The Seventies. The decade of spending time at football, the pub, down the garden - anything as long as it's not with the family. Of soap- on-a-rope, Playboy, beer bellies and following Henry Cooper's advice to splash on Brut all over. And ending the day with a quick game of squash, and a heart attack.

Then 1976. Good and bad news for men: first the bad. Thatcher wins the Tory leadership, putting in question well-constructed mechanisms to exclude women from public life. But - Clinique launch "Skin Supplies for Men", a new kind of male beauty treatment. And it's quickly realised that Thatcher is as much a man as any of her colleagues.

So A whole raft of products floats down onto our shelves. Suddenly men, by their stumbling acquiescence, wonder what they have agreed to. By 1986 the Body Shop have their Mostly Men range and "dual action" face soap out, sounding sufficiently machine-like to enable men to use it without feeling embarrassed. Next are men's magazines: GQ followed by FHM. After a short pause to register astonishment at this new niche, they break the hold of pornography on the market. And they work on men's weak points to encourage dependency and neuroses, just as Cosmopolitan and Vogue had been doing to women for decades. Pictures of perfectly formed males and expensive clothing present a challenging image for men when they face up to the mirror. Encouraging the idea of sexual deficiency is the next important stage, and Men's Health magazine helps to give the impression that good sex is primarily a question of fitness. Weight training diagrams are shown next to equally carefully drawn sexual positions. For example, how low-seat rowing helps you to do "The Squat". The market economy along with its attendant trappings penetrates Britain, ending the charade that people should be liked for the "person inside". It's too much trouble wading through all that fat to find him. Entrance fees such as pounds 105 at the Paddington, plus pounds 158 annual subscription, are sufficient to keep out undesirables.

The result The propaganda has its effect. A sad moment in 1993 as three British Gas workers are tested with beauty products by Aramis and shown to be "really knowledgeable", according to an Aramis executive. German industry may be fitter and leaner in economic terms than the British version but one member in particular stands out to the contrary. With reunification failing, people begin to attach less weight to the faded German economic miracle. They also notice how fat Kohl is. The BBC coyly starts referring to him as a "political heavyweight" and Clinton's comment: "I was watching Sumo wrestling last night and thought of you, Helmut" is the last straw in the world's perception of its larger participants.

Now This New Year's Eve the number of people who overdid it and were admitted to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary increased by 20 per cent. In Los Angeles a fatness lobby has been formed, adding another minority concern to the growing list. And we did not get healthier through the Eighties. Obesity among the adult population rose by 50 per cent. Imported capitalist neuroses have made us worse. But if you're worried about your weight, it's nice to think there's some who would welcome being in your position. Like the 800 million people starving to death in the rest of the world.

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