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Column Why are we so pass-remarkable on weight issues?

We are all aware that discrimination on the basis of race, creed or sexual preference is unacceptable, writes Lisa McInerney, so why is someone’s BMI fair game?

I ASSUME YOU’VE all heard the story of Karen Klein, the American bus monitor whose brutal humiliation by her teenage charges was YouTubed, to the horror of a nation.

What was immediately obvious in the video was that the main red flag to Klein’s antagonists, alongside her perceived social class, was her weight. Yup. Something as inoffensive as an elderly woman’s girth made a bunch of young men insane with hatred. And that they thought enough of their wit to upload the evidence to YouTube afterwards speaks volumes.

You could say that societal norms develop not as a way of grouping us into one happy collective, but rather to keep us in line with the whims and wishes of the strongest among us. What’s acceptable, what’s intolerable, what’s simply ill-mannered – there’s no all-knowing tome that lays it out for us (not even the Bible, which condemns such head-scratchers as the wearing of mixed fibres), so over the centuries we’ve had to figure it out in loose hierarchy.

Mob rule, you could also call it. Some sort of all encompassing Hot Or Not scale.

It might seem a little irreverent to liken universal standards to a Hot or Not scale, but can you think of any other reason for the current climate of derision and hatred directed against those with weight issues?

Yes, weight issues. People who are too hefty, or people who are too frail. People who have unsightly bumps on their rumps or veritable maps of Middle Earth drawn in stretch marks on their thighs: any of those physical manifestations the mob has, relatively recently, decided it doesn’t like. And so we denounce fat people, thin people, people with cankles and people with knobbly knees. You’d imagine there’d be precious few paragons left, after such a whitewash.

Of course, we claim there are reasons for it.

“We feel we have a duty to tell overweight people that they’re weak-willed, a drain on society”

We feel we have a genuine duty to tell underweight people that they’re probably going to die whimpering and that promotion of anorexia is for demons and prissy fashion designers. Even more keenly, we feel that we have a duty to tell overweight people that they’re weak-willed, unhealthy, a drain on society and displeasing to our fragile sensibilities.

And of course, in the majority of cases, an obviously overweight or underweight person is leading a sickly lifestyle and is actively harming themselves and passively harming society (because healthcare for such individuals is a constant consideration and we’re all bent double over the state of the HSE). In such cases, is it not positively injurious to the very fabric of civilization if we keep our mouths shut, if we do not pipe up like the valiant little mouthpieces we are and register our outrage at these defiantly ill-fitting epitomes of humanity’s very end wandering around the place like they have nothing at all to be ashamed of?

Well, surprise! Such concerns are not valid.

There is a fantastic anti-bullying sentiment gaining ground all over the country at the moment – all over the world. With some great work being done by LGBTQ communities, vanguard of the anti-bullying drive, victimising others based on innate strands of their characters is largely frowned upon. Not that bullying has been stamped out all over the world, or anything, but awareness of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour, and, amongst kids, what is and isn’t inherent in the process of growing up (we’re not still telling kids that dealing with bullies is a fact of life, are we?) is happily prevalent.

And yet look at the world in which we’re trying to spearhead anti-bullying campaigns.

“We punish for discrimination yet we have a bellylaugh at the superficial differences”

Here in the First World, it has become unacceptable to judge people based on their sexual preferences, religion, or race. We tell kids not to pick on each other based on these characteristics. We punish adults for discriminating against such traits. And then we turn around and have a bellylaugh at the superficial differences – height, hair colour, eyesight, dental trajectory, girth.

I can’t persecute you because you’re of a different creed, but I can certainly make you feel miserable because you’ve got a bigger arse.

Bullying is bullying. Granted, people generally don’t get beaten, raped or murdered because they’re on the large or desperately svelte side, but being called disgusting, or irresponsible, or shameful certainly takes its toll. And so, side by side with the wonderful anti-bullying measures being implemented by schools, companies, state bodies and charities, we have fat people as the butt of jokes in mainstream movies, thin people publicly called out for wearing mental illness like an expensive fur, celebrities reduced to hocks for public appraisal.

It’s a vivid disparity.

Perhaps it’s flippant to suggest that if we have Gay Pride week, anti-discrimination laws and a State-protected right to worship however we see fit, then we should also have instant amnesty for something as relatively innocuous as non-standard BMI.

After all, people don’t choose their race or sexuality, and one’s creed may have been several generations in the making, but fat people are fat and thin people are thin because, on some level, they choose to be. Which, for some shrivelled miscreants, makes it ok to make them feel bad about themselves. To force a retreat further into misery. To nourish potential mental health issues. To isolate, and victimise, and tear apart, all for the price of a little laugh or an ego-boost by vicious proxy.

To suggest that this might be down to sincere concern about others’ health crises or one’s own I-tells-it-like-I-sees-it social conscience is nonsense. We’re not sneering at that fat guy or this thin girl because of tough love. To pretend otherwise is laughable.

Read previous columns on by Lisa McInerney>

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