Thursday, 10 July 2014

Fat is the last bastion of British rudeness

Last September I weighed 3 stone less than I do now. I was a size 20. I am now a size 24/26. So I reckon I'm qualified to write the following. I'm not a nutritionist. I am not a dietitian. I am not anything except an invisible member of the obesity corps - the faceless and often headless mass of wobbling flesh you all seem to find so disgusting.

Yet I say I am invisible. I am not. I wish so desperately I was. Invisibility is the thing I wish for more than anything. Invisibility is mind space that I don't seem to be allowed the luxury of through the fact that I am fat.

I've wanted to write this for so long. I didn't because people told me 'don't be famous for being fat, there are better things for being famous for' and others told me 'yeah we like your writing but less of that fat stuff' (I'm paraphrasing the latter but it's the message I received). So what changed?

I went to France. Let me tell you what did not happened, literally the second I crossed the channel.

  • No staring 
  • No doubletakes
  • No shouts out of cars
  • No comments muttered under breath about 'fat bitches'
  • No staring into my food trolley in the supermarkets and tutting
Shall I tell you what happened?

I lost weight.

No, really, I did. And actually I lied, there were some comments. They were made by a pair of old British people sat outside their caravan under their awning. One comment was on the Tuesday when my back collapsed on me a bit and I had to resort to using my Leki pole to walk. 'Oh now she's using a stick' he shouted back to his wife. The next day, when I went past on my mountain bike, there was silence. Lots and lots of really pointed staring and an open mouth you could have driven the channel tunnel through - but there was silence. 

Those moments were the only moments the entire time I was in France where I remembered I was fat and therefore fair game. Because let me tell you - when you're fat you're fair game. You don't have any privacy - in changing rooms girls peer around the edges of curtains to catch a glimpse of the fat girl. In restaurants, people stop talking to hear what you're ordering. In supermarkets, I have genuinely had people stare into my basket and tut. Do you know what I had the audacity to buy? A potato and salmon salad at a total of 450 calories for dinner. I get asked who ate the pies very loudly when I go out on my bike, and the garage workers at the bottom of my hill feel it's okay to shout 'hey <name> it's that fat bird on a bike I told you about last week'.

So here's the thing. All of this constant fattist noise stops and I lose weight. The same thing happened when I went to Florida two years ago where fattist comments are noticeable in their non existence too. Or maybe I'm not fat enough for Americans to notice - that's certainly a possibility.

Am I blaming everyone else for me being fat?


I'm telling you, that you, yes you, are not helping. There are very few fat people who do not know they are fat. The mirror tells them every god damn day. It's not something you can avoid discovering about yourself, as much as you might want to - and we'll come back to that later. Instead, we get all of you weighing in on us, reminding us, telling us, holding our fatness right up in front of our noses all day every day too. Some of us, we could outrun you, out ride you, out step you, but it doesn't matter to you, we're fat and therefore we're less than human.

That's the attitude I'm blaming. Less than human. Take smoking for example. Another thing that you arguably 'choose' to do. Now I'm not saying most people choose to be fat, that would be dumb (though it was a choice I made for reasons I am not prepared to disclose but is strongly associated to the word invisible) but it's a useful analogy. Is it your job, or your place, to walk up to every single person who is smoking, pointedly cough in their face, and then walk off talking about how stupid that person is and how they're taking up precious NHS time and money?

Would you actually do that?

No. You would not. You just wouldn't. Instead you walk through the cloud of smoke expelled by the smokers by the door, say nothing, think no more of it and carry on with your conversations. So why do you point so much audible anger at fat people? Why do you think it's okay? Why is it not the same thing as smoking? We know food is bad for us (again arguable, we'll come back to this) we still eat it. The smokers know smoking is bad for them, they still do it.

What exactly is the difference here?

You don't think sugar is addictive to some people? You seriously think that there is a large amount of large people in this country who are thinking 'yay I'm fat woohoo?'

The problem here is this. You are not qualified to make a decision about whether the person in front of you is fat because one of the following reasons:

  • Steroids used to treat cancer - yep there's a particular person I'm thinking of who since being diagnosed with brain cancer has doubled in size.
  • Steroids used to treat bowel disease such as Crohns. I know two people with Crohns and I've seen pictures of them mid flare. It's not pretty. They're fat. 
  • Endocrine problems. Yes I know everyone blames them and they're often not to blame but that doesn't mean no one has these problems.
  • Disability. Chicken and egg problem this but I can speak from personal experience that being disabled in whatever way that might be has a serious impact on your weight.
  • Drugs that are not steroids but might be anything from those which treat endocrine problems to anti-psychotics. My GP shamefacedly admitted to me on my last visit she knew exactly why I'd put the 3 stone I'd lost back on again.
  • Lack of education. As in, genuinely no idea about calories in vs calories out. It's possible, hands up who knows what kids are being taught about basic nutrition in schools right now?
  • Emotional distress, grief, loss, bereavement, trauma. Emotional eating is a thing. 
In all of those situations, your comments on their eating or not isn't helpful. In at actually, all of those situations, your comments are at best unhelpful and at worst life threatening. Think I'm exaggerating? Imagine being a svelte 16 year old at school, developing Crohns, putting on 3 stone due to the medication and putting up with the shit currently in the media aimed at fat people. Do you think she would be tempted to stop taking the medicine that is saving her life? Do you want to be the person responsible for that?

I get that it's a complete lack of understanding of the severity of potential outcomes as a result of this bloody constant negative narrative against fat people, but answer me this? Why is it that other countries manage to not be engaged in a near constant negative stream of words at us? Why does no one bat an eye in France?

Is it because we have become, as a nation, utterly obsessed with looks? That we really don't believe any more it's what's inside that counts? I think it is. I think it's also a symptom of something much worse - of cruelty. There are groups of people within the UK who seem to enjoy inflicting misery on others. They can't legally inflict that on black people or women or the disabled (arguable again) any more so they inflict it with glee on the last group of people who frankly are probably in no place to defend themselves. I mean what is someone on steroids supposed to shout back to the 'who ate all the pies?' comment exactly? 'Fuck off I've got cancer' just isn't the done thing and I can almost guarantee that the person doing the shouting is a whole hell of a lot more rude than the person they're shouting at.

You see, being fat, no matter what the reason is shit. I enjoyed life at size 20 a million times more than I am right now. I hate being fat. In the space of less than a year I have had first hand experience of how people treat you differently when you're fat. They don't open doors for you, they don't let you out of the lift first, they don't smile when you arrive at their check out and they make it really clear in department stores that they don't want you in their changing rooms. You get your items checked a whole lot more for hidden shoplifting in supermarkets like Tesco and you get followed a lot more in places like Primark by security guards. Believe me when I tell you the only thing that changed in those 10 or so months was my weight. It's shit. And it's an attitude which all the articles in the media do nothing but encourage. Every time you print something saying I'm lazy and should go on a diet, the incidents get worse. And guess what happens?

I don't lose weight. 

The trick to losing weight it turns out, is being happy. And I am not happy when you are all staring at me and judging me. I am happy when I am left alone to work out in my head for myself all alone, that yes I am overweight, yes this is too far and yes I need to do something about it, and then work out an attack plan that solves the problem.

I am not alone in this. Lots of women in particular say that as soon as they accept themselves at the weight they are, they start to lose weight.

So actually, it turns out, I am blaming the media and all of you for my weight. Or rather, I'm blaming you for the process of accepting myself as I am, accepting I am beautiful, as I am, and accepting that I could be better if I were smaller taking way too long.

It's your fault. You are part of the problem. Unfortunately, no one cares about us stupid ugly fat people to do anything about it, so carry on. And watch the problem, pun intended, get bigger and bigger and bigger.

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