When I first started this blog I swore that it wasn't going to be devoted to any one issue and it certainly wasn't going to be a platform from which I could rail against the myriad indignities visited upon the obese. Hannah Jones's blog, Diary of a Diet (an off-shoot of her Western Mail column) already does this brilliantly, with real humanity and humour.
What I wanted was the freedom to comment on any issue that interested me, whether that was some new artistic creation or a political issue. Yet increasingly I find myself drawn back towards the issue of fattism.
Fattism. It's a word that's difficult to say without an ironic inflection. Even I can't think of it without recalling the Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch in which an indignant Mel Smith claimed that he was going to “squeeze out of the closet” to stand up for his rights.
Still, it's difficult to find anything very funny about the violence experienced by 53 year-old Marsha Coupe, a London-based marketing manager, who was recently beaten up during a train journey by a woman whose central philosophy seemed to be that lardies shouldn't be allowed on public transport. Coupe reported that her attacker, obviously a Rene Descartes de nos jours, opened the bidding by shouting, “Hey fattie! You shouldn't be on the train, you need two seats.” Coupe sustained extensive bruising to her face and neck and at one point worried that she would lose an eye.
Unpleasant as Coupe's ordeal was, one could perhaps dismiss the incident as the actions of a lone nutter. If it hadn't been her size that provoked violence it might have been her race, religion, accent or the size of her nose. That's the way I'd have viewed it, anyway, if my mate Gwilym hadn't sent me a link to the report on the Daily Mail website, advising me to read the comments afterwards. The incident itself was nauseating enough, but the readers' opinions were far, far worse. I would estimate that at least three-quarters of them considered that Coupe had provoked the attack by being fat. The general tone was that perhaps she would now care to take stock of her life, acknowledge how repulsive she is and take this opportunity to reduce her size in order to avoid future violence.
The invective employed by some readers was so hateful that I actually laughed out loud in disbelief. It is outrageous that a middle-aged woman, guilty of no more than being overweight and using public transport to travel home from work, should be set upon by some kind of vicious, violent chav and then subjected to a second round of abuse via the equally dull-witted readers of a tabloid.
It's almost as if, denied the chance to beat up Jews, Muslims, gays and the entire Asian and Afro-Caribbean populations of Britain, the great unwashed are focusing all their pent-up aggression on the obese.
At this point I must confess that I have been dismissive of attempts to have the obese classified as a protected group. It seems absurd to imagine that being a bit lardy might put you in the same category as vulnerable people who really need the assistance of the law, yet this incident has changed my mind. A group of overweight women is now lobbying Boris Johnson to make London a fat-friendly city in the manner of San Francisco.
Coupe says, “London prides itself on being diverse yet there is almost a zero-tolerance on anyone of size. You cannot walk the streets without being verbally or physically assaulted.”
As little as six months ago I would have pooh-poohed this attitude - but now...?
In the same week, the media carried the story of an overweight couple who saw one of their children taken into care because it too was overweight. While I would argue that perhaps British social services might be better employed preventing abuse cases like the notorious Baby P and Victoria Climbie debacles or taking care of sprogs whose parents' addiction to drugs and alcohol meant that they were temporarily or permanently incapable of being in charge, the media predictably disagreed. India Knight even went so far as to posit that “allowing” your child to be obese is “a form of child abuse.”
I'd love her to meet my mum. My money would be on Knight being KO'd in the first round.
Of course, if one's offspring is overweight there is only one explanation: you're force-feeding it. Like a goose being readied for the foie gras market my parents strapped me to a dining chair and stuffed vast quantities of pie and chips down my cavernous maw and then carried me from my chair to bed so that I wouldn't use up any calories on even this pitiful bit of exercise.
Actually the truth is that, like most children of my generation brought up in a safe, rural area I was encouraged to spend as much time as possible out of doors. Unlike my classmates, however, my food intake was carefully monitored and pies, chips and cakes were a rare treat, not a daily staple.
Funnily enough, many of my friends existed on a diet that would have reduced my mother to tears, yet miraculously remained as thin as greyhounds.
The narrator of John Banville's The Sea (admittedly a ferociously unpleasant individual) states that he finds it impossible to imagine that anyone could be fat, yet not stupid. Stated baldly, this sounds shocking, yet the ladies and gentlemen of the British press seem to hold such an opinion as gospel.
We're not asking for much, we lardies. We know that we'll never make it onto the cover of Vogue (even the redoubtable Oprah Winfrey was obliged to lose some weight before being afforded that dubious honour) and we know that we'll never be photographed falling out of a nightclub at three in the morning with our celebrity partner (most London nightclubs ban obese people anyway).
We'd mostly be quite happy being clever and waspish in the background. Yes, quite a lot of us are clever. Very clever. Obviously not quite as mentally gifted as towering intellectuals like Cheryl Cole, Alesha Dixon and Victoria Beckham who seem to have no problem in gaining maximum exposure, but we do our best.
All that we ask is for the right to roam the streets without being assaulted and told it's our own fault.
For some, maybe, it will seem absurd to place the obese in the same category as homosexuals and racial minorities, but if it's no longer safe for us to venture out of the house without fear of a beating, then perhaps it is finally time that we acknowledged that we need the full protection of the law.