Just as I finish reading Wells’ short story The Truth About Pyecraft, Zoe Williams draws the attention of this persona non intervidentis to Kirstie Alley’s Fat Actress, the latest in a long line of shows about fat people. A long and slow-moving line, perhaps towards a set of golden arches, with a little too much transverse motion to be aesthetically pleasing.
Zoe considers it a blow against fatness as immorality. If that’s the case, then it’s likely to be as effective (or otherwise) as all the blows that have rained down on this attitude since Wells’ time and beyond. Fat in itself has never been the problem: Pyecraft’s tale, like the stories of those charged excess baggage on planes, is scathing towards fatness allied with the assumption that someone else will come to your adipose aid (mind you, the narrator of the story isn’t particularly likeable either: Wells seems to imply that we should suspend judgment, lest we be judged).
The moral ambiguity of being fat and potentially complacent has been discussed and expressed for centuries in Western society. Henry VIII’s solidity quickly turned into liability as his grossness caused him to require round-the-clock care. Even in myth and legend: Friar Tuck’s weight was the counterbalance to his moralising; the implicit hypocrisy is exchanged for its explicit equivalent. You can bet that a heavy-drinking, skinny monk would be harder to bear, and so his fatness redeems him, but only by being an imperfection, by humanizing the man.
So maybe you’ve always been able to be fat, and it’s always been possible to rely on others to support you in your fatness, but only if you’re also very penitent indeed. And Kirstie hopes to change this how?