Skinny is The New Greedy

The time when being overweight was an attribute belonging to the wealthy has long since passed: the wealthy now possess skinny. The wealthy always possess what is made to be desirable in a capitalist society, as this is what perpetuates profit and keeps it running.

Capitalism, version 2.0 (postmodern capitalism), under its disguise of being politically correct, liberal and morally-in-the-middle, has been able to dump the old forms of discrimination for new more ‘clever’ forms of discrimination. It’s new methods come from the system’s super-ego mantra that we should all be perfectly capable “professionals”; emitting an order to us all to be “perfectly rounded, intelligent, educated, good-looking, sociable, healthy, fun, career driven, hard-working and fat-free” individuals. Our appearance becomes everything; but not now merely in the way we look, but the person inside whom others may judge us from, from how we speak, where we convene, what we’ve read/seen/made and our career ideas – these are all crucial attributes we feel we need to improve in order to become what is conveyed as a “better person”.
This is a consumer pressure which ‘shoots you from both sides’. It is no longer simply an anxiety over what material objects you possess, but now also over who you are as a person. Since the new capitalism (version 2.0, post-modern, or cultural capitalism) took force we have truly been living under what can only be described as a dictatorship of individualism.

The issues centered around a mass desire to be skinny, with a terror of being overweight, are issues that have always been close to my heart, because they are issues which have plagued me at varying degrees of intensity for well over a decade. But when the realisation of a dissatisfaction with the self remained, even when I could identify my own reflection as being that of the ‘hard-working skinny person’, I came to realise that this, what I’d describe as societal pressure, was asking for much much more from me, and was much more total in its requests than I could ever have imagined during those beginning spells of anxiety about the self.

Around this time I was also becoming aware that, here in the UK, most of those who were classed as very overweight were from the poorer sections of society, and those who “looked great!” were nearly always from the more affluent, career-driven, well-off side of society. Now, at this point in history, one must make reference to the way that television projects these two opposites, seen as the television has such an influential role on how we see the world (whether we like it or not). Because the past governments have done their best to erase the idea of a working class, under the illusion that anybody who wants to be can be successful, the poor now appear on our televisions screens without excuses for their “lowly ways of living”. The world, as seen through the telescreen, now knows nothing of a undeserving poor; it knows only of the undesirables, the ‘Chavs’, those who just have no excuses for not being “better people”; and we are projected images of these people through dehumanising reality television shows, where we either see them denounced on chat shows, humiliated on lifestyle shows, looked down on as vermin from the helicopters of ‘street cop’ programs, or they are looked upon merely as lumps of unwanted meat as news stories show us images of headless bodies waddling down the high street as they strike fear into us about an epidemic of obesity. Meanwhile, we are simultaneously projected the system’s superego’s images of those “better people”, in a manner that aims to set the standards for the rest of us. These people are the hard-working, the well-dressed, the pleasant, the affluent, and they are going places and they are skinny.

Because capitalism has done well in fooling us into believing that it perpetuates liberal beliefs and equality of opportunity, seeing everybody with the same eyes, by pretending to dump the old racist and sexist discrimination by cleverly incorporating it into in the consumerist matrix, the new open forms of discriminating largely go unchecked. And the saddest factor of this is that one can find people who would naturally be on the side of those treat badly by this unequal system actually discriminating against those who are treat badly. The obese, the drunks, the drug addicts, and those who, from the outside, appear to be rejecting an opportunity to be educated, are seen as the problem rather than as victims of a problem.
Greed is an especially difficult one to argue about because the gluttony of an obese person is seen as a self-chosen act to constantly bring pleasure to themselves, which can simply be reversed by means of their own will-power alone. But it isn’t as simple as that: continuous comfort eating is a compensation for a life of discontent which shows nothing but more discontent on all horizons; it is not a discontent from which one can start planning a “new pathway in life”. We’ve all heard the lyrics about the impossibility of escape from this place in Pulp’s 1990’s single ‘Common People’ – well imagine that the drinking and smoking was replaced, or joined by, eating and more eating “because there’s nothing else to do”.

As well as the fear of being fat and the drive to be skinny being a multi-million pound industry, it is much more than that. Capitalism’s superego has captured us, with a fear of not being worthy enough to walk on this planet without us stepping at least some steps towards being this acceptable person. Thus, we are hooked into the consumptive system more than ever before. It is exploiting us from all possible angles now that it is so hard to see where the exploitation ends and begins.
It is difficult to call a very very rich person, who is hard working and skinny, greedy. But aren’t they so? I believe the way we see greed now needs to be reversed; those who appear to ‘have it all’ in society now are the thin people; fat people are now the undesirables, those who ‘have nothing’. The iconic images of humans which drive mass consumption are of thin people. Of course, not all skinny people are glamorous, but there are large visual distinctions between those who are ‘poor skinny’ and those who are ‘affluently skinny’; the poor skinny do not possess the glamorous and professional look of the affluently skinny. Nevertheless, it is still fat which is the worst, which is why people are more-or-less congratulated by their piers when they lose weight.

This fear does not just affect women – at least, not anymore. Women have been subjected to the idea that being skinny runs side-by-side with being successful and well-liked for well over half a century now, but more recently, as in the last 20 years, this pressure has also started to close in on the male population, and it is increasing every day. Actors such as Johnny Depp, with their perfect slim builds, and unfaltering boney faces are seen as the some of the most desirable males on the planet; all rock stars have chiseled jaw-lines and slender bodies; more and more screen stars seem to have more and more boyish looks, and slender boyish bodies. The successful never seem to put on weight (which is obviously an easier achievement when you’ve got the money to live a better quality of life, but who’s going to share that sympathy with you, as your overweight body tries to walk past a jeering group of youths, as you leave the train station from your thankless minimum-wage job, to go back to an housing estate from where the prospect of devoting the night to doing exercise seems seems like some satanist punishment for being lowly?) and the media want us know that we shouldn’t have to either. Even Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop, even as they look half-man/half-amphibian, emit a message to the rest of the male population which equates to something like “hey! we’ve managed to grow old without acquiring even an inch of body fat, so why can’t you?”.

On TV, fat men are used as thickos/second-raters in comparison with their skinnier friends. It shows a world in which to be fat, is to not stand a chance with the opposite sex (unless she is as fat as you); to be at the bottom of the pecking order; to happily let your friends take the lead role in groups as you just stand around trying to scrape whatever bit of credit you can.

Inevitably, the skinny get off free, and the fat people find that people are quite hostile towards them. This is either through a downward-discriminatory fear of becoming the “failures” they have become, or just a misguided idea that the fat are simply just greedy and have nobody to blame but themselves. Unlike openly picking on people from different races – the rejected peoples of the old capitalism (although this still does seem to occur in my home town) – it is now socially acceptable to pick on those who cannot be late-capitalism’s idea of what is desirable and what is a ‘better person’. One of the worst incidents I have seen is when a very overweight woman was standing with her friend at a bus stop where I was also waiting. A group of men in their 20’s passed us on the way from one pub to another, talking as they walked. They were obviously talking about a misfortune one of them had just had, as another turned around, pointed at the overweight woman, and said “it could be worse mate; you could be going out with that!”. I think that this is one of the cruelest things I have heard said to somebody, since I left the inherently cruel environment of high school.

Inevitably there is a terror of becoming this sort of person, as it equates to complete failure and a giving up of any dreams you may have had in life. It is not just a social fear but also an economic fear – the way a male looks now also plays a part in whether he succeeds or fails in the ruthless competitive world, just like it has done for a long time with women. There is a terror of failing and just free-falling and being left to disintegrate by others who are justifiably fearful of being dragged down also (it must be pointed out that although the system frequently fails us, we are not allowed to do so). What is needed is a better understanding of all those suffering from the affects of late capitalism. This includes the mentally ill, the drug addicts, the overweight, those with other eating disorders and many more. But the sad fact is it is easier to blame easy targets.

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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