Last week we learnt that more girls under the age of 20 are overweight or obese in the UK than anywhere else in Western Europe, an extraordinary 30 per cent of them – nearly a third of all girls.
This news came hard on the heels of new NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) guidance telling doctors to prescribe Weight Watchers to the adult overweight millions so worried are they about the cost to the health service of the national obesity crisis.
If we are not shocked, we should be.
These statistics highlight just about everything that’s wrong with modern Britain; a land where gluttony and self indulgence are celebrated rather than stigmatised; a land where doctors are encouraged to dish out statins for people to cheer – as someone I know told me: ‘It’s great, now I can eat whatever I like!’ – before ‘ nanny state’ marshalling of them into slimming clubs, removing any need for self-motivation.
It seems that we have become a nation more obsessed with the (feminist) politics of body image than with the psychological (lack of) well being of our kids. For this to be sure is what underlies girls’ addiction to stuffing down food to stuff down their feelings, despite the further self loathing this invokes.
Obesity par excellence reveals a nation in moral crisis; one that has lost its sense of virtue; one that also seems to have lost any sense of the sacrifices parents need to make to ensure their children’s physical and mental welfare. The government drive to take over the rearing of the nation’s children is much to blame for this new culture of detachment from children’s real needs.
These are the need for the safety of a stable and consistent home, for order, discipline and restraint alongside love, praise and recognition. Instead we have become a culture that believes in or gives into instant gratification – whether food, television or drugs – in mitigation for parental absence and home instability.
It cannot be a coincidence that this cultural ‘development’ one in which we have casually ceded so much power to children, has been accompanied by their worsening mental as well as physical health, and of course by this rising tide of obesity.
No wonder obesity carries almost no stigma these days and has become an accepted fact of life and part of our culture. Yet I cannot believe this makes fat girls happy with their lot.
Call me puritanical or moralistic, but once there is no shame attached to being fat, it is impossible to control.
But as with so many other matters requiring moral judgement, this is one we are not allowed to comment on for fear of the ever vigilant thought police. Stigma, not fat is outlawed.
Not so long ago people looked askance at fat girls in skimpy clothes; now we don’t even bat an eyelid. Underdressed and overweight girls defiantly flaunting far too much flesh are an all too common sight.
Of course it was easier to stay slim in the past: with more mothers at home managing the household meal times, when food was less abundant and more expensive; when there was no TV to loll in front of and no central heating to keep you warm without having to move.
Today, if we think obesity is a problem confined to the “White Dees” of the “ Benefits Streets world, we are kidding ourselves.
A few years ago I returned to my old Cambridge college to help edit a fundraising film and was shocked at the sight of the female students we filmed. Too many were lumpen and heavy with bad skins. So much for education! The contrast with archive footage of female undergraduates in the Fifties – lovely, slim young things cycling down Kings Parade – was stark, even with my own 1971 year photo .
The contrast to their predecessors is indicative of how far we’ve travelled down the road of acceptance of obesity and lack of personal pride. Long gone it seems are the days when girls competed over their waist measurements – 26” when I was in my late teens was viewed as far too large!
So is this what we have to thank feminism for – for so confusing women about their identity that they eat more for comfort and then like themselves less? It seems to me that it has shouted so loudly about women not defining themselves in terms of being attractive to men that it has made sure that they are not. Whatever women may protest, being unattractive is not what they want.
In the process of creating this self-fulfilling prophecy of obesity and discontent, feminists too have undermined the necessary notion of shame, that necessary inhibitor on behaviour that society so desperately needs again.