I’ve been thinking a lot about the way the media demonises people recently. Of course there’s been the hideous furore surrounding the crass headline-generating tosh about the Philpotts, which has tried very hard to demonise everyone on benefits by virtue of the fact that two people who coincidentally abused the benefits system also killed six children.
Benefit ‘scroungers’ and fat people share a very similar fate in the media. We’re all seen as undeserving of empathy, understanding or help when needed, and if you happen to be unlucky enough to be in need of benefits for an obesity-related illness, the tabloids will really go to town on you. I nearly fell off of my chair this week when I saw a trailer for the latest fat-bashing fest on Channel 5 “Big Body Squad”, where the unfortunate fatty is plastered all over the TV because he/she has maggots in their fat-related ulcers. So fat people aren’t just lazy, greedy and stinky, we are also maggot-ridden? Must check my belly button for creepy crawlies before I go to bed tonight, clearly I’m also too fat to fit in a bath or shower too.
The usual justification is that fat people are unhealthy, we’re harming our health by cramming cream buns down our necks all day long, and therefore we deserve every ounce of ridicule and derision we face. The thing is, the health argument is a totally flawed one because you can’t tell how ill a person is by looking at them or calculating their BMI. ‘They’ call obesity self-inflicted. Well, yes I suppose it is, in the same way that smoking-related lung cancer or emphysema are self inflicted. Or cirrhosis of the liver caused by excessive drinking. Or breaking bones in your body because you’ve flung yourself down a mountain on a snowboard. Or most pregnancies. All of these conditions need medical intervention as a result of decisions made at some point by the person needing help, but they aren’t sneered at like the fat person who has diabetes, or a heart problem, or needs gastric surgery because they are so addicted to eating that they will die if they don’t stop eating so much.
Nobody would sneer at a person diagnosed with lung cancer and say, “You don’t deserve chemotherapy – you brought it on yourself.” I certainly wouldn’t; two people very close to me have died from it and the fact they had both been smokers didn’t make me love or mourn them any less.
Why is it that chubbies are so universally sneered at though? It’s not because people care about our health, that’s bull. It’s not because we’re a drain on the economy because the actual number of people on benefits due to fat-related illnesses is miniscule. It’s not because we’re a drain on the NHS – the NHS spends more on other conditions than obesity related treatments (Strictly speaking, the costs of obesity alone in 2007 were estimated at £2.3 billion, with a projection to rise to £3.9 billion by 2015, while in 2009 it was reported that the cost of treating disease directly caused by smoking produced medical bills of more than £5bn a year in the UK)
So what is it?
I think it’s because we don’t look as nice as thin people. When the argument about charging fat people more for flying crops up again (which it does with depressing regularity) it’s always “we can make an exception for athletes with a high BMI” or “people who are very tall shouldn’t be penalised,” which doesn’t sit with the “planes need to keep their overall weight down” argument used to justify charging fat people more for a seat. So it’s not about weight, is it, if you’re going to make exceptions for people who are heavy ‘through no fault of their own’. It’s because we’re fat, it’s our fault, and you don’t like looking at us.
Descriptions of fat people always focus on how they look. “Rolls of fat”, “spilling over her jeans”, “wobbling lard” – yep, we’ve heard it all. Along with descriptions like “disgusting” and “revolting.” The way we look is the only thing that differentiates our vices from a smoker, a drinker, a drug taker. The woman who drinks a bottle of wine every night but is fine in the morning may have liver disease but you can’t see it on her body. You can walk past a chain smoker in the street and not be able to make any judgement on their health – they could be developing heart disease as a result but there are no obvious physical signs. Someone who takes recreational drugs regularly will appear totally fine when they are at work on Monday morning. The difference is that fat people can’t hide the fact they (probably) overeat. What you see on a fat person’s body is quite often a lifetime of eating for all the wrong reasons, to deal with problems, to comfort eat, and then a lifetime of trying every diet under the sun and gaining weight each time.
Society has decided that fat is unattractive, and we’re all being demonised because of it. In Cambodia, a fat, white woman would be seen as incredibly desirable because fat is a sign of propsperity and health. Yes, really. I’m not making it up – I got that from my mother, who’s been there several times and has friends living out there. In the early 20th century, 200-pound (14 stone 4) Lillian Russell was the epitome of a desirable woman and was described as a great beauty. Now, she’d be pilloried in Heat Magazine and targeted by every weight loss programme going.
Which just goes to prove that we’re all being manipulated, and that the fat hate we’re being bashed with on a daily basis is, as I suspected, balls.