On the 9th of July the Daily Mail published a charming piece of “journalism”, (please DO NOT click that link) written by Linda Kelsey, a “self-proclaimed fattist”, who wants women to realise the horrors of obesity. She feels that it is both unhealthy and unattractive. She doesn’t believe we should tip-toe around the issue for fear of ‘turning our daughters into anorexics‘.

This delightful piece of woman hating kicks off with Linda telling us all about the horror and disgust she was forced to endure by witnessing three young women in an airport departure lounge. They had the temerity to not only be overweight (‘they were not chubby, but fat‘), but were also wearing clothing displaying a little more flesh than our Linda would like to be seeing – I mean, imagine, wearing summer clothes for a holiday! Not only that, but they actually had the nerve to share a packet of crisps together in the queue. She then goes on to tell us of her dismay at this apparent epidemic of overweight and obese women with a ‘let-it-all-hang-out faith in themselves and a don’t-give-a-damn attitude to their evident obesity‘.

Linda follows up this tirade with a half-hearted attempt to justify her opinions based on the issues the nation is facing as a result of increased rates of obesity, and goes on to warn that if mothers tread too lightly around the issue with their own daughters for fear of making them anorexic, that they are doing them a disservice.

I’m not sure where to start with this.

Let’s start with the obvious. This article directs itself completely at women. Actually I lie, there is one sentence in which Linda tells us she had a ‘food-loving son‘ herself. That’s the only time men are mentioned. This negates any shred of credibility Linda’s article might have had with its ‘being fat is unhealthy‘ posturing, because, and prepare yourself for a shock Linda, men have issues with obesity too! Quite why the entire vitriol of the article is directed towards women is unclear. One only has to have a quick scan of the sidebar of shame in the same publication to see why this particular piece of sneering opinion might have been commissioned though…

Secondary to the fact the article is so directed at women, is the type of language actually used. The dismissive and sneering manner the three women at the airport are described; ‘bulging bellies‘, ‘lardy legs‘, ‘billowing pillows of back and shoulder stuffing‘. Then she moves on to the clothing she deems as only suitable for size zero models to wear. The picture accompanying the article of Linda reveals she has a slim figure, and she reassures us that she ‘simply cuts back‘ whenever her jeans are getting too tight. Congratulations Linda, I’m genuinely happy for you.

The obesity issue is complex. Changes in the way food is manufactured and marketed, together with the increasing costs of healthy eating, mean that we are sent confusing messages about what we should or shouldn’t be eating. While it is of course possible to be overweight and fit and healthy, there is an association with increased weight being associated with increased health issues such as obesity, joint problems and hormonal issues, and the increased burden this places on the NHS cannot be denied.

Social changes have a big role too – the advent of Thatcherism, and the loss of simple initiatives such as free school milk, together with cutbacks in areas of education around food health and home economics across the board means that we now have a generation of people who are genuinely at a loss as to how to cook or eat healthily. Note, I say people. Not women. As much as Linda would have us believe that the root of our problems lies in female greed, I very much disagree. Food and weight is also tied up with self-esteem and stress – there can be no denial that in today’s economic and social climate, we as a nation are feeling more stressed out than we have for a long time.

Linda also addresses the issue of anorexia in her article, suggesting that mothers need to be more forthright in telling their daughters (again, no mention of sons or fathers here) when they need to slim down rather than worrying about making them become anorexic. She suggests that the current concerns over anorexia are overblown. She tells us about the ‘cases I’ve come across‘ where eating disorders were caused by the girls having driven personalities,, together with having parents with high expectations. Again, I have few words for this. I will say that as someone who works in mental health, Eating Disorders are well known to be one of the riskiest areas to treat. They have a high level of mortality. The idea that they are simply caused by parents having high expectations is an old fashioned and dangerous one. And again, I reiterate, this is an issue that also affects males, and to an increasing extent.

Personally, I have struggled with weight throughout my twenties and thirties, yo-yoing, each time gaining more weight than the last. I am great at dieting. But they don’t work in the long term. I was brought up in a family where healthy eating was a high priority. We were given fruit and yogurts rather than sweets and cakes for puddings, and were taught the basics of healthy cooking. This was all well and good until I hit adulthood with its myriad of pressures, periods of anxiety, and general life stress. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I eat a healthy diet, limit treats and move more, in a couple of years’ time, I’ll probably be a lot healthier  than I am now. There isn’t a quick fix. According to Linda though, I should probably just stay in the house, not wear fashionable clothes, or heaven forbid be seen eating in public until then.

Sorry, but that isn’t going to work for me.

I’m sorry (not really) if my appearance puts you off your food Linda. I have to say though, if I were you, I’d be taking a long hard look in the mirror and asking myself some serious questions about why I feel justified in judging swathes of the population based on appearance, and then placing this all at the feet of women to be burdened with. I’d also be seriously wondering who the hell put me in charge of being judge and jury over mental health conditions which devastate so many lives, whilst you clearly know so very little about them.

I’d also be asking myself why I was in such a rush to be published by the Daily Mail. But that’s a whole other issue.

The issue of obesity is a serious one, and something which needs a lot of consideration. A hastily dashed off piece directing the blame squarely at women and mothers, does not even begin to do this.

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