Fat is not only a feminist issue to us larger men

'People who are "big" rarely complain since they essentially agree they are unattractive, unloveable, hate-handled lumps'
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The Independent Online

Costas the bearded boatman squatted in front of the bowsprit, and beamed his disconcerting Cut-throat Jake smile at the two Englishmen in front of him. "You are big!" he told us. "Big men! You..." he indicated me, "...must stand on this side of the boat, or we may sink!" And he pushed his long red hair away from his sun-glasses and guffawed. At that moment I wanted nothing more than for my companion, Simon, to sit on Costas, while I took the boathook from its place on the rigging, and shoved it, barbed-end first, right up...

Costas the bearded boatman squatted in front of the bowsprit, and beamed his disconcerting Cut-throat Jake smile at the two Englishmen in front of him. "You are big!" he told us. "Big men! You..." he indicated me, "...must stand on this side of the boat, or we may sink!" And he pushed his long red hair away from his sun-glasses and guffawed. At that moment I wanted nothing more than for my companion, Simon, to sit on Costas, while I took the boathook from its place on the rigging, and shoved it, barbed-end first, right up...

It wasn't just Costas's fault. He couldn't know that I had actually, for the first time in years, been feeling pretty good about myself. Physically, that is. I was over a stone down on Christmas, far fitter than for a decade, and nicely tanned, though I do say so as shouldn't. And along comes this Peloponnesian Lothario and - in a few short sentences - shatters my elaborately constructed self-confidence. More to the point, my encounter with him was merely the end of a series of unwanted reminders of just how much chattering about body shape and size dominates and distorts our lives.

Some of these reminders came in the form of articles in the British press, purchased a day late at the Lilo, Erotic Playing-cards and Beach-ball Emporium in downtown Chrani. To take just a couple of examples, there was the fearsome lefty feminist - usually to be discovered standing up for whoever no one else stands up for - the thrust of whose article was the complaint that, while fat women were demonised, the world was full of under-persecuted repulsive, lard-arsed, bloated blokes. But then, she doesn't get out much and she's probably never met Costas.

The following day there was the piece about David Shayler, accompanied by an appropriate cartoon, which made much of his appetite and girth. In fact it made much more of his girth than either his appetite or heredity have done; I met Mr Shayler in the doorway to a publishers on Monday, and he is not a particularly fat man.

Next there were the women's magazines languishing between Pokémon books in German and Greek soft-porn. If you could take your eyes off "Mel C - I Wish I Was a Lesbian: Why Men Are Crap" (she obviously had met Costas), there was Marie Claire (Health and Fitness Special) on how to get rid of your love handles. Or, as it dubbed these rather attractive parts of a woman's anatomy, "hate handles". Inside it explained simultaneously why love handles are physiologically a good thing, and how they could be obliterated through diet and exercise.

The key word there, though, was "hate". Because the thing that had really got me steamed up in time for my watery rendezvous with the ruddy Hellene, was the reminder - while reading to my children as the sun set over the mountains - of just how much the author JK Rowling hates fat people. At least, she writes as though she does. In her first Harry Potter book, her many references to the obesity of her hero's odious cousin, led to me making running excisions in my own readings. One chapter in particular contained references by an adult to this "waddling" child as a "great lump", and a "great pudding of a son". When the boy's "fat bottom" was magically furnished with a pig's tail (he had earlier been compared to a pig and a gorilla), the adult comments that, "he was so much like a pig anyway, that there wasn't much left to do."

I wondered at the time whether JK understood just how much damage these descriptions could do. Let me stress here that I am an admirer of the Harry Potter series, while being aware of just how traditional the books are (the hero, for example, is revered for his achievements at sport, while a friend of his is ribbed for being a swot). And her association of fat with extreme greed and stupidity certainly reminds me of the Bunter cartoons and books. But how did she think that this would be received in the playground? Did she ever wonder what it would be like to be a child, teased as being fat, to hear the descriptions of Dudley Dursley read aloud in the classroom?

And it's no use her or anyone else saying that she is similarly deprecatingly descriptive about the physical characteristics of other inhabitants of her imaginary world. I've read 'em all, and I can do text-battle like a seminarian. There is something uniquely angry and loathing about her relationship with fat. Perhaps someone sat on her when she was little.

What makes me angry is that she should take it out on my beautiful, slightly chubby daughter, who has - recently - been taunted by some of the children in her class as being fat. By one boy in particular. A boy, as it happens, who, on the last day of term, arrived with the latest Harry Potter in his hand to "show and tell". In this book, as I discovered a few days BC (before Costas), JK Rowling had reverted to the early theme of the nasty fat boy, this time mocking him for the diet that he was being forced to endure. So here I was, reading a book ridiculing a fat boy, to a small girl who herself had recently been ridiculed for being fat.

JK Rowling herself is not fat. Perhaps she has never been fat. Photographs show her to be thinnish. Or, if I were of a vindictive and untruthful bent, she might be described as meagre, emaciated, bony, pinched, insubstantial, skeletal and runty. It is possible that, among the thousands of letters she has received from children who love her books, not one has quite managed to wish that she had not returned to the "fat" theme. But JK has imagination, and she might have worked this one out for herself.

Part of the trouble is that people who are "big" or "fat" or "overweight" (you have to be anorexic, incidentally, to be considered "underweight") rarely complain about the way others treat them, since they essentially agree that they are unattractive, unloveable, hate-handled lumps. You can walk over to a bloke you only know slightly, tap his tum and tell him that he's "putting it on". But would you tell a spotty woman at a party that she'd added a pustule or two since last you met? I don't think so.

It is not the purpose of this article to examine the origins of this self-loathing and body-fascism. I am not going to fulminate on the absurdity of idealising a shape and a weight that few of us can hope to achieve. Nor do I want to argue that obesity is not a health problem (although it is one among many). Anyway, our obsession with fatness goes far beyond any concern about heart trouble or diet. It has become a way of defining the hierarchy of the elect and the damned; of deciding who's in and who's out.

No, my intention is simply to advise those who - like Costas - seem to believe that they can say whatever they like to someone pudgier than them, and have their little jibes and taunts taken in good spirit. And this is what I want to tell them. We hate you for it. I mean, we really, really hate you, and will not forgive you. I may smile at you as you tell me - jovially - that I've been lunching too well (as I smiled on the deck of the SS Bebes that day), but my mind will be full of boathooks and orifices.

* David.Aaronovitch@btinternet.com

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