Monday, 16 July 2007

Alli oops

From tapeworm eggs to heart failure, diet pills have always been a fairly controversial subject. But now a new over-the-counter drug has become available in the US, which works in part by punishing users for eating too much fat by making them lose control of their bowels. No, really.

Why is this a feminist issue? Well, because prescription-only diet pills are quite rightly only available to people who are medically overweight. Over-the-counter diet products are aimed at those attempting to lose weight from either a normal or only slightly overweight frame - i.e. women. It's only women who are under pressure to lose weight from an already-healthy physique, and so any over-the-counter or black-market weight loss aid is bound to be aimed mostly at women and to have more female consumers.

Perhaps it's just the fact that I've never actually been fat talking, but I find it incredible to think that any normal-sized person would be so desperate to lose weight. If the only thing standing between you and a chip butty is the prospect of soiling your trousers, then perhaps it's time to break your diet.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

The F-Word

When I was on the Tube this morning, a fat lady got on at Wembley Park. She wasn't huge - she was of average height and I'd guess about a size 18. However, her mere presence, not being able to help pushing past people, caused a skinny woman to give her what I call a "bitch stare". You know what I'm talking about - that slouching, hands-on-hips, scoffing, disgusted expression that all the popular girls at school did at you when you were twelve, and which I will readily admit to having regularly practised in front of a mirror at that age in a desperate bid to become victor rather than victim (I never quite managed it, but my impersonations of that type of girl never fail to amuse people now, so I suppose I did achieve something in the end).

Anyway, Fat Wembley Park Lady was the victim of this particular bitch stare for the terrible sin of taking up more than her alloted amount of space, not looking as if she aspired to New Woman's idea of attractiveness, and looking as if she ate calories on a regular basis. Perhaps Bitch Girl was just grumpy because she had low blood sugar.

Fat Wembley Park Lady then sat opposite me and I considered, as we continued our journey on the stinking hell-hole that is the Metropolitan Line at 8am, that she didn't in any way fit the stereotype of a fat woman. She was dressed well in a manner which flattered her figure (Trinny and Susannah would have approved), she had good skin, she was wearing make up and nice shoes - she looked as if she took care of herself. If I had been asked to describe her appearance to a third party, I would have hesitated to use the F-word not because she wasn't fat, but because she didn't fit into the stereotype of the fat woman.

The fat woman is greedy, lazy, slovenly, lacking in self-control, lacking in self-respect, and she has let herself go. Therefore, one can't describe a woman as fat without also describing her as all of the above. That's why we come up with these patronising euphemisms for fat. Fuller-figured, larger lady, curvy (used by bitchy women as a backhanded compliment - for, "You've got such a lovely figure, so curvy!" read, "You fat ho"), voluptuous - they're all ways of saying "fat" whilst distancing the person from all of the negative baggage that goes with that particular word.

The fat woman constantly has to prove that she does not conform to this hideous stereotype. If a slim woman chooses to go out in sweatpants with no make-up, that's fine. But if a fat woman does this, she has let herself go. A fat woman has to be seen to have self-respect, because the implication made by her size is that she doesn't, because no woman would allow herself to get fat if she had any self-respect or self-control. Self-control, yeah, because the only reason women get fat is that they stuff their faces with cream cakes all day. There are a number of reasons why a woman might be fat, and none of them have anything to do with laziness, greediness or lack of self-control.

  • She's give birth at some point in the last five years

  • She was fed crap and never encouraged to do any exercise as a child. Fat children become fat adults, and when one has been fat all one's life it's virtually impossible to change

  • She has an eating disorder. Compulsive eating is just as distressing for the sufferer and just as medically serious as anorexia or bulimia, but it's not taken seriously by the public, the media or the medical community because apparently all the chunkmonster needs is to lay off the pork pies a bit

  • That's just the way she is. It's a terrible cliche, but people really do come in different shapes and sizes. Obviously there's a point at which nobody is naturally that fat, but if she's just a little on the tubby side it's likely that that is programmed into her genes. Since appetite and metabolism are controlled by the body's genetic predisposition towards a particular amount of body fat, it's extremely difficult to fight one's natural physique

  • She suffers from a medical condition or is on medication that makes her gain weight

    None of these descriptions suggest a lack of self-respect, apart from that of the compulsive eater, who needs help rather than judgement.

    I'd really like to see the word "fat" as no different from "tall" or "blonde" or even, dare I say "thin". It's a physical description, not a loaded judgement. I'd like to be able to describe fat women as "fat" without insulting them and without implying that they do nothing but devour cheeseburgers in front of Ricki Lake and that they deserve all the type 2 diabetes they get. It's okay to call a man fat, because a fat man is just fat. I'd like fat women to be just fat too.