Talk Radio host Julia Hartley-Brewer, perhaps secretly envious of Katie Hopkins successful campaign of pouring humongous amounts of bile over the internet, decided to attempt a new low on Twitter this week, and judging by some of the responses to her tweet, she certainly seems to have managed it.
First published in May 2018.
In response to the announcement by clothing chain New Lookthat the company was considering charging higher prices for plus size clothes, the company received a barrage of complaints with the new policy quickly branded a “fat tax”. This in turn prompted Julia Hartley-Brewer to tweet:
The responses to this were many and varied. Disappointingly, many of those responding to Hartley-Brewer’s tweet chose to applaud her for her comments, including many responses which seemed to deliberately, and maybe even joyfully, exacerbate the apparently ‘fat-shaming’ nature of the tweet. Many, however, were quite rightly appalled.
Some of those responding offered a somewhat restrained reply, such as Deborah Hope for example, who tweeted “Julia Hartley-Brewer a poor excuse for a human being”. Others, such as Alexis Butterfield, chose the more sarcastic approach:
While another reply asked:
Others made a direct comparison with Katie Hopkins. ‘Britgirl Hates Brexit’ wrote:
I really can't tell Julia Hartley-Brewer's & Katie Hopkin's tweets apart these days... pic.twitter.com/XtLPrybvQU— Britgirl Hates Brexit #FBPE🇬🇧🇪🇺 (@MarieAnnUK) May 15, 2018
The most poignant responses came from those who themselves suffer from weight problems, the people at whom Hartley-Brewer’s finger was most directly pointed. Carol Gould for example shot back:
Julia, your nastiness knoweth no bounds. I was lovely& lean then a rogue breast surgeon wrecked my life &that of many others. Steroids, chemo, radiotherapy, scans with dyes, the lot - I'm heavy now because of years of medical nightmares. Your lack of compassion is breathtaking.— Carol Gould (@Karashgould) May 15, 2018
While Charlie-Marie wrote:
How frigging disgusting! Some of us are overweight due to chronic health and pain conditions! Fuck you! And anyone who agrees with this shit comment! I’ve had ten ops, I have auto immune conditions and chronic pain! I do everything I possibly can.. but I’m on that many meds! 🤬— Charlie-Marie (@CharlieMarieKen) May 15, 2018
Juliet Hartley-Brewer was born in Birmingham, and as the daughter of a GP who went on to attend Oldfield School in Bath, Woodhouse Sixth Form College in Finchley, North London, and subsequently Oxford University’s Magdalen College, she is hardly likely to have been short of a bob or two.
Indeed, it often seems to be the case in our society that some of the cruellest comments, regarding those who are less unfortunate than others, come from privileged souls who have never really known what real hardship is like.
However, let’s ignore questions of background and upbringing and examine what it was about this tweet that was so obnoxious.
Hartley-Brewer’s point that obesity is associated with overeating is, of course, a realistic one. At one point, responding to one critic of her tweet, Hartley-Brewer pointed to the NHS website section on obesity, which says:
Contrast this with the last line of Hartley-Brewer’s tweet, which said:
The difference between the two is that the NHS statement consists of facts, while Hartley-Brewer’s comment is blatant ‘fat shaming’.
The Urban Dictionary defines fat shaming as:
“... the act of poking fun of someone for being overweight, or telling someone they are worthless, useless, lazy, or disgusting because they are overweight.”
Hartley-Brewer’s tweet therefore conforms to this definition because it was, or could easily be interpreted as, snide, sarcastic, derisory, insulting, offensive, discourteous, slighting, offensive, rude, or any variations on those words, retaining their general meaning, that you care to consider. I’ll add a different word to that list — cruel.
In essence, the point here is that it is not what you say, it is the way you say it.
The effect of such attitudes on those who are obese, and who are consciously aware of it and who are struggling to resolve the problem, is not helpful. Indeed, the effect of such words can be dire, for the simple reason that one well-known cause of obesity is overeating as a form of ‘comfort eating’, resulting from an attempt to resolve some personal emotional trauma or negative sense of self. It follows therefore that if you shame a fat person, you are actually likely to make the problem worse, not better. Fat people who are attempting to become not-fat, need encouragement, kindness and support, not abuse. It is this that makes Hartley-Brewer’s tweet so despicably odious.
In September 2017, writing for The Guardian, Maia Szalavitz eloquently explained this connection between obesity and trauma:
“... without addressing why people overeat, obesity can’t be fought effectively. And, though it is not clear precisely what proportion of obesity is linked to trauma — or to the uncontrollable stresses associated with poverty — the correlations here are strong and parallel those seen in other addictions.”
“Sadly, the research found that these experiences add up: the more types of trauma a child faces, the greater the effects on health. Further, living in poverty magnifies these risks in many ways: there’s a higher risk of parental incarceration, less access to treatment for addiction and other mental illness, and fewer resources to reduce adult stress and minimize the odds of abuse.”
Hartley-Brewer is technically correct in her assertion that obesity is linked to overeating. But her tweet on this subject was delivered in an overly simplistic, blunt and even crass manner. It omitted one, albeit very important, element — compassion.
Sadly, Hartley-Brewer herself seems to be completely oblivious to this very important point, to her shame. And she wonders why people were so angry...🔷
Robin Whitlock, Freelance journalist.