We have been contemplating moving to the North, for a variety of unassailable reasons. One is the chance to gloat on a daily basis. I will immediately become the thinnest and richest man in the village, which will do my flagging middle-aged self-confidence no end of good. Indeed, on the weight issue I could cease worrying completely and really pile on the pounds, simply moving another 100 miles north every time I reach the average weight of the indigenous population. Begin at 14 stone in, say, Coventry. When I reach 16 stone, move to Sheffield — and immediately become the thinnest man around once again. By the time my gut is so large I need a crane to drag me to McDonald’s and back I’ll be living somewhere near Paisley, or perhaps Oban. It used to be said that for every 50 miles you travel from London, you go back in time five years. Perhaps — but it is also true that for every 50 miles you can add a stone to the average weight of the population. In Oban, then, it is roughly 1965 and everyone is 25 stone. Suits me on both counts.
I work hard to stay well below 14 stone — ten miles a day walking up and down hills, heaving with exertion, all so that I am not ‘fat-shamed’ by the generally lithe smug-monkeys of the south-east, who are also much richer than I am. How they keep so thin and affluent is a mystery to me, because I almost never see them out exercising when I’m panting like a recently gassed badger, the dog yapping at me to keep up. Perhaps their thinness is genetic, much as is their money. But whatever, ‘fat-shaming’ has become a sort of pastime or form of political activism in this region, and especially in London. There is a social media community called Overweight Haters Ltd, which has taken to handing out printed cards to morbidly obese people on public transport. One fat woman ‘tweeted’ her displeasure at being handed one: ‘It’s really not glandular — it’s your gluttony,’ the card informed her, with a mixture of glee and disgust. ‘You are a fat, ugly human.’ The card listed the reasons why being overweight was essentially sociopathic (which of course it is): ‘We object to the enormous amount of food resources you consume while half the world starves,’ and stuff about how much fat people cost the beleaguered NHS.
When I first read this, I must admit I was in two minds. I suspect colloquial fat-shaming is more useful than any number of asinine government or third-sector programmes designed to combat obesity without making lard-mountains feel bad about themselves. The present imperative to de-stigmatise all manner of social ills as the consequence of a totally valid lifestyle choice seems to me misguided and counter-productive. Stigma, as a means of passive social control, works. More than decade ago, an adolescent niece of mine refused to push my young son in his pram in case she was mistaken for a teenage single mum, and thus a feckless slag-chav. Good! And it works with me, as you might have guessed from my hill-walking routine.
The supposedly lard-arsed woman in London who had been handed the card said that it ‘could upset -people struggling with confidence’, to which I would say — well, lose some weight and stop whining then, Miss Piggy. It’s worth pointing out that the recipient would have been considered an ethereal fairy creature, a naiad or a sylph, in, say, Darlington. She was chubby, sure enough, but scarcely a gargantuan.
But there is something weird about being so full of bile that you set up a social networking site and print out cards to humiliate other human beings. Imagine the work involved! The daily commitment to a certain very specific hatred. And the pleasure at sticking the boot into a bunch of people without copping very much in the form of censure. One of the people who sympathised with Ms Piggy tweeted: ‘Imagine the uproar if it had racist comments’ — and ungrammatical though that might be, I think it is getting close to the nub of the issue.
For as with fatness, so it is with smoking, and so increasingly with other sundry pleasures as dog ownership. On this last, thousands of restrictions have recently been imposed on where and when people can walk their dogs. It was reported that in Daventry, dog owners can now be fined £100 if they do not have those little plastic bags with them when out with their pets, regardless or not of whether the dog has crapped anywhere. Smoking has for a long time been a focus of officially sanctioned hatred, a hatred it is ok for everyone to share. A few years back I was in an open-air car park and, having got out of my car, lit a cigarette. A woman drove fully 100 yards to pull up in front of me, wind down her window and castigate me for endangering her health. It was the look of self-righteousness and jubilation on her face that will stay with me. She was yearning to be transgressed, to have someone she could spew her bile upon.
The post-Marxist Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek suggests that this almost unquenchable desire for the punishment or ‘shaming’ of others devolves from the fact that we are no longer allowed to be racist or sexist or homophobic, or cis-sexist. But with these conduits for our loathing excised, something needs to take their place. A sort of Quantity Theory of Hatred, then.