A trip to the movies turned me into a smug fat-shamer
IT’S Friday night and I’m in the foyer of my local cinema, about to watch a 40th anniversary screening of Grease. Boy. Forty years of being on a diet of less than 800 calories a day, due to Olivia Newton-John in those skin-tight black disco pants, the sight of which tipped me back into an eating disorder. Forty years of (sometimes) lifethreatening misery, of restraint, of hating my own body. Don’t look at me, I’m not Sandra Dee.
As I sit sipping fizzy water, women start to congregate. And every one is obese. Each does the fat fiddle we all know so well: the pulling of a jacket over breasts that won’t behave, the tugging on a sweater over buttocks. Sweaters knotted round middles to hide a muffin-top.
They are self-conscious, yes, but still they return to tables laden with buckets of fizzy drinks and popcorn, and familysized boxes of sweets.
To my shame, and despite the fact I’ve spent my career campaigning for bigger women in the media, I feel superior, and a little disgusted. And I start to wonder: have I been wrong to condemn all those toothpick-sized women on the catwalk? Do plus-size supermodels like Ashley Graham encourage women to stuff their faces with gusto? God, I don’t relish having to squeeze past THAT ONE when I need the loo halfway through Totally Devoted.
I had an online spat a few weeks ago with a newspaper columnist who called the overweight ‘feckless’, saying they should go to the back of the NHS queue. The figures back her up: one in six NHS beds is taken up by a patient with type 2 diabetes. But I pointed out to the (slim) columnist that we are all capable of making bad choices that impact on the public purse. The woman who jumps her horse cross country without wearing a back protector. The wine-o’clock mum whose liver starts to fail. Are they more deserving of care and compassion because their habit of choice is more upmarket than, say, sitting home with a pizza? I countered it’s easier to take the time to don a helmet on the ski slopes than it is to shrug off the fact your parents were overweight, which means you are more than likely to be super-sized too.
But sitting in the foyer in my size 6 J Brand jeans, I’m still aghast at how brazen the buckets of popcorn are. It’s as though these women are not even trying. Along with encouraging fatties to pay at the pump so as not to be lured by sweets in the kiosk, shouldn’t eating in cinemas be outlawed, too? My friend turns up, and I tell her to look around. ‘Maybe I’m wrong about promoting bigger women,’ I whisper. ‘Look at that one!’
Isn’t it easy to make jokes at their expense? The reality is nobody wants to be morbidly obese, at risk not just of being left on what would have to be a very sturdy shelf (you see?) but of losing their sight and toes to diabetes. Of always having to avoid mirrors. Of always having to ignore the ‘tuts’ and ‘huffs’ on planes and trains.
AS WE file out after the film, I expect the majority of women want with every fibre of their beings to look like Sandy in her prime, and I’m sure they’ve tried every diet under the sun to do so. And joined the gym. The harsh fact is the majority of dieters will fail. I know all this in my head, but still I point out another fattie, and my friend informs me, sotto voce: ‘Ah. She’s not been well. Her life fell apart when she knocked over and killed someone in her car.’
My point is this: the reasons for being overweight are myriad. But making these women (and men) feel bad – as yet another columnist did last week, prescribing giant hamster wheels to lose weight – will only drive them to their safe place, which is peering into an open fridge, the only chink of light in a very dark world.