This obsession with being slim and ‘fit’ at all costs speaks, to me, of a worryingly dangerous malaise in society and is, I feel, a symptom of deep dissatisfaction with the bodies we have been given!
But, this may just be a symptom of my own defensiveness, denial and determination to keep eating chocolate!!!
I thoroughly enjoyed writing my ‘FAT’ post yesterday – and it has certainly inspired a great deal of attention, and some most interesting comments. It has also, as I knew it would, thrown up some of the more questionable (in my view: don’t forget, this blog is full of my opinion; I am not trying to claim infallible knowledge or intrinsic rightness!) assumptions made about those people who carry extra flesh on their bodies.
The first links to an area of weight which I deliberately did not go into yesterday, considering it, I think rightly, a minefield best avoided, and that is the whole Weight: Health conundrum. There is, I think, an unspoken assumption that fat people over-eat, eat all the wrong things and do no exercise whatsoever. There is an implicit judgement that the overweight do it to themselves by being lazy, mouth-cramming slobs. This may be true in some cases, but by no means in all.
But to me, the really worrying – I would go so far as to say ‘scary’ – aspect of this kind of thinking is the link in all too many people’s minds between being slim/thin and health, beauty and fitness. It seems to be the case that a rigid article of belief, almost a God in its own right in a world which has turned away from more conventional deities, is that being THIN is good and being FAT is bad. Very Orwellian, isn’t it? I am always reminded of ‘Animal Farm‘ when I think of this – and how ‘Four Legs Good; Two Legs Bad’ had, by the end, become the exact opposite.
My question – and it is just that: I am a writer, not a dictator/evangelist – is this: Is the oft-fanatical pursuit of the perfect, slim, fit body any healthier than the faults attributed to those of us who do not pursue perfection quite so avidly? In a world which includes anorexic teenagers, of both sexes, who refuse to eat and pace the walls of their homes, vomit the lining of their teeth away and stop the next phase of their sexual growth, this insistence upon a slim and toned body has, to me, a hollow ring of mockery about it.
We learn our food and exercise habits from our parents, either in following them slavishly or rebelling against them. It is my contention that too many impressionable young people see their primary caregivers – and, to be blunt, it is often the mother – off to the gym every day, exercising on the mat at home and casting daggers at the child for wanting to eat anything on this Frown List (which we, as humans with an infinite capacity for creation, have largely made up!). This, my friends, is the kind of oppressive, Big Brother atmosphere which breeds furtive binge-ing and vomiting. This is the kind of nonsense which spawns young girls who weigh five stone and wear huge garments to cover their furry, bone-protruding, dying bodies.
My opinion is clear: If you want to exercise, fine; there is nothing wrong with it, in moderation (and it has clear health benefits, both physically and emotionally) – but do not make it your religion or cast out those who do not do it as often as you do. Do not condemn your precious children to a life-time of eating disorders by an overly-righteous attitude towards getting thin. Do not, above all, make the mistake so many make whereby Food: Bad and Exercise: Good.
But the sickest irony, to me, in this need to be slim is the fact that we live in a world which still contains World Hunger – and that, in Third World Countries, putting flesh on is a sign of health. We handily forget the damage that being too thin can cause in our quest for perfection. We forget the osteoporosis waiting for us down the line, the infertility, the psychological problems. We forget that exercise can become an addiction in its own right – and one that is every bit as hard to break as cigarettes or drugs.
Food is not an enemy. Foods containing fat are not the Antichrist. You won’t go to Hell if you occasionally splurge on biscuits or eat chocolate. Butter is not Beelzebub! I do not think we do our children any favours by making them feel guilty about eating certain things. In fact, I would go as far as to say we do them harm because many of them then grab the forbidden fruit (metaphorically) in secret and thus begins a lifetime’s habit of sorrow, sickness and shame.
Let me share something with you: During the year in which I was divorcing my ex, while still sharing a house with him, and selling the house, I was so anxious that I ate almost nothing other than the occasional bowl of Granola. I started to lose weight. But was this healthy? No. I looked at a photo of myself from that time the other day and, yes, I looked trimmer, but I also looked white as a sheet, gaunt almost.
Now? My diet is mainly vegetarian, but I am experimenting with, enjoying and sharing treats from my childhood. I am getting back my lusty joy in food. I am luxuriating in the delight of preparing home-cooked meals. My love of food is fast returning!
I am also exercising regularly – but not in a gym. I am doing what our forebears did before expensive gyms were invented: Walking the landscape, and working with it, my faithful dog at my heels. Since Glastonbury is hilly, much of my walking is uphill, sometimes vertiginously so! I love it and am getting stronger.
But for me, it is not about reaching a certain weight on the scales, or getting into a size ten skirt (perish the thought); it is about my love of life returning; it is about connections with the earth and other people starting, like spring’s awakening, to bud and flower; it is about feeling good about who I am and where I am at. It is, that is to say, about enjoyment rather than punishment.
I have nothing against losing weight or becoming healthy. But I do feel very great loathing for the attitude which insists there is only one way to achieve this, one goal weight/size and that, if you carve your own, alternative path through the whole thing, you are wrong-headed, a sinner and will end up broken.
Once, many years ago, I was nine and a half stone and a size twelve.
‘Wow!’ you might think. ‘Fit and healthy and slim!’
But I wasn’t. I was drinking, smoking and binge-eating/starving to excess. I was, as I said yesterday, using laxatives to control my intake. I was waking up most mornings with a hangover and in floods of self-hating tears. I was running at least three miles every day in order to try and achieve this Holy Grail, this fantasy of female beauty: The Perfect Shape. I was punishing my body for its human love of food.
Frankly, if I had a daughter, I would rather she read this than the hundreds of Flesh is Wrong, Gym is Right, Carbs are the Devil sort of articles which are so prevalent in our time.
It is not about you agreeing with me. Many of you won’t – and that is your prerogative as thinking beings. It is about the right to live my life in a way that suits me – and my right to express my own views openly and candidly and, I hope, articulately!