Teresa Mary O’Shea, our very own “Two Ton Tessie from Tennessee”, was born in Cardiff to the son of Irish emigrants, a gasworks labourer, and his Lancastrian wife, Nellie.
In 1919, at the age of six, she appeared on stage as “The Wonder of Wales”, and, at the age of eight, won a talent competition, tying for first place with an entire Welsh choir.
She never looked back, fast becoming hugely popular on the music hall stage, singing risqué songs (“I’m Ready, I’m Willing”, “Nobody Loves a Fairy When She’s Forty”), dancing, joking, playing her blinkin’ banjolele. Very loud. Very stout.
Having travelled the world on stage, Tessie embraced radio, film and eventually television, earning enormous acclaim. In 1964, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, she shared the billing with The Beatles. Together, they drew the then largest ever audience on American TV.
Tessie O’Shea retired to Florida, and died in a nursing home at the age of 82 of congestive cardiac failure – a long life for the time.
I have always associated her, and the equally irritating George Formby, and the racket they both made, with the bang of bombs and the wail of sirens. The sound of any of them can still make me feel ever so slightly anxious. The Royal family thought they were great.
As Tessie O’Shea once told a reporter, “I’ve always been fat, but I’m limber”. My granny was also stout and embonpoint – she was broad in the beam, of an ample bosom. She carried herself with stately grace and great aplomb. She showed no evidence of being limber, but sailed in serene good health well into her nineties, long outliving her lively and spindly sisters.
Evidently, there is a remarkable, and probably rare, phenotype of a woman who, throughout countless ages, has remained sturdily resistant to the deadly disorders of obesity – diabetes, cancer, early cardiovascular disease. If you have happened to have noted the 25,000-year-old Venus von Willendorf, and the few other tiny figurines of the same era, you would recognise my granny (without her elaborate corsetry). These faceless, and what we now call obese, miniature models of ancient womanhood were highly reverenced. Being small enough to travel in the palm of a man’s hand, they are found buried in far-flung places.
Four generations ago, being rotund was recognised as a marker of wealth in men, and curvaceousness as a signal of fecundity in women. But, as of 2019 in England, 27% of men and 29% of women were obese, not just fat (BMI 30 or more). Two thirds of UK adults were overweight (BMI between 25 and 30).
Cancer Research UK project an overall adult obesity rate of 36% by 2040 (21 million people) – 46% in deprived areas.
In America, 40% of the adult population is already classified as obese – 73.6% overweight and obese.
The determining factor in the danger of being overweight is the distribution of the fat. The dangerous fat is in the abdominal cavity. The pinchable fat under the skin, which creates curves in more or less the right places, is not an urgent problem. The intra-abdominal fat, the fat that creates the protuberant pot belly, is a very real threat.
This superfluity of fat will inevitably do significant damage to the vestiges of capability in our understaffed health services. Within a short number of years, our hospitals and care homes will be overwhelmed by the resultant diseases and disorders. I think that we all must understand that. This is an epidemic which is not about to abate.
Government initiatives concerning food and drinks that are high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS, otherwise known as “less healthy”) have been so diluted as to be ineffectual.
In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted approval to semaglutide injection 1mg (Ozempic) for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Following the significant weight loss experienced by people in clinical trials, the FDA licensed semaglutide injection 2.4mg (Wegovy) “for chronic weight management in adults with obesity or overweight with at least one weight-related condition (such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol), for use in addition to a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity. This under-the-skin (self-) injection is the first approved drug for chronic weight management in adults with general obesity or overweight since 2014. The drug is indicated for chronic weight management in patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 27kg/m2 or greater who have at least one weight related ailment, or in patients with a BMI of 30kg/m2 or greater” U.S. Food and Drug Administration News Release, 4 June 2021.
The WellMan Clinic started to use semaglutide, Ozempic and Rybelsus, in May 2021 in overweight and obese patients. We now have, or have had, more than 100 patients seeking to lose weight. Around 7% have stopped using Ozempic because of the occasional troublesome side effects of gastrointestinal upset. All other patients, who have been consistent with their treatment, have succeeded in losing significant amounts of weight – up to 4kg a month.
Despite its efficacy and tolerability, a small proportion of patients have dropped out of treatment before achieving their target weight. There could be a number of reasons for this. One, I suspect, is that some are happier fat, after all many of their contemporaries are fat; they really cannot imagine what it is like to have a heart attack, a stroke, diabetes, cancer…
But – those who do manage to “slim” are very pleased.
. . . .
The “Monstrous Regiment”
What hosts of women everywhere I see!
I’m sick to death of them – and they of me.
(The few remaining men are small and pale-
War lends a spurious value to the male.)
Mechanics are supplanted by their mothers;
Aunts take the place of artisans and others;
Wives sell the sago, daughters drive the van,
Even the mansion is without a man!
Females are farming who were frail before,
Matrons attending meetings by the score,
Maidens are minding multiple machines,
And virgins vending station-magazines.
Dames, hoydens, wenches, harridans and hussies
Cram to congestion all the trams and buses;
Misses and grandmas, mistresses and nieces,
Infest bombed buildings, picking up the pieces.
Girls from the South and lassies from the North,
Sisters and sweethearts, bustle back and forth.
The newsboy and the boy who drives the plough:
Postman and milkman – all are ladies now.
Doctors and engineers – yes, even these-
Poets and politicians, all are shes.
(The very beasts that in the meadows browse
Are ewes and mares, heifers and hens and cows…)
All, doubtless, worthy to a high degree;
But oh, how boring! Yes, including me.
Alice Coats, 1940
Alice Margaret Coats (1905-1978) was a member of the Women’s Land Army from 1940 to 1945. Originally an artist, she became severely affected by arthritis, as a result of which Miss Coats concentrated on the study of horticultural history. Her books are archetypal. I just wish she had written more dotty poetry.
The “Monstrous Regiment” is an allusion to the polemic by the Scottish protestant reformer John Knox published in 1558 entitled “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women” attacking the gynarchies of Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I of England.