Making fun of fat people used to be so much easier – fat was funny. End of.
When I was younger it was fair game to poke fun at ‘fatties’, but then – as far as television programming and ratings can surmise – it was also okay to make fun of: ‘darkies’, ‘poofs’, ‘Pakis’ and anyone else deemed subjectively worthy of ridicule.
It felt, as someone who was born in the early seventies that the world matured at the same time I did. By caveat, I suppose I should establish that I was too meek, mild and well-mannered to be a bully, and too inconsequential to be bullied – neither the bearer nor butt of such discriminatory humour was I. Being white, middle-class and skinny probably helped ease my victimisation too.
The long overdue concept of political correctness became a buzzword, hotly pursued by the risible notion of ‘political correctness gone mad’. I’ve long struggled with the latter, how can political correctness be measured on an analogue gauge? It’s either correct, or it isn’t; the ‘gone mad’ add-on seems to be the terrain of the bigot or those who just don’t get, and subsequently misuse, the concept: ‘we’ve just had a training course at work on how to make a cup of tea… it’s political correctness gone….”. YAWN.
So now we’re all up to speed, you just don’t discriminate or victimise on the grounds of gender, race, sexuality, disability and all things individuals cannot be held responsible for. Or, in short, ‘common sense’. In fact, just don’t victimise or discriminate against anyone, ever.
I don’t pay much attention to lifestyle or health trends, so if the concept of ‘fat shaming’ has encroached on my radar, then presumably it is a big deal elsewhere. I can’t say I wholly disapprove of the concept; we’re collectively and constantly informed that we are nose-diving into an obesity apocalypse. Equally, I cannot say that obese figures should be something to be celebrated, not at the cost of individuals’ health or a nation’s health bill.
Shaming gluttony and laziness I hold no grudge with, but shaming an individual’s weight? Here lies my issue, particularly when the mockery is perpetrated by those who often defend the notion of political correctness. People, dare I say it, who should know better.
Take BBC’s Have I Got News For You, for example. That’s a show which has a healthy element of self-deprecation – occasionally observing how male-dominated the panels are – and one which habitually takes pot-shots across the political spectrum.
I would not say the show is the bastion of political correctness, but it tries its best. Until a photo caption or ‘odd-one-out round’ reveals Tory MP Eric Pickles. No matter what he has done to warrant a current affairs satirical lambasting, the jibes quickly centre on his weight, probably with the delivery of a Paul Merton ‘got his own postcode’ style witless remark.
Now with the recent FIFA scandal, Chuck Blazer seems prime for some personalised fat shaming. Here is a man who boasts an endless list of ridiculous mock-worthy corruption crimes, so why do Hislop et al. so quickly slump to playground taunts of ‘fatty’? Is this really the best they can do?
Far be it for me to defend misguided Tory MPs or corrupt FIFA officials, they dig their own graves, and I can see how those two example lend themselves so easily to ‘fat cat’ jibes, but weight issues are a complex arena. Mock a lifestyle all you like, but we must all refrain from mocking an individual’s life, especially when we have no inkling as to underlying causes of weight gain. People have their demons, including those in the public eye. How many Charles Kennedy ‘glug-glug’ references were made on such shows? Not so funny since his alcohol-related death, are they?
If this week’s wrongdoer of ridicule is also someone considered overweight then it seems a fait accompli that a fat joke will be slotted in for good measure, serving only to normalise bullying.
It is arguably safe to assume that many overweight people have made some ill-advised, ill-educated lifestyle choices, but not all of them. Obesity and weight gain can be the result of all manner of complex issues beyond the control of the individual, whether that be physical ailment, mental illness, medication side-effects or just being born on the wrong side of the class divide.
I am sure a good percentage of the audiences of the likes of HIGFY, 8 Out of 10 Cats and Mock the Week, will pride themselves on their liberal and open-minded agendas, don’t they, don’t we all, deserve better than ‘who ate all the pies?’ gags?
Perhaps we’re not all as grown up as we would like to think.