Fat, Fair and Freeloading

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(First Published January 2013)

Something seems to have happened. It seems that at some point it was decided that singling out and launching verbal, physical and even financial attacks on certain groups of people is okay now. Attacks on people based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability is still frowned upon but apparently some people are fair-game namely the overweight, those with ginger hair and benefit recipients.

​I’m confused. I thought this type of behaviour was wrong but clearly, if recent newspaper articles, television shows and general public opinion are anything to go by then it turns out I was wrong.

​In the case of people on benefits and the overweight, the justification for singling them out seems to be that these two groups (who according people like Conservative MP Anna Soubry, are usually one in the same) are ‘costing the taxpayer money’. All these people refusing to work, preferring instead to stay home watching Jeremy Kyle and Homes Under the Hammer before waddling to their local hospital demanding operations for illnesses brought on by their own gargantuan consumption of beige food and fizzy drinks, are a ‘drain on services’ apparently. Therefore, it’s fine to suggest that they’re lazy pigs who can’t manage money.

​If only there were a group of experienced, democratically elected people who had the resources and time to correct this grossly inept stereotyping of these groups. They would have people working for them who could carry our research showing that so called benefit cheats make up less than one per cent of all claims and that the gap between rich and poor is now more of a chasm. They would demand an enquiry in to the fact that scientists have messed around with food so much that vegetables have drastically less nutrients in them than they did in the 1940s and that bread has so many preservatives in it that it can’t even digest properly in our stomachs…

​Instead we have a group of, mostly inexperienced democratically elected snobs who are delighted to re-enforce these negative stereotypes by threatening obese people with benefit loss and purposely overstating the number of fraudulent benefit claims made each year.

The Ginger thing I can’t explain, simply because I don’t understand it.  Why is it okay to call people with ginger hair ugly?  Why is it okay to make fun of their pale skin?  What is it about this kind of abuse that some people find funny?  My theory is that some people feel so stifled by what they can’t say that they’ve found one group of people who they can safely abuse without being trashed on Twitter about it, so they’ve just gone nuts.​​

I once worked with parents of children with mental health problems.  One parent talked about his daughter being bullied at school for being ginger.  She was so distraught that her parents agreed to let her dye her hair so she wouldn’t ‘stand out’.  I think their intention was good – they didn’t want to see their child in so much pain and would do anything they could to stop it, however I felt sad about what that decision was teaching their child: “You shouldn’t have ginger hair” and “If people don’t like the way you look, change the way you look”.

​We’re a society obsessed with ‘looking right’ (whatever that means) and ‘fitting in’.  In our desperation to do both an internal battle ensues.  We change ourselves – inside and out- in an attempt to be ‘normal’ whilst at the same time berating and bullying those who remind us of our own insecurities in an attempt to feel better about ourselves, which of course we won’t until we embrace ourselves and others for who we really are.

​It’s easy to look down on people on benefits to detract from the fact that we’re miserable in our jobs.  We can sit back and pass judgement on the people on Embarrassing Fat Bodies to take our minds off the fact that we can’t go without alcohol on a night out because we lack the confidence to just be ourselves.  We can laugh at people with ginger hair to avoid dealing with the unexpressed anger that is really meant for someone else who may actually deserve it but that we’re too cowardly to confront.

​A while ago I heard an interview on the radio with columnist and author Owen Jones.  He was talking about the use of the word ‘Chav’ and how insulting and degrading it is.  Until then I had used the word freely to describe people who I thought best suited the term.  Listening to Jones made me think about the impact of words and how they have the power to uplift and totally destroy.  I don’t use that word anymore. ​

​Perhaps we all need to think carefully about how we talk about people and think twice before judging others; after all doesn’t what we think and say about others reveal more about how we think and feel about ourselves?​

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