Huffpost UK Lifestyle uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Amy Lamé Headshot

Bullying is Making the Obesity Epidemic Worse

Posted: Updated:

One recent Sunday morning I was sitting in the breakfast room of the Jurys Inn in Belfast, enjoying a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon when a wiry, boisterous man asked if he could join me. Usually I'd say no. Hotel breakfast rooms are usually full of mad, half-asleep people.

Anyway, this chap had a familiar face, especially to those who may have been interested in Trotskyist diatribes in Merseyside in the 1980s (okay, he was Derek 'Degsy' Hatton). So I said, sit down, please join me.

We were both due to appear on a popular BBC 1 programme called Sunday Morning Live, a topical debate show focusing on moral, ethical and religious issues.

We were discussing the issue of fat on the show - no, not the kind that skirts a ribeye steak, or the type you rub into flour and sugar to make a crumble topping. The kind of fat we were debating just so happened to reside in my midriff, chin, upper arms, thighs, back and arse. Let's just say it was personal.

We were on opposing sides of the argument, and narrowly managed to avoid a confrontation over toast. Later, on the programme, it would become clear that Degsy found my fat repulsive, immoral and a drain on the National Health Service. But for the moment, I was busy fixating on his breakfast plate.

As I tucked in, Degsy flagged down the waitress and placed a special order. "I want four poached eggs, but no yolks - ONLY the whites. Got that?" (to be read in a Scouse accent).

He then proceeded to unwrap what could only be described as a drugs parcel - a foil-wrapped package containing at least two dozen different pills, capsules and potions that Degsy informed me he takes daily to keep him in good health.

To call my appearance on this television show a milestone in the world of fat politics would be an exaggeration, but it did make something pop in my mind.

The topic up for discussion was: "Is it irresponsible to be fat?"

I was subjected to a 15 minute personal attack on my physique by Degsy and some psychobabbly doctor (whose name I can't remember) on live television. When I attempted to make a case against their blatant, rabid body facism, I was shouted down.

Dr Whatsername kept staring at my rotund belly with wonderment and intrigue. Degsy was grabbing my chunky arm, stroking it every time he wanted to make a point. I was getting VERY mixed messages; they were trashing me on live television, yet fascinated with my flesh. My conclusion? CLOSET CHUBBY CHASERS, THE PAIR OF 'EM.

One good thing came out of this misguided TV appearance (by the way, thanks, BBC, for ensuring "fair and balanced coverage"). I received hundreds of messages of support from people all over the UK, not just saying how horribly Degsy and the doctor acted, but sharing their own stories of bullying, exclusion and difficulties of being a fat person in a thin world.

Every news source - papers, TV, magazines - seem to be reporting that we are in the grips of an obesity epidemic. No one has the definitive answer on how to tackle it. In the meantime, reality docu-soaps like Fat Families track the tears, tantrums and takeaways of the nations lardy lasses.

The degrading tone - "hey, let's poke fun at the porkies!" - is hardly groundbreaking or responsible television. But people like to laugh at those less fortunate than themselves.

Schadenfreude, anyone?

Victimisation TV is hugely popular - and it gets in the advertisers, too. Crisps, chocolate, dehydrated gravy granules, fast food joints and diet products all love to appear in the advertising slots of programmes that make fun of fat people.

Mixed messages? Hardly. The shows - and adverts - are playing subtle psychological games with us to make us feel superior, dissatisfied and guilty in quick succession. If we manage to feel depressed - or manipulated - enough to keep tuning in and purchase their products, they've won.

You may think, "oh, come on, it's only a bit of fun" or "they deserve to be laughed at; they're fat, lazy and ugly". Or perhaps you think these programmes actually do the participants some sort of good - it's the kick up the fat ass they need to help them shed their obese excess and find everlasting happiness as a thin person.

What these programmes really do is allow and advocate a carte blanche to abuse anyone not fitting into a narrowly-defined body norm.

Have you ever followed the hashtag Twitter comments during an episode of Embarrassing Fat Bodies? The abuse is phenomenal - Dr Christian has A LOT to answer for.

So what is the real impact of all this? Quite simply, it makes fat people feel angry, depressed and worthless. Which, for some, means they may eat more in order to comfort their pain. Which makes them fatter. And so the cycle continues.

Why must the onus be on fat people to break the cycle; i.e stop eating, rather than the abusers halt their hurtful words? In a society so concerned with 'anti-bullying', this fat-phobia is a despicable tragedy. One recent anti-bullying campaign - against homophobia - had the catchphrase 'It Gets Better'.

Well, quite frankly, it doesn't. For fat people, it gets worse...a lot worse. If you were bullied on the playground for being porky, and expect once you grow up for your fellow adults to treat you with respect, you're in for a shock.

TV shows are sanctioning adult bullies to revel in their hideous playground tactics. All this bullying is making the 'obesity epidemic' worse.

And just in case you thought that TV shows were the only ones to blame, you're wrong. The government is one of the worst culprits, with its threat of a "fat tax", selling off school playing fields, reducing funds available for after-school sports, abolishing the free fruit programme for school children, and being entirely beholden to the food manufacturing industry giants who have a vested interest in us eating cheap, nasty nosh, to keep their profit margins healthy, not us.

The government insists fat people are a drain on the NHS. Well, guess what: I'm fat and pay my taxes, and have every right to access the NHS as any other Joe or Jane Schmo. I don't have children, and never will. Do I decry pregnant women as a drain on the NHS? Or those that can't have children accessing NHS funded IVF treatment? No, I don't. We're all in it together.

And in case you were wondering, that is not some 'Big Society' proclamation. Cameron is a blatant liar - he's dismantling the NHS, but put up billboards across the nation during his election campaign promising he'd do nothing of the sort. In order to cover up his deceit, he's flinging his shit onto fat people. After all, they are slow moving, easy targets.

It seems morning after morning on Radio 4's Today programme, John Humphries and Evan Davis try to uncover the 'magic bullet' answer to the obesity epidemic. Eat less, exercise more, join a weight loss club, get a gastric band, try hypnosis, drink diet shakes, get liposuction, cut out carbs, cut out sweets, cut out fat, cut out anything remotely tasty. Allow doctors to prod, poke, prescribe. Or just stay at home and repent for your sins.

There are many, many reasons why people are fat; the multitude of reasons does not have one easy solution. But not bullying fat people is a very good place to start.

Around the Web

Survey Finds Widespread Online Bullying