Headless and scapegoated

Our government’s MO becomes more obvious all the time: transfer ever-more wealth from the poor to the wealthy, dismantle the welfare state, look after the interests of wealthy campaign donors, including bankers and far-right Christian groups, and pander to every ugly stereotype in existence in order to get the 99% to blame austerity measures on each-other rather than on the elites who are truly responsible.

This is why we have punitive changes to the benefit system coupled with endless rhetoric about “scroungers” and “benefit cheats”. The cuts to benefits will save an insignificant amount of money (and will cost more than they save in the long term), but saving money isn’t the point: the point is to set the 99% against each-other; people who see their lives becoming more difficult as a result of cuts to the NHS, benefits, and education, are encouraged to blame not the government and bankers who caused this mess, but the supposed “scroungers”. This is why the government encourages us to report our neighbours to the police as “benefit cheats, and disabled people say that hate crime against them has increased as a result. This is why government rhetoric about “broken Britain” and the importance of (heterosexual) marriage not-very-subtly blames single mothers for society’s ills, and why David Cameron privileges Christianity above other religions in a bid to promote racism and Islamophobia.

And that is also why we get headlines like this: Patients ‘should be asked about their habits every time they see NHS staff’. Here’s the photo and caption that went along with the article:

Caption from the Guardian article: “The NHS future forum wants staff to routinely talk to patients about their diet to try to encourage them to eat better, reducing obesity. Photo: Fiona Hanson/PA”

Along with the poor, the disabled, immigrants, and single mothers, fat people are a soft target for hatred. The stereotypes are that they are lazy, they have no self-control, and they cost the NHS billions of pounds every year by selfishly having a higher statistical probability of getting diabetes and other illnesses. And so we have the government publicly announcing that GPs should talk to patients about their “lifestyle” even if they go in for an unrelated problem. There is so much wrong with this it’s hard to know where to start. First off, being fat isn’t a “lifestyle”. Some fat people eat healthy diets and get regular exercise, some fat people have unhealthy diets and get no exercise, and most fat people are somewhere in between. Just like everyone else. Meanwhile some fat people are avoiding trips to their GPs because they are unwilling to subject themselves to a humiliating and unhelpful talk about their weight.

Fat acceptance campaigners have pointed out many times that it is ludicrous to imagine that fat people need to be told they are fat, because they are reminded of this dozens of times a day. It is equally ridiculous to suggest to a fat person that they should diet and exercise, as if these ideas had never occurred to them before. Many fat people have a long history of diets that not only didn’t work, but damaged their health. Some people can starve themselves and still not lose weight. And some fat people are already on a diet, and have already lost a lot of weight. Some people (both fat and thin) have disordered eating as a result of psychological problems; counselling or therapy might help with this, but shaming definitely won’t.

And shaming is what this is really about. The government is encouraging us to think that fat people are morally deficient and that they need to be publicly shamed into stopping their greedy, selfish behaviour. This is bigotry pure and simple. Fat people face prejudice and discrimination just for being fat, and the focus on obesity rather than on factors that actually affect health (such as access to affordable healthy food, and availability of safe public spaces for exercise) shows that the prejudice against fat people has more to do with our society’s aesthetic preference for thin bodies than with concern for health.

The photo that accompanies the Guardian article is an example of the headless fatty trope: a trend of showing pictures of fat bodies with the head cropped off. These images encourage us to dehumanize fat people and look upon them with disgust rather than with empathy.

A government that was actually concerned about public health would use one of the many strategies that has been shown to work, such as tackling food deserts (areas where there are no shops selling fresh healthy food within walking distance), healthy school lunches, access to opportunities for exercise, and dealing with the simple fact that the for people on a low budget it’s extremely difficult to buy healthy food, since the cheapest stuff is generally processed food high in fat, sugar, and salt. But this attempt to stigmatise people who look a certain way is just more divide-and-rule propaganda, and we’re not buying it.


One Comment on “Headless and scapegoated”

  1. KM says:

    Thanks for the links!

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