The unbearable weight
“The diet food market is big. And there’s a reason. Start on one diet and there will always be another one to try. Diets, it turns out, promote chaotic eating. Diets can cause people to gain weight. They are not a wise response to ‘overweight’ but are part of the destabilising of the ordinary processes of eating. So emphatically is this the case that there are girls growing up today who think that constant dieting and being frightened of food are natural states” (Susie Orbach, 2009, p.96).
There has been so much written about weight recently, about obesity levels and celebrity pregnancies, and such a shaming of bodies that don’t meet the media standard we have come to accept as ‘normal’ and the accepted body.
Frankie Sandford of girl band The Saturdays has been attacked repeatedly in the press for being “massive” in and after pregnancy, i.e. this size 6-8 petite woman had actually put weight on and didn’t spring back to a 6-8 afterwards.
The way the press particularly female magazines treated Kim Kardashian during her pregnancy in one of the most disgusting spectacles I have ever seen. It most mostly women calling her fat, disgusting, out-of-control. Because we have come to see low body fat as synonymous with fit, good, self-respecting. Pregnancy should be one of the joyous times in a woman’s life, but it seems even here she could be monitoring herself. Afterwards her body should erase any sign of bearing a child.
Even the extremely willowy Kate Middleton didn’t escape criticism for her uterus not retracting immediately upon birth. I genuinely think many people are unaware of how a body looks after birth, regardless of clothes size.
Then this story, of Norwegian ‘Wag’ Caroline Berg Eriksen posing in underwear 4 days after birth caught my eye.
Responses were she should be proud. That intrigued me and worried me in equal measure. Why should you be proud of having a ‘perfect’ body? I like my long hair for example, but I not proud of it, it’s just hair. I am proud of being a good friend, or proud when I achieve something such as passing my driving test, or getting my PhD studentship, but I am never been proud of how I look, even when I was young and looked ‘good’ according to the beauty standards we accept. Be happy with yourself, perhaps pleased, but proud seems odd. Proud seems that the female body is indeed a battleground and you’ve won.
As someone who used to think going above 8 stones meant you were “huge” (and sadly no I am not joking) I thought now was the time to write this. On the day of this photo below I threw a strop and wasn’t going to be photographed because I thought I was enormous. Why as females do we live our lives by numbers?
I remember the terror of my body being ‘out of control’ and the disgust of ‘letting myself go’.
I was a really skinny child, other kids called me ‘boney’. At 17 I was a size 8, (back then, size 8 was small, many shops didn’t have size 6. Unlike now, where they have size 4 too). I decided I wanted to be a 6, no idea why. A friend and I would openly boast in the common room that we weren’t going to eat anything all day, instead we just just drink water. And this was the start of messing my metabolism up. not to mention I suffer with digestive problems and adhesions anyway. I did the laxative thing, the diet pill thing amongst other stupid things, and though I am very lucky in that I did not develop an eating disorder, I had extremely disordered eating that is all too common. It wasn’t natural for me to get to 7 stones, and I didn’t look good. Looking back at photos, I looked complete sh*t and haunted The photos here are of when I started putting weight back on, this one below was taken in Vegas in 2008, and I thought I was massive (God knows what me-then would think of me-now!).
At several conferences recently, I have noticed how women talk obsessively about food and their bodies. Yes I am much more aware of it than some and find it triggering at times, but it shocks me how no social occasion seems to exist where people can just eat and not feel guilty about it. I also find it inappropriate, triggering and sad. One woman commented on the calories of everything on my plate, and at a later event, did the same again. This monitoring of others as well as selves is what I wrote about here.
‘Fitspiration’ has come to take the place for many of ‘thinspiration’, the Reem Body post here went viral talking about the irresponsible nature of these dangerous images and slogans. You only have to look at the comments underneath to see what we are dealing with is akin to a cult, people saying ‘you don’t understand, you’re just lazy’. No one is saying you can’t choose to diet, or look a certain sculpted way, but be honest about what it is you are doing. Stop correlating low body fat or eating ‘clean’ and monitoring oneself with ‘health’.
One of the best blog out there is Katie Lowe, with Fat Girl PhD blog. Katie lost a lot of weight, the slow and sensible way, and practices body positivism and a genuine self-acceptance and bid to be healthy. It’s not about a number on the scales, or a measurement on the tape measure, or a dress size, for Katie it’s about health and nurturing. I particularly liked this recent post: A Beautiful Alternative to Shame Culture (In Which I Vandalise Magazines). Katie also has a fabulous twitter account where you can hear some of her positive mantras.
It was actually only in 2009 after I started at uni that I finally thought f*ck this, I am just going to accept and embrace my body. I read Susie Orbach’s Fat is Feminist Issue. I truly believe it IS a feminist issue. The regulation of womens’ bodies daily via the media keeps women in our place, it shames us and keeps us too occupied with worry. I thought how can I love women when I am constantly messing about with my body trying to constrain it and being unkind to myself? To accept your body and genuinely love it is empowering. I have never had negative comments from men about my body, it’s been other women, how utterly sad is that?
We all have a natural size, I have a dainty size 6 friend who is just naturally petite for example, and I have found my ‘happy size’ at an 8-10. No it’s not ‘massive’, but the amount of people who ask me if I want to start a juice diet, or drop a dress size, you would think it is. It’s funny that when you get into a different mindset, you look back at previous photographs, inspirations and idols and think “what was I thinking!”. The only people who benefit from trying to force your body to be a size unnatural to it is magazines, celebrity fat loss dvds, media in general, diet companies, boot camps, and anyone else raking it in from a billion pound industry. By all means get fit, go to the gym, do a sport, but when food and size is constantly on your mind, when you believe your worth depends on it, when you enjoy looking at celebrity weight gain in pregnancy, then there is something seriously wrong.
I am incredibly lucky in that I have extremely body confident regardless of weight or size, although bizarrely, much more so now. I am not battling to maintain an impossible size, so the anxiety has gone. I have also grown up. I am the kind of person who wanders around the house naked, and I am lucky enough to have people in my life who make me value my body. My mum always tells me how nice I look for example and she didn’t diet or obsess over food when I was growing up. That really helps. (Although at 73, and after 6 kids, my mum does have a body worry… that her legs are too skinny!). We all have lumps and bumps or niggles and that is ok. But looking at your body and not hating it or wanting to obsessively and unkindly control it is the first step. We live in a society where it is considered arrogant to not be in a state of body flux.
How can you help? The next time your friend goes on about dieting, tell her she is beautiful. If she really does want to get healthier, then listen to her talk about health and positive feelings, but not about lines on the scale or celebrity dvds. When someone starts an inappropriate dialogue about food, don’t respond or walk away. Break the cycle. Look at your own body in the mirror naked without gasping, it’s ok, it’s your body. Just be kind to yourself and others. And whatever you do don’t be at war with your own body, because ultimately it just isn’t worth it.