Katie Hopkins’s #fatstory one year on

Katie Hopkins mocked up to look 20 stones. Source TLC.
Source TLC.

I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me “I love you.” … There is an African saying which is: “Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” – Maya Angelou

Last year I wrote a blog, Katie Hopkins’s #myfatstory is a story of vulnerability, about Katie Hopkins’s TV documentary on TLC.

I wanted to understand what makes Katie Hopkins tick, particularly when she is busy criticising people who are overweight. Satisfied with my pop psychology, I buried the blog post amongst the others on here, thinking that no one would ever read it. How wrong I was. That blog was number 5 in my top 10 most popular blogs of 2015.

TLC aired another Hopkins show Fat Story One Year On, early January 2016, which drove even more traffic here. Curious, I watched her new program with some dread, as spending time in her company, albeit virtually, is not an uplifting way to spend 45 minutes.

In this new documentary, Hopkins is back to her normal weight and out to investigate whether she has had any impact on Fat Britain as she calls it:  I put my body on the line and [we are] still piling more crap into our faces… are we happy just getting fatter together?

To do this she:

  • Invited a plus size model to a photo shoot and turned to the camera to say: It isn’t pretty. She then got her face photoshopped onto the model’s body to produce the above picture.
  • Chatted with Tam Fry, spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum, who said that half the country will be obese by 2050, even though he has admitted elsewhere that there is no proof for those statistics.
  • Asked the parents of Samantha Packer, who tragically died last year at 20 years old, and who was known to the public as an obese teenager, why they didn’t stop her overeating, all the while expressing her righteous indignation.
  • Interviewed an anorexic woman, supposedly to get an idea of life at the other end of the spectrum, whilst saying that going to the North of England was, for her, like going to Mars.
  • Interviewed an obese pregnant woman and said that it wasn’t ok to be a fat mum but that the woman Angela, herself was fine because Angela chastised herself a lot and felt bad about herself.
  • Lay in a coffin designed for an overweight person and made sneery comments.

At each moment in the program, it felt that – like last year’s documentary – there was another story going on and that this program was very much about Katie Hopkins.

Hopkins began by saying:  There’s merit in saying things a little kindly but had to add … as it’s hard to be fat. And then included flashbacks to the previous documentary with Hopkins slagging herself off: Oh God I look awful…That arse is going to eat that bike…that woman became someone completely foreign… I am so fat I can’t go out.

When did Hopkins decide that being overweight was such a bad thing? And when did she begin talking to herself like that?

The vicious tone she used to speak about herself was frightening. If she thinks it’s ok to say that to herself, no wonder she is more than capable of the trolling she does on Twitter and elsewhere in the media. She has barely warmed up! And, then that comment as she travelled to Durham: I don’t come this far North ever. It’s like going to Mars, was very telling. First of all it was not true as she had gone to Newcastle the year before. Secondly, it was an unsuccessful attempt at humour, and a truth: She sees the North as somewhere alien to her. She has difficulty understanding places and people seemingly different to herself. And the reason for this, in Sociologist Brene Brown’s words is, she armours up and goes out to defend herself, instead of viewing others as just like her. But to do so would make her feel vulnerable.

This was demonstrated perfectly when Hopkins went to see the same psychologist she had seen the year before. Before going in, she said:  The weight I put on was dreadful. But, with the weight gone, she was no longer vulnerable: I feel tough, nothing or no one can touch me. Last year, she had cried in the psychologist’s office. This year: I am determined it won’t be the case today. I am not crying!

Hopkins prefers her righteous indignation – anger is easier than fear – and stated being fat is weak, and said that she doesn’t sympathise with overweight people but she empathises with them. The Oxford Dictionary says:

People often confuse the words empathy and sympathy. Empathy means ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’ (as in both authors have the skill to make you feel empathy with their heroines), whereas sympathy means ‘feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune’ (as in they had great sympathy for the flood victims).

You can’t judge someone as weak and feel empathy at the same time. You can’t look at someone, saying things like: It’s not pretty, whilst seeing them as whole with feelings and recognise that they are human just like you.

Hopkins put on three stones and then lost it again very rapidly. In no way does this give her any insight into people who are overweight and struggling. She has a purely functional relationship with food, which is really rare. Who has that? No one I know. In no way does this give her any insight into people who are very successful in other areas of life but feel completely out of control near food. Just because she knows how she felt to be overweight, to assume everyone feels the same way as her is naive, at best.

Hopkins wants to help people who are overweight. Come with me. She knows what to do: Eat less, move more. Really? The dieting industry would not exist if it was that simple. Nowhere in this program was the issue of compulsive eating addressed, for that would mean being recognising people as complex human beings who are vulnerable – something Hopkins hates and refuses to feel. You cannot give someone something you do not have. And you cannot put conditions on empathy.

Hopkins did a fitness challenge with Charlotte, an overweight fitness instructor. When the results came in and Charlotte was deemed to be just as healthy. Hopkins criticised herself at length: I have teeny tiny legs, in comparison to Charlotte…Charlotte looks younger and healthier… Hopkins stood very closely to Charlotte whilst gurning away in her new empathetic manner, as they discussed the results. Afterwards when talking to the camera, Hopkins comments were childish: If one person is strong, the other person is weak, Charlotte looks younger and healthier, I am haggard. It was a zero sum approach – a child’s attitude, demonstrating again that this program was all about needy Hopkins and not about overweight people at all. Her conclusions was that Charlotte was fine:  It’s fat lazy people who get on my tits. Is this an improvement on her fat people are lazy mantra? No, just lazy.

During filming, Hopkins blacked out during an epilepsy episode and a group of people came to her aid. She said that people were being super kind, and she felt super safe which was sweet but strange. This is telling. Why is it strange that people are kind and look after others?

Counsellor and teacher Byron Katie says that whatever goes on in the world is 100% a reflection of how we feel inside ourselves. She has four questions called The work which asks us to question our story and ask who would we be without it. Never have I seen a more powerful demonstration than in Katie Hopkins’s #fatstory of how fat people will drain the NHS. If you do the work on #fatstory, you end up with a second story: Katie Hopkins feels that she is a drain on the NHS. She doesn’t feel worthy of its care and attention. Who would Katie Hopkins be without that story? And would we all benefit?

Katie Hopkins’s #myfatstory is a story of vulnerability

Katie Hopkins pic courtesy of TLC
Image copyright of TLC

Last weekend, Katie Hopkins starred a in two-part documentary called My Fat Story on TLC.

In three months, she gained 42lbs to take her from a BMI of 15 (a BMI healthy minimum is 18) to a BMI of 26 (lower end of the overweight category). Then, she lost weight by eating normally – i.e., whatever she wanted, and exercising for two (TWO) hours a day.

The documentary was formulaic but Hopkins was game, shovelling down 6,000 calories a day and sleeping with a sick bucket by her bed. She did the obligatory US trip to do an all-you-can-eat-burger challenge and visited a 57-stones lady, of whom she said: ‘I would rather be put down…’ Both in the UK and US she repeatedly said: ‘I hate fat people.’ Until she gained weight and then she repeatedly said: ‘I hate fat people for doing this to me.’

Her goal was to show everyone that if we eat less and move more, we lose weight.

Eat less, move more is a fundamental truth known to every dieter the world over. And, really if it was that easy, then the dieting industry, which in the UK alone, is worth £2 billion would not exist.

Life coach Martha Beck, in her book 4-Day Win, says that the problem with most overweight people is not that we lack willpower or are ignorant of the basic principles. It is because of the way we think about food: Eating is deliberate behaviour which is compelling and addictive, and leaves people feeling completely out of control where food and eating is concerned.

Hopkins did not understand this and admitted that she has a purely functional relationship with food. It was only when she gained 20lbs and felt a bit weepy did she realise that people do not overeat on purpose.

And, this was where a whole other story was going on.

At the beginning of the program, Hopkins’s metabolism was so fast, she was able to consume 4,000 calories daily without any weight gain. She ran marathons, took 20,000 steps daily (double the recommended daily target) and exercised for two (TWO) hours a day. She also, had no compassion for anybody, not even herself.

In the middle of the program, Hopkins was at her fattest. She HATED herself and was ashamed of her body, which led her to state that she had always been proud of her previously skinny strong, body. ‘It is my armour,’ she said. And without it, she was vulnerable.

Professor of Sociology, Brene Brown has studied vulnerability for many years. In her book Daring Greatly, she echoes Hopkins’s comments about armour.

Brown says that people armour up to prevent feeling vulnerable, afraid and, ashamed, and warns against doing this, because whilst these feelings are hard to bare, if you hang on in there, vulnerability really is a gift. For, it is the birthplace of creativity and love and all the good things that give our lives meaning. During her research, Brown has collected many stories of vulnerability and how being able to express and manage vulnerability is the best way of connecting with others. For, we all have a story, we all want to be heard and understood. We all want to feel loved.

And in the documentary, once Hopkins felt vulnerable, she went around connecting with people and collecting their stories too. She seemed genuinely amazed at how easily people trusted her with their stories and was empathetic towards them.

And, this would be where the turning point would/does occur in all good stories. For the antidote to shame is empathy. Empathy for oneself and for others.

Alas, this wasn’t one of those stories.

Once the weight came off, Hopkins’s empathy disappeared, back on went the armour, her vulnerability disappeared, and her attacks on overweight people became more and more vicious. She obviously felt more comfortable that way.

My theory is that having been discharged from the army for being ‘medically unfit’, Hopkins never got over it. Feeling vulnerable and ashamed, she turned her anger and disappointment firstly on herself, and then, on the people who are unfit in her eyes. There was never any empathy, no antidote to ensure a turning point. And, therein lies the real shame and real story of Katie Hopkins #myfatstory.

With that amount of energy, and access to a national platform, had Hopkins been able, she could have used her time and energy to understand, to inspire and uplift us all into a more creative, empathetic space of shared connectivity and meaning. Instead, she never learnt anything and began once more to attack and belittle a whole section of society, and most likely herself.