When I was about 9, there was one fat child in my class called Ellen. Or Ellen the Melon as she was known. She would stand next to me in cookery class and scream hysterically when we we were making sausage rolls because my mum gave me sausage meat with lots of garlic and herbs mashed into it. ‘Eurrgh I hate garlic – Miiiissss!’
When I was invited to her party I asked mum for some chocolates as a present and she, with characteristic diplomacy spluttered: ‘I’m not giving chocolates to that big heap!’ But growing up, I don’t remember even thinking about whether I was too fat or thin or even considering my body shape until well into my teens. The word ‘slim’ was used, not ‘thin’ and several relatives and teachers commented on the fact I was a ‘bit too slim’ even though I ate like a half starved gannet. Being thin was not a worthy goal.
It sure as hell is now. And The Girl, even though she’s just six, and built like a twiglet is acutely aware of ‘fat’ being ‘bad’. To be honest I’m anxious about her growing up in a world with so many toxic messages about acceptable body weight for girls. I’ve hidden my scales and she has never ever seen them. I don’t use the word ‘fat’ at all, and I’ve threatened The Boy with death if he ever teases her about her weight. I’ve told my dear dad that the word ‘buxom’ is not acceptable. ‘But buxom is great!’ he says, bewildered, having grown up lusting after real women like Ava Gardner and Sophia Loren.
I was disturbed though to read that parents who fail to help their obese child, and ignore all advice could be considered guilty of neglect. Now come on – we’ve all seen the lumbering children pouring vast packets of monster munch down their faces as they heft along the street. And don’t tell me you don’t tighten your lips when you see a small child drinking some fizzy crap drink in their pushchair. Oh yes you do. Just before you check yourself for snobbery, a little part of you thinks: Coke!? For breakfast?! You bad bad parent.
The thing is, this proposal will target the very poor because the poorest sections of the population are the ones who feed the most processed food to their children. Add to this, the fact that we have a generation that seem unable to cook (doubly ironic when posh restaurants are serving up the cheaper cuts of meat our grannies would have knocked up in their kitchens blindfolded), and you have a generation of children less healthy than their parents. Remember that boy Connor McCreaddie, eight years old and weighing 14 stone who was briefly in the news because the council were considering taking him into care? Legions of middle class journos sped up to North Tyneside to lambast his mother. But I’d like to have seen any of them put together decent meals on benefits, with the nearest superstore two bus rides away and a fast food outlet on every corner. No greengrocers, no butchers – all driven out of business by the Superstore.
Sure there are parents you want to slap round the head (or maybe it’s just me) and shout: ‘You are condemning your child to a lifetime of obesity and health problems you drongo. Put that doughnut down!’ But these initiatives seem to do nothing but stigmatise and blame the poorest people which is perhaps simpler than tackling the deeper malaise of obesity; the massive power of the Food Standards Agency, the fact that the likes of Tesco are driving small foodshops out of business and fast food is cheap and tastes good because it’s so pumped up with fat and sugar, and teaching children to cook.
Actually teaching The Boy to cook was like pulling teeth until he realised that girls are impressed by a man who knows how to chop an onion.