Call a man fat, but don’t call a woman thin.

Andy McSmith

An interesting but little known fact that emerged from a minor controversy in Parliament this week is that there exists an All-party Parliamentary Group on Body Image. This is a properly registered group of 20 MPs, eight Tories, two Lib Dems, and ten Labour, 14 women and six men, whose purpose is “to conduct an inquiry and monitor on an ongoing basis the causes of body image anxiety” and “explore what steps can be taken to promote body confidence.”

To go back one step in the narrative, the trouble started when the Labour MP Keith Vaz, tweeted that the Home Secretary, Theresa May, is looking thin. He wondered if the cause was a “new diet or pressure of work.”

This brought forth the Tory MP Caroline Nokes, who chairs the all-party body image group, who told the BBC: “If we were talking about a male Home Secretary who had lost a bit of weight I’m sure that no MP would comment.”

Unfortunately, she then rather spoiled her own case in a later interview, on Radio 5 Live, when she described the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, as “a jolly, fat man.” She blames the interviewer for ‘conning’ her into saying it.

As Caroline Nokes told the Commons yesterday, there are literally millions of people in the UK, most of them young, who have eating disaorders. She is trying to get this problem taken more seriously, but I don’t think that getting into a silly discussion about a silly tweet about a Home Secretary who, I am pretty sure, has not got bulimia or any such condition, does not help.

  • Ross

    Actually, I heard the interview, and it was the presenter raised the issue of Eric Pickle’s weight, not Ms. Nokes.

    She then used the words ‘jolly fat man’, seeking to illustrate the very point she was trying to make, before being interrupted by the presenters, and then correctly pointing out that Mr.Pickles self-deprecatingly uses these words to describe himself!

    Before she could finish her point, she was pounced upon by the two presenters who clearly saw this as an opportunity to turn an un-finished point into a ‘gaffe’ story. Why? This is a serious subject!

    Given the context of the interview, Ms. Nokes was bounced into responding to comments made by the presenter on a subject she clearly felt uncomfortable about, and probably had no prior warning.

    Had she been allowed to finish her point, I suspect there would have been no ‘gaffe’, merely her continuing to explain we often joke about issues which actually cause us some concern. Sadly, she wasn’t allowed to finish her point.

    What a shame the media now focuses on this story rather than the fact that Anorexia is officially the most lethal mental health illness, with a mortality rate of 20% – twice that of Schitzophrenea and three times that of depression. I would have thought this was far more newsworthy than an MP clearly prevented from finishing a point and criticised for something she never intended to say.

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