Puff Piece

A dishonest melange of irrelevant and empty arguments

Friday, July 30, 2010

Wordy Rappinghood

Hey what do you know? It’s time for my customarily spleen-filled Annual Post! And this year I take Health Minister, Anne Milton, to task for advocating applying the word 'fat' in the spirit of

playground insult-hurling

as the latest cure-all to the UK’s collective weight problem. Because, after all, nothing benefits one’s wellbeing more than a double whammy feelgood dose of stigma and self-loathing.

According to Ms Milton, terms like 'overweight' and 'obese' are naught but polite, sugar-coated euphemisms for the F-Word. Instead, doctors should quit pussyfooting, bring out the big guns and call a spade a big, fat, dimwitted, socially irresponsible shovel. “Speaking personally,” Ms Milton opines, “If I look in the mirror and think I am obese I think I am less worried than if I think I am fat.”Seriously? ”Speaking personally”, as an enlightened individual with all the alleged and widely disseminated medical factoids at her fingertips, she’s more afraid of being called fat than dying of ZOMG cancer, heart disease and/or type 2 diabetes? Or schlepping her clapped-out, arthritic joints towards her guaranteed early death on a Zimmer frame? Gosh, I wonder why that is?

Much as I wish Ms Milton was sufficiently enlightened to realise BMI is a load of old cobblers wholly unreliable indicator of health, I’m more inclined to believe she thinks we fats are too thick to grasp its complexity – or even that we're universally reviled, despite regular reminders by the media, airlines, fashion industry, vast swathes of the medical profession, government think tanks and previous Health Ministers

. Beats me how I’m supposed to be the eejit though when she’s the one claiming she can determine the lifestyles of half the sodding country just by looking at them. I’m also similarly stumped by her belief that ‘overweight’ and 'obese' carry significantly less potential to make the recipient feel like shit than 'fat'. Read any anti-fat rant and the phrase 'morbid obesity' will be bandied about all over the shop, fondly imagined by journos and commenters alike to lend gravitas to the most egregious hate speech.

See, here’s the thing about words. Call a group who fall outside the remit of 'normal' anything you like and that word, no matter how innocuous or purely descriptive, is eventually guaranteed to carry the negative connotations certain portions of society project onto to it. To wit: “that's so gay”. No wonder so many elect to call themselves queer and be done with it – in the same way the more politically minded among us corpulent folk are choosing to call ourselves fat. (Some folks even refer to themselves as queer and fat; imagine!) As far as I'm concerned,

my doctor’s quite welcome to call me fat; as it happens he's pretty round himself. We don't tend to talk about it much. However, just because I’ve chosen to reclaim the word as a neutral descriptor doesn’t blind me to the fact that most of the world uses it as an insult. Nor does it persuade me that advocating the use – by figures of authority – of a word commonly conflated with stupidity,


sexual unattractiveness, slovenliness, shiftlessness, fecklessness, untrustworthiness, weakness of will, lack of motivation, self-delusion, sickness by default and dodgy moral character... will have anything but a profoundly negative effect on the nation's health. On the other hand, if you want to make society fatter, just carry on spouting simplistic, judgemental bullshit.

If government seriously wants to do something about this spurious epidemic that lowering BMI guidelines in1990 effectively created, I would suggest they look at the relationship between escalating fat-phobia and disordered eating. Or perhaps they’d like to give a thought to how being branded a worthless sack of shit on a daily, ongoing basis might affect a fat person’s psyche? Or how those who fear being similarly branded might express that fear in their attitude towards fat people? Then maybe they might care to direct their invasive, control-freak tendencies towards gagging the media instead – or at least ensuring that scientific research into obesity is reported in an accurate, non-partisan, non-alarmist and non-condemnatory manner.

I’m just saying.