I remember after the last Olympics, people wondered aloud whether the running, jumping, cycling and everything would inspire a nation to get off its collective flabby arse and do some exercise. The answer was, predictably, no. This time, we’re wondering again. And the answer will be no again. And people will wonder why.
Well, as someone who bucked the trend and managed to get off the settee and do some exercise and lose some weight – a little over five stone since 2012, since you were wondering – I think I can tell you some of the reasons why it doesn’t just happen.
There’s two bits of Parklife by Blur that are revelant. The first is Phil Daniels’s cockney geezer character insulting some fat bloke. “Who’s that gutlord marching? You should cut down on your pork life mate, get some exercise!” The second comes later, when he says, “And it’s not about you joggers, who go round and round…” – all right, it’s just a silly song and there are probably better examples. But it highlights an attitude I’ve seen and heard a lot: first, take the piss out of people who are fat (and assume they don’t do exercise); second, take the piss out of people doing exercise.
Which leads me to this point: you must always take the piss out of fat people doing exercise. Like it’s the most fucking hilarious thing you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Go to a non-league football match and hear the jovial taunts aimed at the guy in the tightest-fitting shirt. Who’s actually playing football while other people are standing around doing nothing. Whatever else happens, you must make them suffer – for being fat in the first place, then for daring to be active at all rather than gluttonously stuffing pies down their face.
When you’re really fat you avoid things like mirrors and going out in public. It’s bad enough blubbering around in your own house, squeezing into your own ill-fitting clothes and feeling awful about the way you look and feel, without having to endure the cavalcade of taunts you’re likely to face from the general public. (At this point I should emphasise that I understand it’s much, much worse for women than men, but I can only speak from my own experience.) Then, when you actually try to do something about it, when you try to do some exercise, the jeers get louder. Your humiliation is worse. You either have to try and find a gym or swimming pool, and notice the chortles and sneers from the impossibly athletic, young staff watching you in less clothing than you’d ideally want to be wearing; or you have to go outside, among real people.
I used to live by the seaside, so I’d run along the beach. It was quite nice to get out there in the fresh air and try to exercise, but in the end I gave up, because, even with sunglasses on and a hat, wearing as baggy clothes as I could find to hide my figure, even with music playing as loudly as possible into my ears, I could still hear the shouts – people really do shout at you, so you don’t miss it – and see the gestures.
Cut down on your porklife, mate. Get some exercise! But not near me or I’ll take the piss out of you. Laugh at fatty. Now, I’ve been pretty overweight most of my life and I see the obvious amusement I provide you with. Yes, I wobble and I wear slightly larger clothes. I know, you’re already chortling. Funny. Marvellous.
It’s all about shame. Shame at these bloated corpses, these wobbly bodies, for daring to be in the same space as you. They don’t belong to people. You notice this when you see the decapitated, bloated midriffs, dehumanised of the person owning them, on the news, whenever obesity is discussed. It’s all about reducing the person to their body. Their big body.
Why doesn’t the Olympics inspire a generation? Because it shows you these supreme athletes at their peak, where anything other than absolute success is failure – even silver medallists feel they haven’t achieved something they should have done, and see it as a disaster. They’re doing things you can’t even imagine contemplating, and they’re still getting slagged off and feeling bad about themselves.
It wasn’t the Olympics that inspired me; it was just needing to be healthy. It certainly wasn’t a patronising “kick up the arse” lecture from my GP that made me change (although of course, as I’ve said before, people really do believe that’s the best way to get me to do something). It was just wanting to have the energy to look after my daughter, and the desire to want to be around for a bit longer, or at least to try.
So I started with tiny goals. Can I walk for half an hour? Can I walk for an hour? Can I walk a kilometre in ten minutes? It’s hard and then you try and try and get there. And you do it as much as you can. When you’re walking, people don’t really detect that you’re exercising, so you can get away with it. You can hide a little. Then, one day, I tried running as long as I could. I tried running a mile, because a mile seemed interesting. A mile in ten minutes? That came months later. Now I can run four, five kilometres. And there’s more to come. More to do. And I’m finally at the stage where I can say fuck you to passer-by abusers, because they don’t know where I’ve come from or what I’ve done, and sure, it’s my fault I got out of shape, but it’s in my power to do something about it, not for them, but for me.
The Olympics won’t ever inspire anyone, except those who have the confidence to be out there already – and good for them. But until we get it out of our culture that it’s acceptable to laugh at fatty, not much is going to change. Shaming and abusing won’t do anything. It just causes hurt, and makes it worse. So if you see a fat person running, or walking fast, or in your gym, the best thing you can do is leave them the fuck alone to get on with it, because it’s an achievement for them just to be there.