I’m a very off-message type of fat broad; one who gladly admits she reached the size she is now solely through lack of discipline and love of pleasure, and who rather despises people (except those with proven medical conditions) who pretend that it is generally otherwise. I’m not attached to my fat in any but the most obvious way; would I lose it if I could snap my fingers? Without doubt. Would I work at losing it? Not a chance, Vance.
‘But it’s not about vanity,’ the weight bores bleat, ‘it’s about health.’ Hmm. I was the one person I know who didn’t have some sort of crippling cold this winter — not a sniffle, while my gym-bunny mates all claimed to be dying to some degree. On group holidays, I invariably perplex my companions by spending the evening drinking enough straight alcohol to stun a stevedore before sicking up into my hat, and then rocking up at the break of dawn at the swimming pool while they’re still at breakfast, and drinking shots between laps. As Douglas Murray once noted in this very magazine when we were in the same Ibizan wedding party:
At a late stage I have a well-oiled dance-off with Julie Burchill. The effort finishes me for the evening and I retire a sweaty mess. We reconvene the next morning by the pool. Hardier than me, Julie is having a two-martini breakfast and doing her Hebrew revision.
So imagine my lip-smacking delight at the news last week — according to the largest and most precise investigation into dementia to date — that the fatter one is in middle age, the brighter one is likely to be in old age. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. Sure, I can’t do that silly ‘Exercise That Predicts Your DEATH’, as the Daily Mail called it with typical joie de vivre a while back — standing up really quickly from a cross-legged position without any support. But I can have all the sex I want, swim myself stupid without fearing public ridicule and fasten my seat belt with ease on any number of trips chasing the five-star sunshine — unlike poor Dame Jenni Murray, who was so mortified at having to order a belt-extension that she’s now booked herself in for a gastric band. I certainly don’t want to walk for miles or — the Lord forfend — run or jog — when I was a teenage size eight, I saw a successful life as one in which I never had to exert myself physically in any way, except in water; to paraphrase Tarantino’s Melanie Ralston when told that smoking dope will kill her ambition, ‘Not if your ambition is to get high and watch TV.’ My ambition was to write, feel love and have fun, and I can’t see a time when my weight is going to interfere with any of those.
Besides, I don’t want to make very old bones; unlike most of the health bores, I’ve actually worked as a volunteer in care homes for very old people — good care homes, with great staff — and the sorrow of the residents made me so sad that I gave up volunteering for years. (I also worked with Down’s Syndrome adults, whose company I invariably left laughing, so not all volunteer work has this effect.) Dementia is now the top killer of women — 32,000 a year — and it’s not a fate I’m keen to save myself for. And even if you do live to be both a great age and compos mentis, chances are you’ll wish you weren’t when you realise clearly how, despite all your experience and toil and contribution to the NHS, you’re seen as a pesky old bed-blocker who is going to end up drinking water from vases. As Kingsley Amis put it, ‘No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home at Weston-super-Mare.’
Though if you do want to live to a ripe old age, there’s still no guarantee that your pleasantly padded person will kill you. Even before the report earlier this year that most cancers are the result of bad luck rather than bad lifestyle choices, the health bores got their Lycra in a right old twist last year with the publication of The Obesity Paradox: When Thinner Means Sicker and Heavier Means Healthier by the American cardiologist Dr Carl Lavie. There had already been a study some years before — published in the Journal of American Board of Family Medicine, based on nationwide data from 2000 to 2005 of nearly 51,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 90 years — in which, by using the National Death Index, researchers assessed the mortality risk of the people included in the study and found that those who were ‘severely obese’ were significantly less likely to die than underweight people. You would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh and pass the cream cakes.
Eat sensibly, exercise regularly — die anyway. I know of people who have died young after following all the boring rules for an allegedly healthy life, and also people who seem old before their time because they live in fear of death. I decided long ago, before I could vote or marry, that youth, beauty and health were fuel to be burned rather than fruit to be preserved. I have seen nothing during my long, wicked, wonderful life to make me change my ways — or my weight.
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Julie Burchill’s most recent book is Unchosen: Memoirs of a Philo-Semite.
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