A trip to the movies turned me into a smug fat-shamer

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Comment - Liz Jones

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.

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