Don’t make it a crime to call someone ‘fatty’

Wednesday, June 6, 2012
6:30 AM

In recent years, I have been a victim of a hate crime. I have also been the perpetrator of the same hate crime.

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The question is - should I be locked up or referred to a counsellor?

In truth, neither. For the crime that I refer to should never be called a hate crime at all. It is the offence of calling somebody “fat”.

If a group of well-meaning but misguided MPs have their way, labelling somebody in such a way could result in criminal charges, rather than what it deserves - a dirty look or a ticking off from a teacher.

Using such language is certainly not nice, and it should not be encouraged. When it is persistent, it crosses the line and becomes bullying.

But don’t make saying “fatty” a crime.

The reality is that obesity is a burgeoning issue in the UK. The cost to the NHS is enormous, while the cost to individuals is immeasurable.

But it won’t be dealt with by tip-toeing around the subject.

Some people are overweight for genetic reasons. But most others - myself included on occasions during my life - have piled on the pounds because they eat too much and exercise too little.

We are doing children and adults a disservice if we allow them to think they are merely “big-boned” or “stocky”, when the reality is that day after day of games consoles and grab bags of crisps have made them dangerously fat.

Forcing society to ignore the truth for fear of draconian legal measures would also allow individuals to be in denial. And sometimes the truth is what is required - however much it hurts.

Over the years, my weight has fluctuated - twice to the point of being uncomfortably overweight.

Both times, the motivation to get in shape was achieved through the very effective medium of being taunted.

On the first occasion, a friend who I had not seen for a couple of years put his hand on my belly and said: “Are you eating for two, Steve?”

Some eight years later, after losing and then regaining the foul fat, another friend spotted me in a wet suit and threatened to call Greenpeace to push me back out to sea.

The comments hurt. But they provoked overdue self-awareness and a determination to do something about it.

If being called “fatty” is a crime, then where does it stop? Should we draw up a law that deals with anybody who uses words based on somebody else’s appearance?

Should people have been prosecuted for calling me “ginger nut”, “Duracell” and “copper top” when I was at school? After all, I didn’t like it.

I was also called “freckle face”, while friends’ nicknames included “spitfire” (he had a brace that made him spray spittle when he spoke), “tree” (he was tall), “sparrow legs” (she was thin) and “Joe 90” (he wore specs).

In an ideal world, we would all be scrupulously lovely to each other. But the world isn’t ideal, it’s often rather unpleasant.

None of us will be equipped to deal with hurt and anger unless we learn from experience.

The MPs who have the time to waste in pursuing this law would do well to turn their attention to dealing with the root causes of obesity.

The main one - in case anyone has forgotten - is poor, lazy and downright abusive parenting. In a nation where saying “fat” could become unlawful, that is the real crime.

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