TRIGGER WARNING: If you are currently recovering from or in treatment for an eating disorder, or if you are a survivor of an eating disorder who wishes to avoid triggering content, please don’t read the following post.
There’s a proverb that goes, “Do not speak unless you can improve upon the silence.” I think the same could be said about writing: Don’t waste people’s time when you don’t have anything of value to say.
Like, oh, just for an example here, let’s say you wrote an article praising people with deadly eating disorders as being “driven” and suggesting that having a child with anorexia is preferable to having a fat child.
I wouldn’t call Linda Kelsey’s piece for the Daily Mail an article, so much as an embarrassing online tirade targeting fat people with as much hatred as she was able to pack into her go-nowhere screed. In a nutshell, Kelsey feels that it should be socially acceptable to shame fat people… for the sake of their their health, of course.
Standing in the queue for airport security at Luton last week, en route to Malaga and my fortnight in the sun, I became transfixed by the three young women in front of me.
All in their early 20s, they were laughing and chatting, clearly looking forward to their hols on the Costa del Sol, excitedly planning their days on the beach and nights on the town.
They sounded – and looked – happy and carefree. But what mesmerised me most about this jolly trio was not their conversation, but their appearance: they were size 18 apiece, at least.
It isn’t enough to guess at their sizes. Allow Linda to describe them:
They were not chubby, but fat. They had bulging bellies and billowing pillows of back and shoulder stuffing, punctured by flabby arms and lardy legs that no amount of fake-tan could disguise.
And what struck me even more forcefully about these lumpen individuals (there were dozens more, equally large, in the queue behind me) was how obviously unconcerned they were about it.
Linda Kelsey is surrounded by fat people. There is no escape. And these people weren’t even appropriately somber. They were standing there, preparing to go on their vacations just like Linda was, and they were enjoying themselves presumably as much as Linda was enjoying herself. And somehow, they were doing this as though their body size didn’t inhibit their enjoyment of life. This isn’t fair. These woman were fat. They shouldn’t be allowed the same level of excitement or fun that lovely, slender Linda is entitled to as a thin person.
What’s worse, these girls were going on a holiday to southern Spain and they weren’t swaddled in winter coats. They were wearing stuff like shorts and tank tops, their rolls and cellulite on display for all to see. And they forced poor Linda to rake her offended gaze over every dimple and crease in their fat bodies. To top it all off, they were sharing a bag of chips!
I assume Linda was upset about them sharing the bag, rather than having one apiece, because she had to dial her scorn back a notch.
It occurred to me that if these girls hated their bodies and were racked with self-loathing, as we’re so often told that the majority of young women do and are, they were doing a grand job of projecting exactly the opposite impression.
Far from body hatred, what I witnessed was a let-it-all-hang-out faith in themselves and a don’t-give-a-damn attitude to their evident obesity.
Maybe I’m making a rash assumption here, but it sounds like Linda feels that all fat people should walk around in super-sized potato sacks, ringing a bell and crying, “Unthin! Unthin!” as they shuffle through the streets, and the fact that we don’t is proof that we face no derision or emotional upheaval from the culture that surrounds us.
Un-PC of me as it may be to criticise my sex for their size, when it comes to weight I’m not afraid to say it: I am unapologetically fattist. It’s unattractive, it’s unhealthy and, given the problems that being fat can cause, it should be as unacceptable as smoking.
The nice thing about being fat is that so many people care about your health. Your doctor, the media, hateful strangers in an airport who will compare your body to a cigarette… It’s always a fairly good indicator that someone is about to be unapologetically ignorant and offensive when they say something like “Un-PC.” The only people in this world who still bemoan polite language as being “politically correct” are the people who were outraged when the term came into use in the ’90’s to end their reign of verbal excrement, and haven’t gotten over the slight since.
Yet to judge by the moral panic over anorexia you would think our daughters are a generation of self-starving stick insects. That each and every one of them is dangerously striving for Keira Knightley’s razor-sharp scapula and fried egg breasts or Victoria Beckham’s hand-span thighs and knife-edge hips.
How silly of these people! It’s almost as though they see young girls, the friends of their daughters, the children they teach, the patients they struggle to help, and think that anorexia is somehow a disease worth panicking over.
If someone is too-thin by Linda’s standards, she has choice words to describe them, too. Kiera Knightley, arguably one of the most beautiful women in the film industry, has “fried egg” breasts. Victoria Beckham, the most glamorous of all the girls Spice, has “knife-edge hips.” In Linda’s worldview, no body seems to be at an acceptable weight.
I don’t deny that anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders are a pernicious problem, and I’ve witnessed at close hand the devastating effects of anorexia as young daughters of friends and acquaintances have succumbed to it.
What could the common denominator be in all of these cases of people you know having eating disorders? There has to be some underlying cause, some symptom in common. I just can’t put my finger on why someone who knew you would be stricken with a mental illness that causes people to starve and exercise themselves to death…
But in the cases I’ve come across, the psychological issues these girls were suffering from had far more to do with their driven personalities, their determination to be A* students at any cost, as well as troubles with over-demanding parents, than simply emulating glossy magazine images of super-skinny models and stick-thin celebrities on the red carpet.
This is perhaps the most troubling aspect of Linda’s diatribe. The denial that thin-obsessed media culture has any link to the deadly rise of eating disorders is bad enough, but drawing a comparison between being anorexic and striving for excellence is unconscionable. Also, I’m not sure which class these girls were in that they had to die from an eating disorder to get good grades, but that school should definitely have their curriculum evaluated.
Far more attention and, dare I say it, opprobrium needs to be directed at young fatties who eat unhealthy diets and sit around watching TV and texting rather than going to the gym or even for a walk.
Doesn’t that just make the wording jump out at you more? “Fatties”– and by the way, Ms. Kelsey, only fat people are allowed to use that word to describe ourselves, so go wash your mouth out with low-calorie soap– have the audacity to “sit around” and be “unhealthy,” when they should be more “driven” and have the “determination” that seriously ill eating disorder patients display. As always in “health” related anti-fat arguments, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with being thin and sitting around watching TV while eating an unhealthy diet. The only marker of health is thinness.
While it’s well known that socio-economic factors have a bearing on weight – with those on lower incomes more likely to eat sugar and fat-laden diets, and less likely to exercise – there are other factors being ignored.
So, she’s going to go right on ahead and ignore that really important factor, the one where despite the abundance of wealth in first world countries, many people are chronically hungry and forced to make poor diet choices, in order to focus on the more pressing issue. Mothers are encouraging their daughters to have self-esteem:
A generation of mothers seem to have swallowed a dangerously misguided message of body acceptance; making them terrified of telling their daughters they’re getting fat for fear they’ll stop eating altogether.
Mums are now so busy shoring up their daughters’ self-worth by telling them they’re lovely just the way they are, they’re becoming guilty of benign neglect instead.
Let me clarify her point: A generation of mothers finds it’s more important that their daughters live happy, mentally healthy lives, rather than encouraging them to crash diet and hate themselves. And that’s awful.
I don’t have a daughter, nor do I have a weight problem.
So what you’re saying here, Linda, is that you’re not at all qualified to be writing about how young girls should stop being so fat. You have literally no experience whatsoever with either raising a daughter or being fat in the world we live in. You know, I’ve never gone kayaking or farmed ostriches, but I’m fairly confident I can write an article about how to teach your ostrich to kayak. And the Daily Mail will probably pick it up, because they flat-out don’t care what nonsensical garbage they publish.
I love food, but even today, at 62, I am still very careful to cut back if I feel my jeans getting too tight. While I have sympathy for those with genuine metabolic conditions, the majority of today’s fatties seem simply too greedy, ill-disciplined and or ignorant to do the same.
I’m not sure what I find more laughable about this paragraph, the part about everyone being too greedy, ill-disciplined or ignorant to follow her pristine example, or the idea that a person as hateful, bitter, and self-centered as Linda Kelsey could experience any emotion that bears a passing relation to sympathy.
She goes on to cite figures about how much fat costs the NHS and how there are healthy alternatives to McDonald’s, and about how heart attacks, acid reflux, strokes, cancer and asthma can all be caused by fat, with no mention of how anorexia and bulimia are also linked to those same health concerns. Because, as I stated before, thinness is the only way to measure health.
We live in a society in which it has become OK to shame people for being skinny, but to come out and say ‘You’re fat. Not healthy, not a good look’ would be tantamount to a crime.
While I admit that there is a fair amount of thin-shaming going on in our culture and it’s totally not cool, it’s a bit dramatic to say it’s “tantamount to a crime” to call someone fat. It’s rude, and it makes you look like a huge a-hole, but so does writing an entire opinion piece about how mothers aren’t making their daughters hate themselves enough and eating disorders are no big deal because the sufferers are just “driven.” But it’s not a crime. Now, if you said that kind of thing to my daughter, there would definitely be a criminal charge involved, but it wouldn’t be you they’d be throwing in jail.
The problem with people like Linda Kelsey–aside from the fact that they’re rude, cruel, ignorant and self-important know-it-all bullies–is that they’ve convinced themselves that fat people want their approval. But we don’t. So it leaves them kicking and pounding like a toddler throwing a fit because they can’t make everyone as miserable as they are. Linda Kelsey doesn’t want fat people to hate themselves as much as she hates them. She wants fat people to hate themselves as much as she would hate herself for becoming fat. She wants mothers of daughters to make their girls hate themselves, so they never have the audacity to go to Spain and enjoy themselves. She’s fine with girls dying from anorexia because, hey, at least then they wouldn’t be fat. And she has a burning need to be able to shame the bodies of fat people and skinny, attractive actresses with “fried egg” breasts.
Linda Kelsey wants us to join her in a world where humanity and respect are only bestowed upon bodies she deems acceptable. Her body, for example. But it’s not out of vanity or self-importance. Linda Kelsey only encourages eating disorders for the sake of public health. In the end, isn’t that the noble motivation behind all those concern trolls who bully fat people for self-validation?