Below the belt

 

A small item caught my eye in the Guardian today: it suggests that the excuse that used to be given for fatter people – that it’s the fault of their metabolism, might indeed be the case. It makes some sense to me. Obviously people are eating more and doing less and the population in general is getting bigger, but everyone knows someone who eats like a horse and is 8 stone wringing wet, and the converse, someone for whom a bag of crisps instantly materialises on their already chunky thighs.

Equally you don’t have to been a keen observer to note that not everyone is fat, normal or thin in the same way: some are voluptuous and short, some are stocky and muscular, and some lucky people are tall, willowy and thin. If we can happily accept that all this external variation, it’s not such a leap to consider that people might metabolise differently too. Or so you would think.

This article had its usual below the line (BTL) comments: if I were you I’d stay away from them, I’ve rarely seen more bile and hatred gathered together in one place. The gist of many of the comments was this: fat people are greedy and lazy, they should simply eat less and do more. End of. One helpful poster suggested that we knew that diets work because photos of concentration camps rarely include a fat person.

As it happens bodies aren’t like petrol tanks – with a simple fuel in, miles out equation. You will rarely be able to lose weight by an exercise only regime (you may get hungrier though) and your body often resists weight loss diets by conserving your fat as if you were facing famine. The first couple of weeks of your diet will work, but many subsequent days may go by without you shifting so much as a spare gramme. In any case making claims about someone’s personality based on their girth is hateful. You could be chubby because of your childhood eating patterns, comfort eating due to depression, overeating due to thyroid issues, a lack of knowledge about healthy eating, a change in your lifestyle (e.g. post-pregnancy, pregnancy, sports injury….) – or indeed you could be overeating because your are already fat and have given up hope of change. None of these things make you a bad person, just a chubby one eating a bit too much sometimes.

I know fat people who are hardworking and busy, thin people who rarely do anything more energetic that rising from a sofa, but if the BTL people tell themselves a story about how the fat deserve their life due to inactivity and greed, it makes them feel better about their hate. It’s the same with the poor: BTL commenters will have you believe that a banker is simply harder working than the minimum wage cleaner who does his office, or cleverer, or more motivated or more aspirational. Some of that may be true, but it’s more likely that the banker was luckier, more male, with richer parents who provided a private education and in due course, the down payment on their mortgage. Wealth is handed on by rich people to their kids, luck sometimes intervenes too. Most rich and powerful people have benefited from one or both of these. But BTL trolls would rather believe that their story is true. It makes blaming people for their misfortune all the easier.

But why hate? Why not think about the article and arrive at slightly less judgemental conclusions, why not read the article rather than simply reading the headline and making up your own story? Because hate is becoming common currency in our society, encouraged by a divide and rule culture that prefers to see the masses at each others throats rather than arguing for a fairer division of the spoils. We are told to see winners and losers everywhere and encouraged to find fault in the losers. The internet provides a safe invisibility cloak where you can express state sanctioned hate. You can share your stories about blame with other believers.

This is not the sign of an advanced society though, it’s a symptom of a sick one.

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