Shocked headline as fat disabled woman has fun

by Philippa Willitts // 17 February 2012, 16:13

Tags: disability, fat, media, prejudice

A photograph of a warning sign reading Obese woman demanding 50 hours care a week 'went to pop concert', screams the Telegraph. Obese? Disabled? Had a night out? This is surely an outrage to all common decency! Nobody who is fat should have fun, especially not if they are mentally ill and fat. Never mind that a good night out could have made this woman feel a bit better. Never mind that it might have been her first night out in years. Her weight and her mental illness make it an indisputably horrifying thing to have done, according to the paper.

When the paper reports that she is 'demanding 50 hours a week care', what it means is that she previously received care through Direct Payments, which has now been withdrawn and she is appealing for it to be reinstated.

Reading the article, despite the numerous mentions of her 'morbid obesity', none of her reported care needs relate to her weight at all. All of these references serve simply to stir up prejudiced feelings about this woman, to build up the readers' outrage.

The paper reports that she has been diagnosed with a personality disorder, following traumas and bereavements, and her psychiatrist has decided that she should 'break her reliance on the support of others'. This happens to a lot of people with personality disorders, in particular female survivors diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Mental health services commonly do not like treating people diagnosed with BPD, or services diagnose people with BPD when they do not like them - either or both are commonly true. It is not known as the 'wastebucket diagnosis' for nothing.

This does not mean that people with personality disorders do not require support. The council, in court, argued that because she can play computer games, buy cigarettes and go to a pop concert, she should have all her care withdrawn, despite evidence that in the past she went for months on end without washing, due to a massive fear about bathing without somebody there.

The Telegraph then offers a poll. A poll! So that readers can vote on whether they think this woman's care needs should be provided for.

A screenshot of the Daily Telegraph poll

As if constant, irrelevant references to this woman's weight, and scare quotes when describing things like her "extreme paranoia" and "lack of motivation", mocking her all the way through - a woman who already has mental health problems - as if all of that was not enough, let's allow the public to vote on what they think her future should be.

The Daily Telegraph have humiliated a vulnerable woman for committing the sins of being fat (many people on certain psychiatric drugs are, it's a significant side-effect), for having suffered trauma in her past, and for going to see The Wanted in concert, whoever they are. Their ridiculous poll adds insult to injury, and I just hope the woman in question never reads it.

[The image is a photograph of a warning sign reading "Caution Do not play on, in, or around this container". It was taken by Brittney Bush Bollay and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

Angeline // Posted 17 February 2012 at 17:27

Gosh, it's hard to speak civilly when you read things like that, but I'll have a pop at it:

This kind of thing is what makes me scared, on the days when I need to use my wheelchair, to be seen doing normal things. And indeed on days when I *don't* need to use my wheelchair: because people assume SO much about us all being fakers, thanks to so much hateful government propaganda.

But people's needs are complex. People's conditions are complex. It is possible to be an ordinary person with ordinary needs and desires (company; getting out of the house for a trip to the park or a concert or a shopping trip; a smoke; a drink; a sexual relationship) AND be disabled. It is possible to need help for some things but not others, or at some times and not others.

I find it horrifying that there is such a willful lack of imagination in government, the media and the general public: in the court of public opinion, a disabled person seen contravening any of society's contradictory rules for us (if we don't behave independently enough, or get jobs, that's wrong; yet if we DO have a stab at normal life, it's assumed we're faking our disabilities) is guilty - and in that court there is no presumption of innocence; no assumption that we are basically well-meaning or decent; that things people don't understand about us probably have reasonable explanations that they could find out by asking or thinking a bit harder.

I like to assume that most people are basically well-meaning and decent - but that assumption is sorely tested when I see so much vitriol directed at disabled people. Because many people: in government, in the media and among the public, are not behaving decently.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 17 February 2012 at 17:31

Angeline - exactly. Exactly! People are complex, conditions are complex, and needs are complex. And all frequently unpredictable, variable, and perhaps apparently paradoxical. Whereas in fact it's just real life.

Troika21 // Posted 17 February 2012 at 18:37

You seem to be ignoring that the woman in question is being taken to court by the council, presumably for benefit fraud, though the article makes no mention of it.

Anyone who recieves government money should expect government scrutiny.

She isn't being dragged through the muck of the press because she is fat, but because it seems that she is gaming the system, and the articles gives plenty of examples.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 17 February 2012 at 18:41

No, she is not being taken to court by the council. She is taking the council to court to get her care reinstated.

There is no mention of benefits, or whether she is on them or not.

There is also no evidence of her 'gaming the system', unless you agree that disabled people should only have fun if they also have no care needs.

Rose // Posted 17 February 2012 at 18:42

As somebody diagnosed with BPD, people don't seem to understand one of the fundamental symptoms of mood instability. Borderline personality disorder includes periods of hypomania, and while it isn't a full-blown mania like a bipolar sufferer, it is an abnormality. A person with BPD can be prescribed mood stabilisers. The whole point is, you are never in a certain state of mind for very long, moods are so easily changable. It only takes one small thing, one bit of criticism or shaming, for someone with BPD to loose all confidence and go as far as want to hurt themselves. I think it's absolutely ridiculous.
It reminds me of a case a few years ago of a woman who was reported for fraud as she was claiming benefits for depression, as there were photos of her on her facebook on a night out. Who in their right mind is going to post a photo... "and here's one of me, looking out of the window contemplating suicide.. lols!".
The fact of the matter is, most people would not choose a mental illness. Most people would not choose to live on benefits. Most people would not choose such dependency.
It's a long road to recover/learn to live with mental health issues. One trip to one concert does not equal cured.
Am really disappointed at the lack of understanding of mental illness.

Troika21 // Posted 17 February 2012 at 22:42

Forgive me for getting the wrong end of the stick, I appear to have missed the two paragraphs under the poll, which I agree adds a level of insult that is unwarranted.

But I still believe that my point still stands. The article, admittedly far from an unbiased source, insinuates that the woman in question is claiming for treatment/assistance that she does not require, or at least she is inflating her needs.

Taxpayers money is not there to have 'fun' with, how much of your Council Tax should be allocated to someone else's entertainment?

Philippa Willitts // Posted 17 February 2012 at 22:49

This is about a disabled woman having access to a social life! All my social care support works on various criteria, a very important one of which is access to community and social life. If she needs support to access social events, then she should receive it.

The article might insinuate that she is claiming for assistance that she does not need, but it also insinuates that it's all because she's fat, which isn't backed up by any evidence at all.

When disabled people need support to access the things that non-disabled people can do normaly, then they deserve that support. Full stop. It's the only way that we can be properly integrated into society.

Leslie O'Neil // Posted 18 February 2012 at 00:59

My husband is a care support worker and his clients have mental and learning difficulties. A lot of what he does is take them out because it is crucial to their well being. I don't begrudge this woman a night out. There are worse things that councils spend money on.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 18 February 2012 at 01:18

Am I the only one who thinks the next logical step to what seems to be putting every person with a disability on trial in the press is to have a reality TV show, instead of a health assessment service, where we can all vote on whether we think the someone is entitled to their benefits. Because it feels like we're almost there as it is.

Shadow // Posted 18 February 2012 at 10:39

Tory government propaganda is working - because how dare this disabled woman be accorded a little 'pleasure.' After all mythical male taxpayer is paying for this woman's enjoyment and the Social Care System was not created to provide practical support to 'non-deserving women' was it? No it was only created to provide support to mythical hardworking families (meaning units comprising mandatory male head of household who owns female and her children).

Daily Telegraph is another tool of rightwing male-centric propaganda so I am not surprised they trivialised this issue. So what next? Shall we have a vote on whether or not male footballers are entitled to engage in 'male on male banter' even when said male footballers are allegedly engaging in racist insults against other males? After all male footballers are adults are they not and should not be 'molly coddled' by the state. Racism is an individual issue not the province of sport or even the state - but wait this affects men so it is important and furthermore these male footballers have power and prestige - unlike the disabled woman.

Women who have mental health problems cannot be dismissed as 'all having identical problems' but this issue hides the real issue and that is how swiftly wealthy ignorant Cameron and his cronies are scapegoating disadvantaged women and men by claiming they are not entitled to any state assistance because only mythical hardworking families are entitled to assistance. Social Care was created to provide practical support to all women and men without these individuals firstly having to prove they are 'hard-working taxpayers who did their utmost to overcome their difficulties without any assistance from the state.'

But now once again Josephine and Joe Public are believing the lies Cameron, Clegg, Boy George et al are claiming wherein UK is supposedly awash with non-deserving female and male 'scroungers!' This is the reality of a fascist state not a state which cares about its female and male citizens.

ephemeradical // Posted 19 February 2012 at 17:30

No wonder hate crime against people with disabilities is on the rise: http://www.disabilityalliance.org/badnewsfordisabled.htm

JessicaFMB // Posted 20 February 2012 at 12:29

This really makes me depressed... How have we reached the point as a society where our compassion and empathy for our fellow human is so low that this kind of article is acceptable?

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