As some of you may know I was “sacked” a while back from an eating disorders charity for publishing a post they believed reflected a bad attitude to people with weight issues. I still maintain that the post was against the evils of nationalist bigotry, but to be fair, I do have to admit I was banged to rights on this one.
Me: “What exactly in the post did you find offensive?”
Charity lady: “The bit where you referred to the stranger as a “fat lazy bastard”.
Me: “Oh that one.”
You see what I mean? In any case, at the time I did feel it was just a poorly chosen turn of phrase rather than a reflection of any kind of deep-seated prejudice.
However, that experience did make me start to question myself. It’s forced me to really start to question the conclusions i jump to, the thoughts I have in my head, the ways I talk about people, and I’m afraid to say, i think I might just be a teensy bit fattest after all.
Now I’ve admitted to prejudices before, so it’s not come as a shock that I have them, just that i never realised I had this particular one. I’ve spoken before about being a bit of a fatty myself, and even I’ve had to put myself on a New Year’s diet. (big fat yawn). I do believe that I am sensitive to how difficult the issues are around weight, and to people who struggle with it. However, i’ve starting to realise that when it comes to the very obese, judgy mcjudgealot might just be rearing her ugly head again.
I can’t put hand on heart and swear that when I see someone struggling down the street with no visible ankles I don’t make some kind of judgement, even if it is just to breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not me, for without question they must be miserable. I know I frequently pass judgement on obese children and what their parents must be like, and I most definitely don’t choose the bench in the park that is already half occupied by someone sweating and overspilling its edges.
Rereading that paragraph back to myself, and reflecting on my choice of language just proves my point.
Sometimes I think that we spend our youth trying so hard to be “okay” with everything – liberal, open-minded – that we fail to appreciate that we may carry some innate, ingrained beliefs hidden below the surface. We may think we are open/flexible/non-judgemental because that is how we want to be, but ignoring our little prejudices or pretending they’re not there doesn’t make it so. They surface in small, hardly perceptible ways – in the language we use, the looks we give, the people we choose as our friends.
My sister has always said to me that you cannot always control the thoughts in your head (I call them my “mental tourettes”), but you can choose to be aware of them. To be mindful that, considered fairly and rationally, you are wrong to believe or think that thing, and to change your behaviour accordingly. My own dad struggled to accept homosexuality as a lifestyle equal to any other, and frequently described people as “camp” with a downward flick of the wrist. Yet, what redeemed him in my eyes was that he had come to understand that his attitudes and opinions were wrong, unacceptable, and outdated. Surely we are better to acknowledge the preconceptions, judgements, attitudes that fail us rather than simply pretending they don’t exist?
Without honesty, there can never be positive change. Let’s take our heads out of the sand, stop believing that Jade Goody’s indiscretion was a one-off, put out hands up and admit we might just need a little bit more guidance.