Budge up, please!

By Lily Fox 

‘Obesity Crisis Solved: Eat Less’ (London Evening Standard).

‘Obesity in Women “As Dangerous as Terror Threat”’ (Daily Mail).

And, my personal favourite from the inimitable Katie Hopkins: ‘Proud fatties aren’t beach body ready… but body bag ready’ (The Sun).

The British media will tell you that fatness is endemic in this country. A cursory glance at any newspaper rack offers a wealth of headlines about the ‘obesity crisis’; the three above are only a small example of the vitriol printed by the hatemongers that style themselves as journalists. Whilst there is a growing discourse about the (mis)treatment of fat people, it would be misleading to say that the UK is a safe place to be in a big body. Fat people, myself included, are regularly disrespected, dehumanised, and treated as though our bodies are problems that we are too lazy and greedy to solve. If a fat person has any ailment, their GP’s first suggestion is to lose weight, even if the problem has nothing to do with their size. The NHS continues to recommend slimming clubs as methods for weight loss, even though there is an increasing number of testimonials from former members who have suffered, and continue to suffer, from the unhealthy eating habits and self-hatred which they developed during these sessions. I could be here all day listing the injustices that fat people are confronted with on a daily basis, but I want to get back to stuffing cake and biscuits into every orifice – I just can’t help myself, you see! 

You’d think that in a country where anyone with flabby arms is MORBIDLY OBESE, you’d be able to spot fat people everywhere. Wrong. In my time at Cambridge, I have consistently noted that I am the only fat person in the room – and as someone who fluctuates from anywhere between a UK size 16–22, I am at the lower end of ‘plus size’ clothing ranges. There are comments. There are giggles. There are many, many pointed stares. I know that this behaviour would be amplified if I was in a bigger body, if I was trans, if I was disabled, or if I was a person of colour. I wholeheartedly agree with our supreme overlord Lizzo: “It’s so hard trying to love yourself in a world that doesn’t love you back.” 

Something a lot of my peers don’t seem to grasp is that although we may attend the same university, our lives are very different. For families on the poverty line like mine, putting food on the table three times a day can be a challenge in and of itself. Those of us who are privileged enough to afford regular meals tend to eat a lot to keep ourselves warm, happy, and healthy – especially if, like me, you come from the North, where it is cold and rainy, and frankly, a salad isn’t going to cut it.

With regards to exercise, children whose parents can afford to get them tennis lessons or dance classes are very lucky indeed – I did ballet as a child but had to give it up due to rising costs that my mother could not keep up with, no matter how much she scrimped and saved. Hearing that my richer friends not only had tennis lessons, but also were captains of their school’s hockey/football/netball/lacrosse teams, plus had access to an assortment of other, non-sporting extracurricular activities, honestly blew my mind. The idea that parents can pay for their children to be active in safe environments is still so alien to me – in the area I’ve grown up in, children who run around outside without adult supervision are likely to get caught in the crossfire of fights between drug gangs, or get preyed upon by the local paedophile, or be raped and stabbed to death in the local park. How can any parent encourage their child to go outside and play when that is what waits outside their door?

The childhoods of the haves and have-nots are so different, that to me is clear. And considering that a lot of Cambridge students come from economically privileged backgrounds, the conspicuous absence of fat people like me starts to make a lot more sense. It would be remiss of me, however, to neglect the fact that a lot of well-off Cambridge students, especially women, are under a great deal of pressure – whether that be from family, friends, or casual acquaintances – to be and remain incredibly thin. They are also expected to excel academically, to find a suitable life partner, to have a brilliant career, and to have children, even if they have no natural inclination for it. The pressure must be stifling, and I don’t envy them at all. 

I know far too many women – wonderful, bright, beautiful women – who have disordered relationships with food, who punish themselves with excessive amounts of exercise, who spend their time – already in short supply, thanks to those pesky eight-week terms – pinching and prodding every inch of themselves in front of the mirror. Most of them already embody Cambridge’s white, moneyed, thin aesthetic – walking through Cambridge is like being inside a real-life Dark Academia Pinterest board. For those of us on the outside, it can seem like they are whining over nothing, with their flat stomachs, nice houses, and financial security. I’m not denying that thin privilege exists – it does. But as I enter my fourth and final year, I’m beginning to understand that people’s lives are complex; a friend’s thinness does not mean that they are happier than me, or that they have a loving family, or that they do not also struggle with negative self-talk, just as I do. Although our experiences are different, we are both unwilling members of a cult of thinness, and it is not okay. 

A final note, on taking up space. It’s something that we, as women, are discouraged from doing from a young age. We are conditioned to defer to our fathers, brothers, and uncles; to ensure they are comfortable by crossing our legs, even when it causes our discomfort. Some women have more space on the sofa than others – I am squished, but I’m there. So many women are still relegated to the floor – I think it is time we extend a hand, pull them up, and make ourselves a little uncomfortable so we can all fit on. 

Featured image: BizNews.

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