obesity levels, especially, but by no means exclusively, in areas of socioeconomic deprivation.
And as we have become collectively heavier, “a bit fat” has become the new normal. “Very fat” translates as “I could do with losing a few pounds”, and “obese” is regarded as overweight.
I have no idea what “celebrating your curves” means. Shame is not an appropriate response to a clinically high BMI, but I would respectfully suggest that neither is euphoria.
People who are overweight should never be discriminated against or put down, but nor should they be immune to a reality check. Ask any GP and they will tell you that pretending borderline or actual obesity is a positive, indeed, a desirable thing, is irresponsible, verging on insane.
Moreover, if clothing brands started trumpeting that slim was the new sexy, there would be uproar. I’ve been a size zero and a size 14, and I know which one I preferred. I learnt last year that I was so grossly overweight for my skeleton, I had a biological age of 70 and was at grave risk of diseases associated with ageing. So I went on a stringent diet. It was horribly difficult at times, but I knew the buck stopped with me for getting fat in the first place.Friends reacted with surprising negativity when I told them I had been diagnosed as obese. I was a size 10/12, for heaven’s sake, but with size three and a half feet, I am supposed to be a size eight. I lost 10kg in 10 weeks, and I felt and looked better. I still have a lot further to go, and I’m getting there.
Would I have taken the new diet pills lauded this week as “miraculous” in melting away middle-aged spread? You betcha. But only as an extra add-on. The latest advice is that a late breakfast and an early supper are good for weight loss, so I’ll be taking that on board.
Losing weight and keeping it off requires more determination, application and, yes, a sense of personal responsibility. But I’ve said too much. Next thing you know, I’ll be accused of fat-shaming.
– © The Daily Telegraph