Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

John Walsh

John Walsh: You're not fat. You just need to put on some height


On my last surgery visit, my GP was in a cautious mood. "Your cholesterol is up," he said, peering at a printout, "and your blood pressure, too. Let's see what a change of lifestyle will do over three months."

"What do you mean, lifestyle?" I didn't like the sound of this.

"Oh, you know," he said guardedly. "Diet. Abstinence. Exercise."

"Are you suggesting, Doctor," I asked coldly, "that I'm too fat?"

"Not at all," he said. "I just think you might like to assess your ingestion of certain foodstuffs, with a view to weight loss."

"You mean I'm too fat?"

"No, though you might wish to monitor your patterns of consumption, of both liquids and solids..."

"You mean I'm..."

Only now do I see what he was up to. He'd clearly got wind of a new report from an all-party Parliamentary group called Reflections on Body Image, and its main Reflection is that people shouldn't be allowed to call other people "fat". The group wants to discuss amending the Equalities Act to put "appearance-based discrimination" on the same footing as racism, ageism, sexism and prejudice over disability or sexual orientation. If they do, it'll become a "hate crime" to draw attention to a person's size or weight – even if it's a doctor telling a patient (e.g. me) he ought to lose a few pounds.

We don't, by and large, go around calling fat people "Fatso" or "Lardarse" or "Gutbucket" even if their silhouette is less than Greek. We left such childish insults behind in the playground, or in previous centuries (when Beau Brummell, the regency swell, fell out with the Prince Regent, he cut him in public by asking an acquaintance, "Alvanley, who's your fat friend?" The Prince never spoke to him again.) We know schoolchildren are sensitive about personal remarks – as David Starkey found to his cost when, on the TV documentary Jamie's Dream School, he called a kid "fat" and incurred the wrath of the whole class. We are sensitive about each other's peculiar bodies. We'd probably welcome some discrimination. But to call any reference to someone's avoirdupois a hate crime is nonsensical.

It will ensure that, when considering applicants for future jobs, employers won't be able to ask important questions: "Do you think your weight might be a problem when pursuing villains down the high street?" or "Do you think you ought to lose half a stone before taking on the crushingly rude Year 8s?" or "Will your body be perfectly safe on a construction site involving ladders and scaffolding?"

My father, a GP, favoured a direct approach. He told people they were "in danger of falling into obesity". Most patients heeded his words and resolved to change. One didn't – an Irish roofer called Pat, who refused to accept he was morbidly huge, until the day my father, adjusting his spectacles, gazed at a Height/Ideal Weight graph on the wall. "According to this, Pat," he said, "you should be eight feet 11 inches. Do you think you could manage that?" It did the trick.

Heavy mob brought to book

I don't know how high Brent Council's reputation used to be, but after Tuesday's 2am raid on Kensal Rise library – 15 intrepid security guards and 12 brave policemen snuck in like thieves and removed books, photographs and memorial plaques – it can't get lower.

The invaders were trying to evade the wrath of local residents, who'd proved hard to argue with and were negotiating with the council to run the library themselves – but you know what? The council got fed up with all the chat, the bourgeois rabbiting, the liberal bellyaching, and decided to get hired muscle in to sort it.

What a loutish response from people supposedly directing the local community. Wouldn't they be better off working as bailiffs?