Poverty and ob*sity: blaming working-class people and their multi-pack crisps
At primary school in the late ’80s, I had free school dinners. There’s no way to avoid feeling exposed when you’re one of the few kids clutching a special token who isn’t allowed to join the normal queue. I patiently waited my turn, after most of the other kids had got their meals, hoping I could still get a wedge of pizza and green custard for dessert. This was one of the first experiences I had of not being ‘normal’, which made me a target for teasing. That, and being fat.
From a young age, I knew that my body was wrong. The kids who teased me at school were never going to let me forget that, nor were the adults who said they were ‘just kidding’ when they made jokes about my double chin. The school nurse confirmed I was not ‘normal’ — I was told I needed to lose weight. I was fit and healthy at the time, doing lots of dance classes. This didn’t seem to matter. An outdated chart (BMI) said I wasn’t ‘normal’ so that’s all that mattered.
I may have been eligible for free school meals but I didn’t think of my family as being poor. I had second-hand clothes and cheap knock-offs instead of real Doc Martens, but we weren’t living in poverty. We always had food on the table, and it was often healthy food. One side of my family is Italian so I’d spend my weekends eating fresh home-cooked meals. But they were big meals, so I’d often feel guilty and told myself I had to compensate by dieting the rest of the time. This meant I tried to ignore my hunger signals and was either very full or very hungry a lot of the time, thrown into an unintentional binge cycle by the pressure to lose weight.
I know I’m not the only one to have been weighed at school at a very young age and told that I was too fat. For many, including myself, this was the start of a lifetime of body hatred and having a difficult relationship with food. The school nurse made an assumption that I didn’t exercise and that I didn’t eat healthily. This was not true. This same assumption is still widespread about fat people now and it’s extremely damaging. These assumptions are based on stereotypes of fat people being lazy, glutinous and weak-willed. It is deeply ingrained in a society that believes in the overtly simplistic narrative that being thin is healthy and being fat is not.