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Graeme Archer

Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.

I noticed a headline in the Daily Mail the other day – “Marilyn Monroe announced as the new face of Max Factor, despite being dead for 53 years” – and thought “Even for the fashion industry, won’t she be a bit stick-thin by now?”

But while actual skeletons (probably) won’t be employed to sell cosmetics, you’ll have noticed the media making a fetish of weight. BBC2 has the Great British Diet Experiment (a sequel to Bake-off?), Channel 4 is helping some morbidly obese people lose weight, while Channel 5 will enrage us with tales of the statistically unlikely, but certainly actual, people who are so fat they are paid benefits not to work.

Newspapers heave with their fail-proof diet plans. “Don’t eat for two days a week / avoid carbs / think about every mouthful and then write down how you feel / follow our Z-list sleb’s diet of mustard and toothpaste – and WATCH the weight FALL OFF!” Rubbish. It’s all rubbish. There is only one way to lose weight. We’ll come to this (“So READ ON and WATCH the weight FALL OFF!”).

I was a fat child; a really fat child, not “chunky” but morbidly, revoltingly fat. Along with the books and the maths and the sea and the sex, this is one of the defining characteristics of my psychology (and probably the first: the others developed as protection against it.)

A fat child is not a happy child, no matter what those ridiculous hate-crime-wielding “activists” claim. Not only due to peer pressure from other children (who are vile to anyone different) but because of the self pressure. Look in the mirror and see your body, then learn never to catch your reflected eye again. You think this is something you “grow out of”?

Perhaps fat kids suffer less angst these days, as obesity becomes normalised? In Argyle Primary there was myself and Elaine Dickie. If the statistics are to be believed, these days Elaine and I would be lost in the crowd.

Yet simultaneously with the rise of the obesity “epidemic” (I don’t have words to describe my contempt for “epidemic” in this context, by the way: but perhaps, in the time of ebola, those pseudo-health lobbyists who casually join “epidemic” with “obesity” might learn some shame, and rephrase?), simultaneously with the increase in overweight Britons has come the (predictable) demand that fatness be co-morbidised with psychological illness, with mood disorders. We are instructed, by some Euro-court, to treat it as a disability. I read of one fat man who blamed his over-eating on a hitherto long-forgotten post-traumatic stress disorder.

Wrong! He eats too much. But he doesn’t – libertarians and the cold of heart, take note – “just” eat too much. No-one “just” eats themselves into obesity.

But the answer isn’t to medicalise human frailty. This would simply legitimise that mound of activists who would henceforth demand public money to teach the rest of us not to notice the fat person’s girth, as though decency can be taught by a poster, or a personal history on Radio 4, or the introduction of yet another hate crime.

You do have complete choice over what you eat, there is no doubting that.

But I now believe there is a role for government, too, because too many parents are failing to protect their children. If we can cope with fluoride in the water supply, then taxes on low-nutrition, unhealthy “food” wouldn’t signal the end of Tory Britain. Too many on the Right hold up the salty, sugary, fatty garbage pushed at supermarket customers as proof of capitalism’s “success”, because it keeps food bills down. Fat schoolkids, waddling home, munching chips: this is what success looks like? Let the polluter pay, as the Iron Lady said. Even if he’s polluting his own body.

I said I’d let you into my weight-loss secret. Here’s how you do it. If you are fat as a child, you have two options. You can be a fat adult. Or you can be hungry, for most of the time, for the rest of your life.

Forget the cost of metabolic disorders to the NHS: if we decide to do nothing about the millions of fat children we are deliberately growing, the real price will be paid by them. When they are permanently fat, or permanently hungry, adults.

*******

Walking through the passageway that connects one side of Finsbury Park station to the other, from the gym to the Stevenage platform, is a daily ordeal. You’ll have seen the photos over Christmas when King’s Cross was closed…it’s not that different during peacetime. A river of people that would burst its banks were they not made of concrete.

This morning I’m aware that I seem to be in a bubble. I detect, before I see, the police officer at my right hand shoulder.

“Oh,” I say. “I feel like I’ve got an escort.”

“You’d really feel that, if I put the cuffs on you,” he says, and smiles at me.

I manage to bark “Don’t tempt me!” and “I don’t believe I said that” at the same time, as my face turns beetroot. But it’s ok. That eye contact, handsome policeman in Finsbury Park? Priceless. Fat boy, be damned. Just for a moment, I’m not hungry.

32 comments for: Graeme Archer: Fat chance

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