How we talk about weight around children is an emotive issue between Bel Mooney and her daughter Kitty Dimbleby...
Bel Mooney and her daughter Kitty talk about the ‘f’ word
My husband and I had just returned from an indulgent week in Malta when (conscious of my expanding tum) I joked to Kitty, ‘Oh, I feel so FAT!’ My daughter put her finger to her lips and nodded towards Chloe (then five), playing nearby. ‘We don’t use the F-word,’ she said.
Taken aback at the unexpected rebuke, I asked why. Away from the children she outlined her many reasons. Her arguments made complete sense, of course – and yet I felt disturbed. How have we reached this stage where food has become such a contentious issue? Our eyes are constantly dazzled by luscious recipes in newspapers and magazines, and the bestseller lists are full of cookery books.
At the same time, countless lives are ruined by serious eating disorders, while obesity is a growing social problem. My mother’s generation and my own enjoyed simple meals of meat and two veg, spuds at every meal, sugar in tea, and were treated to sweets, chocolates and biscuits. I don’t remember anyone having an eating disorder. And I can look back at my school photos from the 1950s and early 1960s and not see a single chubby child.
Back then, Billy Bunter was a classic character in fiction – created fat and greedy, whereas the other boys (who mocked him) were seen as normal.
These days Billy would be seen as a victim of ‘fat-shaming’. If a journalist writes an article suggesting that people should eat less, he or she is likely to be howled down on social media for daring to question the ‘lifestyle choices’ of people who protest proudly that it’s righteous to be roly-poly. Surely we should be allowed to say that, yes, some people are overweight because of health issues, but many more are piling on the pounds because they snack all day? That fat is not so much a ‘feminist issue’ (as the psychotherapist Susie Orbach called it in her famous book) as a problem of willpower and common sense.
When Jamie Oliver attempted (in his wisdom) to suggest the eating habits of the nation’s school children urgently needed to be changed, we saw pictures of mothers pushing burgers and fries through school railings at their kids. It was – quite simply – shocking. We live in an upside-down society where Kitty’s ‘F-word’ is forbidden as outrageously rude (and the real f-word used freely!), at the very time when the nation needs to tackle obesity.
The figures speak for themselves. The number of overweight schoolchildren in the UK is almost 2 million, of which about 700,000 are obese, according to a study carried out by the International Obesity Taskforce. Over 25% of girls and 20% of boys are overweight. Researchers predict that if this trend towards more obese and
Junk food rules and we are told to avoid ‘fat-shaming’