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Fat-shamers have felt enabled by Covid, and it's hard to fight back

Zoe Williams
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Scott Heppell/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Scott Heppell/AFP/Getty Images

It is not news that there is a connection between Covid mortality rates and a country’s obesity level. It may have been confirmed for the first time last week by the World Obesity Forum, but this has been a word-of-mouth truism since the start. Someone always knew a man whose brother-in-law worked in intensive care and said only obese people suffered seriously. “I weigh myself every morning, to check that I am still just overweight,” said a friend with one of these brothers-in-law.

Then Boris Johnson set this in stone, whining to his cabinet: “It’s all right for you thinnies.” It is not a word, is it, “thinnie”? Nor is “gloomster”. Sometimes, I think that is the summit of the prime minister’s arrogance – that he finds the English language incomplete without the interjection of his baby words. At other times, I think his arrogance is more like the mountain in a Japanese etching: there is no “top”, there is only “more” and “cloud”.

What I cannot stand is the atmosphere of glee around the link to obesity; for a lot of people, the world makes sense again. It is not a tragedy, it is just those less important people. It is not the cruel and random hand of fate, it is a sound moral outcome – undisciplined people who had it coming got it. Obesity is the magic bullet: it conjures a fairytale world in which bad things happen only to bad people. The more negative outcome you can attach to overeating, the fairer you have made your tiny world.

Fat-shaming never owns its agenda, it just raises its eyebrows and uses nebulous connectives such as “well”. It says: “Nobody has died in Vietnam” (cue more eyebrows, perhaps some meaningful nodding). It says, resignedly: “Well, we are an obese, ageing society,” using “society” as a fig leaf, to sound like “all of us”, when it really means “those people”.

And because it never speaks its name, the fat-hate, you can never argue against it. You sound crazy. Tilting at windmills. A dog trying to attack a fly through a window. Is it even a fly, or is it all in my head? No, I am pretty sure there is a noise – disapproval, snobbery, judgment, a constant, wordless buzz. I just haven’t figured out how to open the window.

  • Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist