Weighty issues

29 Jan

A fat lot of good for women

When I was at school Heat didn’t exist. Neither did Closer, Look or Grazia, or the Daily Mail online gossip crackbar. People didn’t know what female celebrities’ arses looked like in a swimsuit, and they certainly had no idea who had cellulite and who didn’t. If you wanted to see what famous people looked like poolside, you had to holiday in the same place.

(Luckily, I did have a great friend who went on vacation with the rich and famous. At school after the holidays we’d sit at the back of geography class together and he’d sketch, with great precision, pictures of Jerry Hall semi-clad. He’d point at the beautifully shaded saddle bags and authoritatively say “She had a bit of a saggy bottom” and I looked at him incredulously and said “Really? I don’t believe you. She’s married to a rock star and she used to be a supermodel.” I couldn’t comprehend how anyone even remotely famous would be anything other than flawless.)

At 15, I felt fat and frumpy. I looked at most of the other girls in my year with blurred vision, not imagining that they might have body hang-ups, because in my eyes they were pictures of perfection. I didn’t actually look like a monster and I wasn’t even that big, but going from a lanky 13-year-old with straight hair, to a curvaceous size-14 with a fuzzy mane  in less than two years was a speedily cruel transition.

Jeans didn’t fit; bodysuits, which were briefly ‘de rigeur’ in the 1990s (and to my horror had a recent revival) were too short for my long body and sliced me up the fanny; I couldn’t squeeze into a Medium in some shops, so felt large before I’d even asked for the size up. I remember a man (my father’s friend) saying that I was a big girl, which at the time felt like a hearty slap in the kidneys. (He’s since had an aneuyrism because he was a big man, so we’ll count that as a score draw.)

Now I have a daughter approaching adolescence. Like most women I know, I feel the world is a more judgmental, harsher place than when I was growing up, and despite this I had some big body issues. It’s impossible to do the dodging for one’s children, but I am trying everything in my power to make sure that she feels nothing but proud about her body. I don’t diet, don’t talk about calories or fat content, and I make sure that she eats relatively healthily.

Perhaps it was naive of me to feel shocked when last month, on two different occasions, two different women (both friends, both intelligent) remarked upon her appearance. The comments were delivered with well-meaning, in a “My goodness, you look great. You’ve grown upwards, and you’ve lost weight” kind of way. The growing bit was fine, but I found it hard to stomach somebody telling my 11-year-old that she looked so good because she’d lost weight.

At the time all I thought was “What must be going on in my daughter’s mind?” She probably thought she had been too large when they had last seen her. For the record, I don’t think she had lost weight. Like most children in between the ages of 0-18 she has grown upwards.

My daughter has always been of a healthy weight and is neither skinny nor overweight. However, that is immaterial because essentially I think talking directly to a child about weight (unprompted) is almost as strange as telling them that most PE teachers are sexually repressed sociopaths. There are some things that children just shouldn’t be told.

I am used to people commenting about my weight. I have been curvy, skinny and slim in adulthood, and I perhaps unwisely have involved myself in professions that care more about the size of my waist than my brain (which is probably the reason why I’ve been a pretty lousy model who prefers head shots for hair dye boxes more than anything else.) I can deal with most of it, because in all my growing up years I’ve learnt to form a thick skin and stop caring. But it took me a long time, and I constantly tried to avoid remarks from all sorts of people regarding my physical appearance.

Despite Heat and its newsstand buddies, I refuse to blame the media for society’s issues about weight. Obesity is on the rise, but that is a totally different issue to the one that I am talking about. When it comes to compliments, I never do the predictable and centre them on weight now. I’d much rather somebody remarked upon my bag or blow-dry or heels – all predictable and suitably inane – than say something empty-headed like “Wow, you look great. Have you lost weight?” And, if you have to pass judgment on my arse (which at times can look quite untidy) then please, leave my daughter out of it.


4 Responses to “Weighty issues”

  1. laurawardphotography January 30, 2012 at 12:10 am #

    I could talk at length about this. It makes my blood boil. I grew up being told I was a big girl (looking back, I was just tall) though I don’t know if that contributed to my mid-teen self loathing. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder by the time I was 13, though suffered a few years of not being treated properly (including a brief visit to hospital where they drew diagrams to show me I was not going to get any thinner by doing what I did – but I didn’t care about being thin and they didn’t believe me). By the time I was 19 I was lucky enough to make peace with my motivations and am happily very free of any kind of disorder. It’s a life time ago.
    I’ve spent years with young (and older) girls, most of whom haven’t been quite so lucky as me. They live and breathe this peer pressure, those dreadful magazines, every calorie with their teeth rotting and hair thinning (I’m thinking of 3 I know who are more than 10 years ill). I accompanied a girl to a group therapy session in Chelsea once (to support her) and all the women were 15+ years consumed by disorders and mental illnesses. I cried. My mum and I can’t talk about the old me, but she felt terribly guilty about not knowing what to do. But now she helps to support other mums and I suppose I help other girls because mum and I know we were both lucky.
    If I hear anyone describing a friend as ‘fat’, I turn into a dragon, making noises and sounds I can’t replicate. I’ve even dumped guys (one after a few years, and another after two dates) who have either commented on my weight, or other women’s. I met a girl a few years ago, the same age as your daughter, who already was showing tell tale signs.. it’s such a heart sinking feeling. I suppose I wonder about my future daughters, if I have any, and what I’d do.
    I didn’t mean to use your blog as a mini therapy session. It just really struck a cord, especially as the only magazines I ever read were Bunty and Just 17.

    • mothersruined January 30, 2012 at 11:54 am #

      Hi there,

      Really interesting points you’ve made. Thanks for sharing… Like you, I was lucky enough to have help with me body ‘issues’ but it took ages to feel comfortable in my own skin. I love talking to others who’ve had issues too, it’s such a comfort and will hopefully shed some light on why girls and women often have such destructive problems that stem from bad body image.

      I still can’t put my finger on exactly why I hated my body so much…. I think I wanted to feel neat and safe. I felt like an obstacle around other people, a nuisance. Like you and your ma, my mum and I don’t talk about my teens too much. Some things are just too uncomfortable to revisit – and it was never my mother’s fault. She was always very lovely about my body.

      It’s great that you’re mum supports other mums now, and that you were able to help others. I feel we can all making small changes in the way we behave towards women (and girls) when we discuss our bodies.

  2. Leanne White January 30, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    As usual i have made the mistake of reading your blog whilst trying to organise the children for school…….huge distraction and given me something more important to ponder than why my children insist on bickering all bloody morning!
    x, keep it up

  3. mothersruined January 30, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Thank you my darling. You managed to get the kids to school on time. Clever you! x

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