Society’s latest pariahs?

DifferentBeing a wordsmith by profession, I perhaps notice this more than I should. But it seems to me that there’s a lot of lazy writing and cliché that surrounds the issue of overweight and obesity in the press.

To start with, there’s the fashionable catch-all term – the obese – that apparently offensive group of people who have had the audacity to over-indulge and now make disproportionate use of free health services and take up too much room on trains and aeroplanes. The default position of the media fat-haters is indignation: How dare the obese eat so greedily, and lean so heavily on services paid for by our taxes, and inconvenience us so intrusively with their overflowing flesh?

That’s the obese… but then, there’s the morbidly obese – an even more loathsome lump of offending flesh; those of us so apparently devoid of the capacity for self-regulation that we’re actually killing ourselves.

There are other lazy clichés adopted by the media too.  Who hasn’t read those stories about overeaters stuffing themselves with food, piling on the pounds, or ballooning to a hefty weight?

The effect of this lazy writing is to depersonalise the enormous (pardon the pun) and diverse population of individuals whose size is above the ideal range, turning them into a single amorphous blob of uncontrolled indulgence; a blob on which it is apparently now acceptable to pour scorn and derision.

But… people whose weight exceeds what society deems a ‘normal’ range are not a clutch of cholesterol-laden clones.

We may chuckle when we get together, about our inability to eat just one chocolate, or our fondness for a takeaway, but we’re all different. Not every fat person loves McDonalds and KFC; we don’t all pig-out, lonely and friendless, in front of the TV every night; we don’t all pass the time shovelling our faces full of donuts – in fact most of us don’t do anything remotely like that. We don’t all sit on our ample arses all day long; we don’t all get puffed out climbing the stairs. Some of us even like salad!

We’re individuals, with a multitude of different issues, challenges and histories; a variety of health concerns – or none at all; a spectrum of self-awareness and psychology; a diversity of shapes and sizes, ages and genders, ethnicities, social backgrounds, educational accomplishments, intellects and achievements.

Like many, many people – possibly every single person in the entire world – we have let one aspect of our life run some way beyond acceptable boundaries.

Some people smoke, others drink to excess. Some gamble their wages away, others take chances with anonymous sexual partners. Some didn’t apply themselves at school, others never go to the dentist. Some can’t get through a day without a few puffs of weed, others can’t get through an evening without a few glasses of red. Some go crazy when separated from their mobile phones, others can’t separate themselves from their virtual realities. Some people can’t throw anything away, others need their CDs in alphabetical order and their pencils all lined up.

We all have challenges, weaknesses, shortcomings and areas of our lives where we’re not at our very best. For those wearing weight above what society deems ‘normal’ – a part of that will have something to do with food.

That is it. The end.


Pink for a girl?

I’m allergic to pink – from the marrow in my bones to the tips of my un-painted fingernails, even though it suits me (so I’m told), I can’t abide pink.

Pink fairy - Microsoft ClipartA child of the early waves of feminism and equal opportunity, it makes me cringe to see little girls being defined by this one colour, in every shade from powder pink to lurid fuchsia.  If you’re a young girl, it seems you have to be fluffied into pink and preferably adorned with butterflies, fairy wings or glitter.   You only have to wander into any children’s section in any department store anywhere in the country to be greeted by a tidal wave of pink, sparkles and tulle.  I see it and I weep, because of what it represents, and because of the mindset it seems to endorse.

I’m not the only one. Today in the Telegraph, Jenny Willott, the Consumer Affairs minister, bemoans gender stereotyping, which begins, she says, with the way girls and boys are directed towards certain toys, often through none-too-subtle colour coding – pink for a girl, blue for a boy.   I would add, not just toys, but clothes; clothes and princesses and fairies and fluffy-wuffies.  I couldn’t be more against this gender-divisive stereotyping.

Undeniably controversial in some of her comments (just read the article), Jenny Willott says girls are being dissuaded from certain roles and professions through gender stereotyping which begins in their childhood.  She highlights the worlds of science, technology, engineering and maths where she says businesses – and the economy – are missing out on their talent.  Despite the vitriol being poured on her through the comments on this article, I can’t help thinking, she has a point.

Think of the 60’s and 70’s, and back to the Suffragettes and beyond and you will find numerous examples of women stepping away from traditional gender-defined roles and stereotype and pressing for equality and opportunity – and winning it for their own and future generations.  Yet here we are today, so keen to stereotype girls into pink princesses and fairies where the only thing that’s valued across those formative years, is how pretty and sparkly they are.

One of a few ‘golden rules’ I try to follow both as a writer and a woman, is to avoid cliché and stay away from stereotype. So it saddens me to see the work done by many brave and dauntless women of modern history, undermined by today’s predilection for pink, and all it represents in terms of gender stereotyping.

10 things which quite irrationally jerk my chain (today)

  1. Men sporting full beards – I thought we were done with that in the 70’s
  2. Misuse of the apostrophe – in a national newspaper website
  3. Cyclists with no lights at night – actually, cyclists
  4. Tattoos – why?
  5. Sneaky sugar in… practically everything
  6. Noisy leaf blowers, like the one outside right now – what’s wrong with a broom, people?
  7. Sales that are ‘up to’ 50% off
  8. The leak in my roof I didn’t know about – until it rained for 40 days and nights
  9. Parcels lobbed over my back gate – When. I’m. At. Home.
  10. Finding typos in my own work – after I sent it out