Fat is harmful and obesity should not be a badge of pride

The latest fatwa has been slapped on singer Jamelia

Janet Street-Porter
Sunday 26 April 2015 15:52 BST

In modern Britain we proudly celebrate free speech – except when it comes to one very touchy subject. You can’t say the F-word without kick-starting a storm of protest. God forbid I call anyone morbidly obese, chubby or just plain fat. I’ll be immediately vilified on social media, in the press and online as a traitor to my sex – branded as someone who denies others the right to “celebrate” their bulk, the right to choose to eat what they like and look the way they want.

Can I whisper the horrible truth? We have morphed into a nation of po-faced prudes, and the worst offenders are usually young women claiming to be feminists. Anyone who voices a dissenting view must be dealt with.

The latest fatwa has been slapped on singer and television presenter Jamelia, guilty of deviating from the politically correct view that fat is fabulous. This week, Channel 4 aired a documentary about the rise in high-street fashion outlets selling trendy clothes cheaply to young women, a huge proportion of whom are described by doctors as “obese”. When we discussed this on Loose Women, Jamelia bravely commented that she was unhappy with the rise in cheap fashion for fatties, because “unhealthy lifestyles should not be facilitated”.

Jamelia was referring to clothing in extremely large sizes (over size 20) as well as unhealthily small sizes. Ever since then, the poor girl has been trashed. One piece I read accused Jamelia of “fat-shaming”, arguing that “the fashion industry exists to make clothes people want to buy”. Precisely. Manufacturers aren’t on a mission to “help” young overweight women. They have spotted a gap in the market and are catering to it in order to make huge sums of money. Hard-headed business, not a social service.

By normalising gross overeating and extreme obesity, and claiming it’s natural and a “human right”, we are not educating young women about the health problems they will face in later life. Sure, recent research might say overweight people could be less likely to suffer from dementia – but they are far more likely to suffer heart attacks, plus a range of other health issues stemming from lack of exercise. How can they play with their children and be part of their active childhoods? Or are they content to waddle along and be the bystanders in life?

I am concerned that by choosing (as some young women do) to be extremely large, they limit their choices in life. Their bulk might not be “genetic” but could mask other issues, including a lack of self-esteem. I blame Dawn French for telling women that being huge was great and something to be celebrated. And then she went and lost a massive amount of kilos before putting it all back on again.

In The Spectator, another poster woman for large people – Julie Burchill – claims she’ll never diet and says fat people are more attractive. She’s proud she didn’t get a cold last winter and cuts a mean figure on the dancefloor. Julie’s mantra is “Eat sensibly, exercise regularly – die anyway”.

But the debate about size masks something more sinister, as Jamelia has found to her cost. In modern Britain, everyone can have an opinion, as long as it’s the one that the fatties agree with.

One for the road? Not if you can’t get yourself home

Another example of po-faced Britain is the furore which followed remarks by a judge who commented on young women who drink to excess.

Sentencing a 21-year-old in Worcester who had punched another woman and could remember nothing of the incident, Judge Nigel Cadbury said: “I find it incredible that young people can get so drunk that they don’t even know who they are with ... It’s very, very worrying that young girls put themselves in such very, very vulnerable positions.”

Women’s groups are outraged when anyone dares to suggest that women consuming huge amounts of alcohol might put them at risk. Like the fat issue, this is a no-go topic. Speaking personally, if I’ve had two bottles of wine, I can hardly walk home and certainly can’t drive a car. My partner used to own a restaurant and the worst drunks were young women. They couldn’t even tell taxi drivers their address, and they frequently claimed they’d been assaulted if anyone touched them and tried to help.

Getting drunk doesn’t inevitably lead to rape, or being attacked, but it does mean you are less likely to make sensible decisions about how to get to a safe place and who to travel with. People who think that (like Judge Cadbury) aren’t rabid right-wing nutters who hate women. But it’s become contentious to say that publicly.

Things are looking terminal for Tesco and the NHS

There so many parallels between Tesco’s problems and those facing the NHS. Both organisations have become too big and too unwieldy for their own good, and are now paying the price for signing up to the false premise that choice adds to the value of your customer’s “experience”.

The NHS, like Tesco, offers more and more non-core services, from cosmetic surgery to gastric bands. It has a top-heavy management structure, without a single national pay scale for chief executives – many of whom are paid gross amounts of money as well as lavish pensions. No one gets sacked when people die as a result of negligence. These bosses have posh titles, but no accountability.

Tesco, which has just announced the biggest annual loss (£6.4bn) in its history, has responded by sacking staff, giving up its head office, cancelling building 49 stores and closing 43 others. Its new mantra is “simplicity” – and 30 per cent of its products will no longer be stocked.

If only the NHS could follow suit. It should be removed from political control and regulated by a super-trust made up of industry experts. All buying should be centralised. Middle management needs to be culled, and a training programme for nurses and doctors starting with an outreach course for school students. And charges should be imposed for non-life-threatening procedures.

Tesco and the NHS are in the last-chance saloon – to survive, both need radical surgery.

Let me count the ways I despise this mania for lists

List culture is banal, a short cut to giving us a superficial take on everything from novels to television comedy. Not a day passes without another silly list, and I’ve always wondered how many people actually “vote” for these winners. Lists make cheap telly by stitching together clips of popular shows from yesteryear, but personally, I’d rather read a book and watch a new programme than slump in front of one of these bits of fluff.

Editing The Independent on Sunday, I appeared in quite a few lists of “power women” but I vanished from list world the minute I resumed being a columnist and broadcaster, even though I’m probably seen and read by far more people every week.

In an obvious PR stunt, Time magazine has just published its list of 100 Most Influential People in the World – a real pick’n’mix bunch including Emma Watson, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Julianne Moore, Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin.

What’s even more incredible is that some of these dreary folk actually turned up to celebrate this dubious “honour”. I’m beginning to think the K people and Emma would go to the opening of a door if it meant a photo opportunity.

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