Saturday, 14 August 2010

Pandering to the needs of fat people

Back in the day, when I went to school, fat people were, if you like, a rarity. You didn't see that many on the streets; and at school, well, everyone knew a 'fatty' and had fond, early memories of the phenomenon now affectionately known as 'moobs', or 'man boobs'. I remember 'our' fatty during games lessons running around self-consciously in a string vest with his arms folded, but he was a nice guy and nobody went further than calling him 'fatty' or 'fatso'.

"Thank the Lord for plus-sizes! Make that two doughnuts, Fred."
Today, of course, the number of fat people is expanding at a rate of knots and this morning I read that a quarter of UK women are now size 18 or larger – and that's big! I always thought that bingo wings were reserved for aunties and school dinner ladies, but obviously not; nowadays, they're everywhere. Who knows, perhaps one day fat people will be able to fly!

During the week I was on a train travelling from Preston through to Leeds. It's a lovely, scenic route going through some amazing parts of Yorkshire, like Hebden Bridge, but one thing that will stick in my memory more than the rolling hills of the Pennines and the quaint houses nestled in the valleys around Halifax and Sowerby Bridge, was a huge woman, not a very old woman I hasten to add, but she was huge, massive, enormous. She had the proportions of a nuclear power station and had somehow managed to stuff herself into the seat by the window, leaving little in the way of room for a petite young woman who was perched precariously on the edge of her aisle seat.

Being a chauvinist, I felt sorry for the husband, although he did have tattoos. I imagined he had a rough time in bed, not in the sexual sense, but just grabbing his share of the duvet and mattress. Perhaps he sleeps on the sofa, who knows, although I figured it would be easy to mistake his wife for a sofa. If she covered herself in a flowery printed material and sat very still, perhaps with a prop, like a standard lamp, next to her, I began to wonder how many people would unwittingly take a seat?

As I sat there, a carriage full of young toddlers who must have collectively soiled their nappies because the train reeked of shit and everybody sat there with sour expressions on their faces, I had the urge to lean over and whisper, "Excuse me, listen, I don't know you, but please, for your own sake, stop eating cakes or whatever it is that is making you the size of a dust cart," but I reckon the guy with the tattoo would probably have leaned over and whacked me so I said owt (as they say in the Pennines).

When she got off the train, I realised that I was not travelling on one of those tilting 'Pendolino' trains after all and that the woman in question had been putting all our lives at risk by not standing in the centre of the carriage to even out the weight. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the picture.

So, over a quarter of UK women are a size 18, thanks to doughnuts, burgers and a sedentary lifestyle and you know what really gets me about fat women? They never consider exercise as an option; it's always Weightwatchers and going on a diet when a decent cycle round the block every morning would be a tremendous help to lessen their bulging frames.

Market research company Mintel is behind the staggering fact that over a quarter of UK women are absolutely huge and they estimate that the women's 'plus size' market has grown (like the women themselves) by 45 per cent and is now worth £3.8 billion – that's £200 million less than the UK's pub grub market, but catching up fast!

A quarter of adults in the UK are now classed as 'obese' and that is broken down as follows: 66 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women – and all they have to do to rectify the problem is eat less and exercise more. But no, they would rather adhere to the view that obesity is a disease or that they are in some way genetically predisposed to resembling the stock of a DFS store or, indeed, the warehouse itself.

In 1993, claims Mintel, the proportion of adult men classed as 'obese' was 13 per cent. In 2008 that figure had almost doubled to 24 per cent. For women, the figure was 16 per cent to 25 per cent.

Now we all know what a burden these people, with their self-inflicted condition, put on the NHS, but what amazes me is the way society makes way for them. Wouldn't it be better if clothing manufacturers simply refused to make plus sizes? I don't know about you, but if ever I nip out to buy a pair of trousers and discover I need a higher waist size than before, I refuse to admit defeat and instead buy my normal size and then make every effort possible to lose the additional weight. Buying that bigger size is an admission of failure and I'm only talking a rise from a 32in waist to 34in.

According to Mintel's senior fashion analyst, Tamara Sender, 'plus-size consumers' (she means fat people) are looking for more fashionable plus-size garments. Fed up with looking like Sizewell B, they're expecting clothing manufacturers to do their level best to disguise their fatness and make them look a little bit more acceptable on the streets of Britain. "Please, hide my bingo wings!"

Fair enough, you might think, but again it reeks of accepting their obesity and doing nothing to rectify the matter. "Make that two doughnuts, Fred."

Mintel's Sender urges the clothing industry to no longer look upon fat people as 'niche' or a 'minority', and 'wake up to the growth potential of this market'. Well, she's right about the 'growth potential' as these people are expanding faster than one of those emergency inflatable rafts you see in nautical disaster movies.

A far better solution, I think, would be for clothing manufacturers to make a stand and say: "Enough is enough! We're clothing manufacturers, we don't make marquees, we're not in the intermediate bulk container market, let fat people stay indoors until they're thin enough to come out and buy normal-sized clothes."

But no, if there's a market, there's money and who cares if people simply eat themselves into an early grave if there's profit to be made. Nope, clothing manufacturers are rubbing their hands together with glee while exclaiming, 'Let them eat cake!'

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