Friday, 21 March 2008


I was in a meeting recently, in which someone made the remark that nearly a third of year 6 children in the town I live in were overweight.

"It's appalling," she concluded, and went on to talk about the plan to promote healthy eating.

She's lucky that I didn't have anything sharp with me, and that I was an observer rather than an active participant in the meeting.

I sort of wish, though, that I'd pounced on her, either in the meeting or immediately afterwards, and asked her what she thought that highlighting the supposed obesity of twelve year old children would actually achieve, apart from humiliating the children and laying the groundwork for eating disorders. Hell, when I was twelve, my own shameful weight had me eating compulsively in secret and occasionally, when I had the courage, barfing it all up again.

When I was twelve, I thought I was the fattest thing in the world, and that no one would ever love me.

When I was twelve my mother told me that, at eight and a half stone (119lbs) and 5'4", I was overweight and should make sure I never got any heavier. Ironically, of course, this is at the lower end of the BMI "normal" range. Worse, when you look at photos of me with my peers throughout my teens, I look perfectly normal at every point. And yet from the age of ten or eleven, I believed that I was a huge fat thing, completely unlovable and undesirable (and since I'd also absorbed the cultural decision that women's value is largely based on our physically desirability, this was devastating).

My actual averageness isn't really the point, though. The point is that telling a child that they are not okay does not automatically make them strive to be okay. Sometimes they rebel. Sometimes you create problems far bigger than a few extra, or even a hundred extra pounds. My problem isn't actually my body – it's my mind. And if this woman had come to my school when I was a self-conscious twelve year old and told me that my body – my confusing, changing, frightening, developing body – was wrong, she would only have had the same effect that my mother's words did. I would become obsessed with being thin, but utterly fail at it for more than two decades. That wouldn't make me a more healthy eater, and it wouldn't make me thinner. It would make me miserable, and it would make me fatter.

To this day, I wonder if I would actually have gained all this weight, or spent as many hours as I spent agonising over it, if my mother hadn't decided that I was too fat when I was going through adolescence.

My mother, by the way, deeply regrets this action. She, unfortunately, was always very slender herself, and she just didn't understand that her very curvy daughter was never going to be built like her, even if she lived on celery. She wasn't bad, any more than the woman in the meeting above was bad. She just didn't understand. But it's this very lack of understanding that created the fat person I am today. If I'd just been able to go through adolescence without that pressure, would I even be fat now? If the woman with the food plan goes to a bunch of twelve year olds and says "being fat is bad, stop being as fat as you are", is she actually, in trying to make them thinner and more socially acceptable, going to create people who are fatter than they might have been if no one had ever said anything that put them in the wrong?

Oh, she might make a few of them skinnier – she might make some of them so skinny they'll die from it. But I'm pretty damn sure that she'll make a few of them fatter as well.

I do believe that I'm fatter than my body is really happy with. I completely believe there are people my weight and heavier who are the weight their body is happy with, but I am also sure I'm not one of them. In a perfect world, where I only think of food when I'm actually hungry, and eat in the way that makes my body happy, I suspect I'd be around a UK size 16. So…still fat, from one point of view, but not this fat.

Sometimes principles are difficult. I strongly believe in what I understand to be the principles of fat acceptance. I believe that I have value regardless of my size and should be treated as such. I believe, and know from painful experience, that dieting doesn't work. I know that I don't need to lose weight to be loved.

But all this knowledge and belief is still at odds, to some extent, with my gut. My gut keeps telling me this isn't good enough, that I'm failing at both fat acceptance and having the body my body wants.

This, I have to recognise, means I've got a way to go before I get where I want to be.

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