Act your IQ size, not your weight

I am what is known as a yo-yo dieter. I am not proud of this fact, but after all these years, I have come to accept that it’s so. Every time I get to my ideal weight (72kg), I swear that this is it – this time I’m not going to get fat again… only, a few years later to find myself 25kg heavier and having to go through the dieting process all over again. Since being an adult, I’ve weighed (albeit ages ago and not for very long) as little as 65kg, but also considerably more than the woman who inspired this post.

Haley Morris-Cafiero is a 37-year-old photographer who suffers from hyperthyroidism which makes her fat. She decided to capture the reactions of people as they beheld her (not-so-great) size. This is the link:

Ms Morris-Cafiero says she has come to terms with the fact that she can’t control her weight and has stopped beating herself up over it. However, she adds ‘That doesn’t mean the world is comfortable with how I look…. I’m constantly fighting strangers’ criticisms that I am lazy and slow-witted, or that I am an overly emotional slob.’


This bemuses me. No matter how fat I am (not so much at the moment, but who knows how big I’ll be this time next year?) or have been (huuuuuge), I have never for one moment sensed that anyone has doubted my intelligence. People may have given me disparaging looks – I’m pretty immune to that kind of thing and probably wouldn’t notice anyway – but I would certainly have been conscious if they had had the temerity to attempt to talk down to me.

And yet Haley Morris-Cafiero’s attitude is not an unusual one. I’ve frequently heard ‘women of size’ (a term I use with my tongue firmly lodged in my cheek – the word is ‘fat’ and using silly euphemisms for it only serves to underscore the idea that it’s a concept too shameful to be mentioned) express the view that they feel that their mental capacities will be questioned because they aren’t a svelt size 10 (UK).

I know a beautiful, intelligent, talented lawyer who qualified for the bar but now works as a teaching assistant because she doesn’t believe that any jury would take her seriously as she weighs over 100kg. And, in my university lecturing days, I encountered another woman – a mature student – who had left school at 16 because ‘nobody thought I was bright enough to stay on because of my size.’

Well get a grip, ladies! Your waistlines might be thick, but it doesn’t mean your brains are too. Stop hiding your light under a bushel, or whatever the saying is. If you’re ashamed of your bodies because they don’t conform to societal norms, then so be it; but if you know you’re bright and intelligent, why on earth would you let anyone think otherwise? If someone puts you down or speaks to you condescendingly, a withering look and a cutting remark will soon put them in their place. If they can’t see beyond the outer shell, then they’re the ones who’re stupid – not you – and it’s in their own interests to let them know that.


The evil that men do…

What have Margaret Thatcher and Jimmy Savile got in common? No, don’t answer that. It’s rhetorical; or, rather, it’s a question I’m going to answer for you. What they have in common is that they’re dead and their families are left to live with the knowledge that the general public hated their late relative and would really really like to tar them with the same brush.

When Margaret Thatcher’s death was announced, I was amazed at the general celebratory atmosphere one old lady’s demise seemed to cause. Cars were tooting their horns, pub landlords were offering free drinks, and, for a lot of people, it seemed that the yoke of oppression had suddenly been lifted from them.

What rot. Many of these individuals are no doubt too young to have any memory of the ‘Thatcher years’ – all they have to go on are the inherited prejudices of their parents and grandparents. And can it be healthy for those, such as myself, who are old enough to remember when she was the incumbent of No 10, still to be nursing grievances that are more than two decades old?

For years, she had been nothing more than a frail old woman suffering from dementia (surely a fate and a punishment worse than death for one who had once – as even her detractors grudgingly admit – had such a sharp intellect and decisive mind). She had wielded no real power since she resigned from office. Whilst people may have hated the changes she wrought and still feel her legacy to be one of evil, the fact that the woman herself is no longer alive has changed nothing.

What surprised me even more than the initial euphoria was that nine days after her death, public opprobrium had calmed down from a rolling boil to a gentle simmer. The disruption and protests that were predicted for her funeral came to nothing, and the 4,000 police officers deployed to secure the route simply had a day of standing around, being photographed by tourists. Perhaps the potential rioters were somehow chastened by the Boston marathon bombings; perhaps they’d just got bored with being angry.

My sorrow was for her family – not the most popular or likable of individuals perhaps, but still deserving of the right to grieve in peace and not have everyone they encountered leaping for joy at the very cause of their sadness. A friend remarked that, had she been his mother, he would have disowned her; but he wouldn’t; people don’t. Blood is still thicker than water, even in this day and age.

Which brings me on to Sir Jimmy Savile OBE KCSG, whose honours, I believe, have not been rescinded. His family, too, are left in the invidious position not only of having to live with aftermath of his crimes, but also – potentially – of losing all their inheritance in compensation claims to his alleged victims. It seems fairly certain that he did have a fondness for underage girls, and took advantage of their starstruck adulation; but it seems even more certain that a lot of bandwagon-jumping is now taking place. I heard a woman being interviewed on TV who had kept quiet about something she’d seen perhaps forty years ago for fear of not being believed. And what was this sight that had so traumatized her and imprinted itself so indelibly on her memory? She had seen Jimmy Savile coming out of a room at the BBC and he was – oh, the horror! – smiling.

In the village where I grew up there lived a man, whom I’ll call Mr W. Mr W. liked to touch girls – a hand on our knees, a casual brush against our burgeoning breasts, that kind of thing. We all knew he was like this, as did our parents. But back then the attitude was not ‘he must be lynched;’ back then it was ‘well, keep out of his way, then, silly.’ And we did; and now we can look back and laugh about Mr W. because we had the measure of him before we even knew what we were measuring him against. But Mr W. wasn’t famous and we weren’t hoping to get on Top of the Pops. Just as we are we aren’t now hoping to get a cut of a £4 million estate.

Jimmy Savile may have been the epitome of evil, or he may just have been a sad little man who tried his luck in an inappropriate manner and whose misdeeds have been magnified out of all proportion; either way, he’s dead and can neither admit nor deny the charges. Whatever he did, he got away with, and died more adored than abhorred. His descendants  however, are the ones who cannot show their faces in public and feel the need to apologise for something they had no part in and knew nothing about.

Is there something you’re not telling me? Well, go to jail, do not pass ‘go’, and most definitely do not collect £200.

Here’s something so ridiculous that it would be viewed as far-fetched even if it came from a tongue-in-cheek dystopian novel.

Apparently in Scotland, it’s illegal to have been through gender reassignment and not tell potential partners about it. Is it also illegal, then, to fail to mention that one’s had, say, a kidney transplant or breast implants or takes anti-depressants? Will I be prosecuted if I don’t announce to all and sundry that I used to be morbidly obese as opposed to merely the voluptuous creature I am now? Surely what we are now is what matters, not what we were once… How about confessing that one used to support Chelsea but now supports Arsenal? After all, if it’s all about potentially traumatizing others, then such knowledge could clearly cause untold damage to a dyed-in-the-wool Gunners’ fan.

This, in brief, is what I’m talking about. (You can read the full story here: A 25-year-old transgender man has been sentenced for obtaining sexual intimacy by fraud, and placed on the sex offenders’ register, because he failed to tell two partners that he hadn’t been the same sex at birth and claimed to be younger than he was. Previously, a teenage girl was jailed for two and a half years because she dressed up and pretended to be a boy in order to date other girls.

These two cases seem very different to me, and yet the response of the courts seems equally disproportionate in both cases.

In the first, the individual, although he has not yet undergone gender reassignment therapy/surgery, identifies as a man.  The fact that he doesn’t have a penis does not make this a lie. There are men out there (whose gender is the same now as it was at their birth) who, because of nasty accidents with chainsaws, vengeful wives with Stanley knives, or unsavoury necrotizing diseases, also lack a membrum virile. Are they too to be prosecuted for failing to mention in passing that they are not hung like a horse?

As far as I can see, the only real fraud that this chap has perpetrated is to lie about his age (something which one of his lovers did too, claiming to be over the age of consent when really she was only 15) – and if that’s a crime, then half the celebrities in the world should by rights be serving time.

In the second case, this is a girl in her late teens who is clearly confused about her sexuality or at least about how to express it. She likes girls. She has possibly had either too sheltered or too conservative an upbringing to realize that, in this day and age, being a lesbian is OK. Or it should be. Shouldn’t it? Oh, it seems not, as she’s been banged up for it. Would it not be infinitely better to give her counselling to come to terms with her sexual orientation than to lock her up and limit her employment prospects for life by giving her a criminal record? I shall refrain from crass comments about the sexual possibilities open to her in prison – that is not the point. The point is that this is only a step away from the nineteenth-century remedy of performing clitoridectomies on women who masturbated or showed ‘unnatural’ sexual desires.

It is a sad fact of life that when it comes to sex, people lie. Sometimes they do it to impress their partner; sometimes just to get their own way. But it happens, and always has. Are we now going to prosecute the person who claims only to have had two sexual partners when really a zero should be added to the right of that number? Or the one who swears that this is love, not lust, so please come to bed with me? What about the braggart who boasts of his or her sexual prowess and then proves to be about as erotically charged as a dead fish (assuming, dear reader, that that isn’t your particular fetish)? Yeah, all fraudsters of the first water… With prisons overcrowded and not enough space for the real criminals, I’m sure it’d make heaps of sense to add these terrible individuals to their numbers. Don’t you agree?

So go on then, tell me: what’s in a name?

I can’t remember quite how it came about, but a friend recently made a comment about how philanthropy should, in his opinion, be anonymous. Personally, I think it’s the end result that matters more than whether the identity of the philanthropist is or isn’t known. Whenever there’s a tsunami or an earthquake or other natural disaster somewhere in the world, one reads of this government pledging so-many million pounds/euros/dollars in aid, and that government offering double, and so on. And yet there are individuals who are so wealthy that they could easily donate ten times the amounts all these governments offer without even noticing that their bank accounts were any the lighter. If such a person did decide to save a country, but only on condition that that country be renamed after him, would that really be so terrible?

From this my mind turned to what would happen if some anonymous benefactor – wanting no memorial to himself — volunteered to found and maintain in perpetuam an old people’s home provided that it be called (and never renamed) The Harold Shipman Home for the Elderly, or, more topically, a medical facility for sick youngsters called The Jimmy Savile Children’s Hospital…?

What would happen? Would political correctness and public outrage be so great that a multi-million pound donation would be refused, or would the powers-that-be decide that the amount of good that the money could do would outweigh the negative connotations of the name? After all, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s most romantic heroine, ‘That which we call Rose West / By any other name would smell as sweet.’

If I needed an urgent operation, I really wouldn’t care if it were carried out at the Peter Sutcliffe Hospital for Women, or the surgical gowns had ‘This life-saving procedure was brought to you courtesy of [name of non-criminal benefactor]’. These things would be as nothing when compared with the otherwise life or death choice before me. Does that make me unprincipled? Perhaps. But anyone who would be prepared to die because of political correctness or an aversion to a name (hell, I’ve had treatment at the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton, and studying Middlemarch scarred me for life, but I didn’t complain) really does seem rather foolish to me.

Your shoes are not ‘epic’

My latest bête noire is this modern tendency to use ‘epic’ to mean ‘fantastic’ or ‘amazing’. ‘Awesome’ was bad enough, when used to describe things that, at best, created a moderately positive impression but inspired no true awe, but ‘epic’ is infinitely more annoying.

For those in any doubt:

EPIC /ˈepik/

1. A long poem, typically derived from oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation.
2. The genre of such poems.
3. A long film, book, or other work portraying heroic deeds and adventures or covering an extended period of time.

1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of an epic or epics.
2. Heroic or grand in scale or character.

~noun: epos; epopee
~adjective: heroic; epical

Which may get us onto current misuse of ‘hero’ and, by extension, ‘genius’, but I’ll save them for another rant another time…

Stop ‘liking’ things!

Now, please don’t think I hate everything; it’s true that I hate most things, but not all. I love the internet. I love this blog, and my other blog, and any site where I get to write and share my opinions with the world. I have a particular fondness for Facebook, although not for Twitter. (Twitter is too restrictive for one of my shameless prolixity.)

Having said that, there is one thing (who’m I kidding? there are lots of things really) about Facebook that irritates me beyond measure, and that’s that it’s plagued with annoying pleas and appeals to ‘like’ things. The latest I’ve seen is a picture of a German Shepherd with a broken leg and a message along the lines of ‘This dog saved two girls from being raped. 1 Like = 1 Salute to him. 1 Share = 100 Salutes. Keep scrolling if you don’t care.’ I’ve also recently seen a photo of a little girl holding a card saying ‘I kicked cancer’s ass,’ accompanied by the exhortation to ‘like’ the post if we’re ‘proud of her’ and to do nothing if we’re indifferent.

Well, great — the girls didn’t get raped and the kid recovered from a life-threatening disease — but all the ‘likes’ and ‘salutes’ in the world won’t make a shred of difference. The dog’s — well — a dog: he’d prefer tummy rubs and biscuits. The kid’s about four: she’d prefer the human-child equivalent, and — one would imagine — her parents are too delighted to have her well again to care whether a few (thousand) unknown people on FB have ‘liked’ the picture. At least, I’d hope they would be — priorities and all that.

I feel the same about those ‘This is breast cancer/mental health/end child abuse/autism awareness week’ photos and statuses that end with ‘Like and share this on your wall if you agree with/care about [whatever]. 95% of people won’t. I know which of my friends will share it, though.’

Yeah, I’m in the 95%. Not necessarily because I don’t care — maybe I do, maybe I don’t — but because I refuse to be dictated to by someone who for their own gratification thought it’d be a good idea to make a shameless appeal to people’s sentimentality. Even if I were tempted to post the message on my wall, those final, smug, self-righteous, holier-than-thou words will guarantee that I won’t. (Plus they often contain grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. What? You thought I could write a whole screed like this without mentioning how shoddy a lot of the English is on the internet? Really? Oh, I forgot — you don’t really know me yet.)

My suggestion is this: if people really care about these causes, why not do something to help them? Volunteer at a hospice or an animal shelter; do a sponsored something-or-other to raise money; stand in the street on a cold January day rattling a tin. Just do something — but don’t pretend you have a social conscience just because you are capable of clicking ‘like’ and then getting on with your own comfortable life.

Woman =/= Victim


This is being touted around as some kind of profound and insightful truth. It’s not. It’s bollocks. I’ve lived on this planet for longer than I’m prepared to admit here and have never felt that way (despite having had to fend off a fair amount of unwanted attention in my time). Moreover, I cannot agree with the assumption that all heterosexual men make forceful and unwanted advances to women (any more than all homosexual males lurk in the backs of taxis and pounce on younger men). In both cases, this applies to a very small and somewhat irritating minority; most men are capable of reading the situation correctly, or of backing off quickly when they realize they’ve made a mistake. Things like this that propagate the idea of woman-as-victim really do get my goat. There are also a few other moral issues here. The teacher or reading group leader, whom we must assume to be a supposedly responsible adult, learns that one of her charges has at some point been on the receiving end of unwanted advances from what we infer to be an older and stronger person of the same sex. Admitting this may have been traumatic in itself for the boy, and yet — rather than offer support and understanding — the ‘responsible adult’ chooses to mock him and use his experience as an excuse for a misandrous rant about sexual harassment. The group is a mixed one. In all probability, its male and female members have co-existed harmoniously until now. There may have been some horseplay and flirting, but nothing unexpected or undesirable amongst this demographic. Suddenly, though, the girls will start to feel threatened when they probably had no such misgivings until their teacher suggested that all men in car parks are not really leaving or collecting their vehicles, but lurking with malicious intent… Isn’t feminism supposed to be all about empowering women, not making us feel defenceless?