Off with the mince

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The Independent Online
The achievement of the week belonged not to a current Conservative politician, but a retired one. Step forward the willowy Nigel Lawson, who is only two-thirds the man he was when Chancellor. Nigel revealed that he had been on a diet and lost four stone in twelve months.

Nor was this a statistical fiddle arrived at by massaging the figure(s) - the evidence was tangible. But as with all economic statistics, it is worth trying to turn the abstract into the concrete. Four stone equals 56lbs. Turn this into, say, 56 one-pound bags of mince and you have enough to fill a complete meat-shelf at Safeways. Nigel Lawson has lost a whole meat-shelf - incredible.

Anything he can do, I can do better. Given the chance, I too could wreck the British economy - and tomorrow I will embark on a Lawson-busting diet. True, my meat-shelf is smaller (a medium-sized cabinet in a large deli), but the need is as great.

Once it wouldn't have mattered. In the old days, fat, you will remember, was a feminist issue. Women had to keep young and beautiful. Men (to mangle Martin Luther King) were judged by the content of their characters, not the acreage of their skin. Now we are groping towards equality - and everybody is expected to shape up or ship out.

As soon as the hot weather began, so did the pressure. Serious newspapers inveighed against the spectacle of shirtless flabbies. This year, according to the magazines, stomachs are in - flat, taut, washboard muscly ones. Which is unfortunate, because my stomach is not in - it is out. Like a one-way tide, it has been going out for ages.

What adds urgency is the recent discovery of men's health. Until last year, there was no such thing. There was fitness, of course, but that was for athletes and pensioners. Then health was imported from America. Today, dozens of "New Bloke and Bollocks" publications clutter the newsagent's. I picked up one called XL and, riffling through articles with titles like "Classic exercise mistakes: the barbell biceps curl", I discovered that obesity can cause such horrors as diabetes and shrinking testicles. I am already sure that I am losing sensation in my right foot due to overweight; it can only be a matter of time before gonadal atrophy sets in.

But the worst development is the increasingly dreadful way in which we mince-toters are treated. It is a simple and testable fact that pudgy people are discriminated against. Not by women, who are (thank God!) very tolerant, but by other men. We are taken less seriously, personally abused and our talents neglected, while inferior thin folk are held to be more in earnest. Real contenders are lean and mean: Blair, not Brown (who you just know is not going to get any smaller); Hezza and Redwood, not Clarke.

You can be a comic, of course. And while fat chaps can be sinister (Sydney Greenstreet, Guessler and Goering), they always work for a thin, driven master. At best, they represent genius tragically drowned by excess (Orson Welles, Marlon Brando), their fatness marking their descent. At one stage, with the release of the film Withnail and I (in which the cadaverous Richard E Grant is sexually harassed by the immense Richard Griffith), obesity even stood for a particular type of repellent homosexuality. Big blokes found themselves under suspicion as scrawny straights began to believe that outside every thin man was a fat man trying to get in.

To thin men, fatness stands for incontinence: an inability to control one's appetites, a fatal lack of self-restraint. To be a skeletal chain- smoker, dope-fiend or foot-fetishist will not earn you the ridicule that being plump will. On the contrary, you will be regarded as "interesting". Nor will you be vulnerable to the same sort of intensely personal remarks from acquaintances and workmates. If a woman has her breasts felt by a colleague, that is harassment; if your boss taps your stomach and giggles, it's friendliness.

The brave man's attitude (the XL man's attitude) would be one of defiance. He would take up Sumo, become a big blue belt (or whatever) and get some respect. But I have had enough. It is a thin person's world and it's getting worse. Roll over, Nigel, I am getting out of fat.