My holiday on the south coast was rather dismal, not just for the expensive, poor-quality food and accommodation and the rain, but the sight of morbidly obese young women clad in floral leggings. It was like visiting Willendorf-on-Sea. A backside the size of Sussex is obviously no embarrassment anymore, even something to flaunt, and it seems that we are being nudged to accept obesity as yet another identity to be respected.
As part of a three and a half million-dollar refurbishment, San Francisco’s Opera house has replaced their original seats from 1932 with 3,128 larger ones including twelve ‘bariatric’ chairs for people weighing between eighteen and twenty-one stone. Many US theatres, concert halls and sports arenas are keen to accommodate audiences that have grown in girth if not in numbers; Chicago Opera put in wider seats in 2020, following the Cincinnati Music Hall and Philadelphia Academy of Music. Broadway is doing the same along with the Yankee Stadium. What they do in the US we then do here, so no doubt we will soon be spending public money on sturdier seats on public transport and wider doors in public buildings.
SF Opera claimed they were ‘breaking down barriers,’ and being fair to the ‘differently sized,’ as many now are. In 1932 the average US male weighed just over ten stone. Fifty years ago, twelve stone, it’s now up to fifteen. The US Centre for Disease control recently found that forty percent of adults were obese. This is radically affecting health and longevity on both sides of the Atlantic, but is increasingly being treated not as a crisis to resolve but a form of disability, another ‘protected characteristic,’ like race, religion and gender reassignment. The US has seven of these categories protected by law, we have twelve.
The word ‘fat’ is taboo in the US where expressions such as, ‘The show isn’t over until the fat lady sings,’ are heard no more and, ‘Big’ people as they cautiously put it, can now sprawl comfortably until she does.
Grand Opera is now rushing to embrace the new culture of cancelling, Bowdlerising and trying to change its mainly wealthy, white audience. The Welsh National Opera recently staged lectures on the evils of imperialism and colonialism alongside their production of Madame Butterfly. These were delivered by Prof. Privamvada Gopal of Cambridge University who discussed the UK’s history of slavery. Gopal, ‘Professor of Postcolonial Studies,’ was also member of a ‘working group’ which critically investigated Churchill for racism. She is probably best known for tweeting, ‘White lives don’t matter. As white lives,’ and ‘Abolish whiteness,’ in response to a banner flown over a football stadium in Burnley, reading, ‘White lives matter.’
The English National Opera, which describes the ‘Black Lives Matter Movement’ as a ‘pivotal moment in its history,’ has also been establishing itself as a beacon of diversity. Its CEO Stuart Murphy has just offered Fellowships worth £35,000 to five young string players, as long as they are non-white. They are also paying pious attention to their language, announcing on line that, ‘ENO have comprehensively reviewed the language we use. We will continuously review the preferred terms of reference for people in the UK. We hope that any mistakes in our communication around diversity and inclusion can be seen in the context of a sincere intention to do better.’
No one will be mentioning the ‘fat lady’ when she sings there either, and they aim for forty seven percent of performers being black. Fat has been a feminist issue for years; it is now also a race issue. In August 2020, activist Stephanie Yeboah told BBC Woman’s Hour about her book, ‘Fattily Ever After,’ which praised black, plus size women, explaining that their community is oppressed by the white desire for slimness and the ‘societal privilege’ that represents. It’s probably racist to be white and slim, but above all, the most important thing is giving affirmation, whatever the situation, anything less than approval is patriarchal or worse.
Outside the Virtue pod, some may still exist who resent the idea that it’s ‘progressive’ to pander to people who have made unhealthy lifestyle choices for themselves and their children, burdening other people with their billowing BMI and costing the NHS over five billion pounds a year, six hundred million in Scotland alone. We all know that fat people can look forward to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, joint problems and strokes.
The non-virtuous among us see this as a totally avoidable health crisis, which should be challenged without euphemism, with the same energy now given to climate change. Rather than banning plastic cutlery, the government, aided by doctors and teachers, need to drive people towards taking personal responsibility for the food they stuff onto their forks, and fat children should be as rare as they were in the 1950s, when no one offered legal protection to Billy Bunter.