Why Boris Johnson’s obesity purge is a bullies’ charter

PUBLISHED: 14:16 30 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:16 30 July 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Andrew Milligan - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Andrew Milligan - WPA Pool/Getty Images

2020 WPA Pool

MITCH BENN on how Boris Johnson’s decisions to tackle obesity are not helping.

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As is generally the case with what we will, for the lack of a more accurate term, call our present ‘government’, I find myself wondering if I’d be eyeing their newfound enthusiasm for tackling obesity with less suspicion if it were coming from anywhere, or anyone, else.

This isn’t some sort of ‘Boris Derangement Syndrome’ on my part; it’s a simply an inevitable by-product of living under the most relentlessly mendacious administration in my lifetime (which is up against some pretty stiff competition, while we’re here).

I would say that the current government has a hidden agenda behind everything it does, except that they can’t even be bothered to hide their hidden agendas properly any more. At least half of their agenda is poking out into the open at any given time.

And so, while a sincere attempt to address the shortcomings of our national diet might be a good and even timely thing, one can’t help but suspect that this has more to do with adding another item to the government’s list of Things We Can Blame The Virus On Rather Than Our Own Laziness and Complacency. “See, the fact that we didn’t get it together to address the pandemic before it had already taken hold in this country, or that we can’t be bothered to follow our own rules and just water them down when we get caught breaking them, or that it took us ages to get a testing programme up and running or that we kept buying fake PPE from some bloke on the internet wouldn’t have mattered if you lot weren’t all so fat.”

Even when – and I speak here as someone whose weight problems are lifelong, well documented and indeed ongoing – one doesn’t detect an ulterior motive in the powers that be trying to tackle The Obesity Epidemic, one feels a sense of dread and resignation that what we’re in for is another round of government-sanctioned fat-shaming.

It doesn’t matter whether this is the last thing on Boris Johnson or Matt Hancock’s mind when they propose their anti-fatness measures; the sad fact is that the line between taking a stand against fatness and taking a stand against fat people is blurred at the best of times.

We live in a world with bullies in it. We could spend – and wiser people than I have spent – years dissecting what makes a person a bully; is there a reserve of spite and cruelty inside each of us that most of us manage to suppress? Is there a primal desire to find someone to cast out of the tribe before the rest of the tribe decides it’s us who’s getting cast out? Is it all to do with the basic human desire to feel good about ourselves, coupled with the basic human disinclination to actually do anything that might give us legitimate grounds to feel good about ourselves, leading many of us to take the shortcut of just finding someone else to feel better than?

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Whatever the reason, there are bullies, and bullies gonna bully. But it’s harder to be a bully these days than it used to be: they’ve had lots of their victims taken away from them.

Whether one regards it as political correctness gone mad or simply the advance of common decency, there just aren’t as many groups of people upon whom it’s considered acceptable to heap scorn and humiliation.

But they’ll always have fat people to pick on.

Because unlike pretty much every other group whom one might think to victimise, the thing about fat people – think the bullies – is that it’s “their own fault”. As such, giving fat people grief about their size is good, because it might motivate them to do something about it, right?

I’m sure my readership consists of the kind of person who don’t need to hear what I’m about to say right now but I’m going to say it anyway: if making fat people feel miserable about being fat helped them to lose weight there would be no fat people.

Trust me, being fat is a bloody miserable business in and of itself, no persecution required. And losing weight is not simply a matter of eating less; even before you factor in all the complicating psychological and social factors, losing weight is hard.

Over the years I’ve lost enough weight to make three or four more of me, and it was damned hard, and keeping it off is much harder, which is why I’m currently trying to lose weight again.

We could all do with eating more healthily. We could all do with cooking more of our food from scratch, and maybe there are things a government can do to make this more practicable and affordable. And I’m sure you have plus-sized people in your life; maybe they’re trying to get fitter, maybe they’re already a lot fitter than they look (thin and fit are not interchangeable concepts). But however they’re getting on, please, don’t ever think that making them feel bad about themselves would help them in any way.

It’s not helping. It’s just bullying.

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