You and I haven’t always seen eye to eye,
Especially when looking in a mirror.
There’s a tendency to lack tenderness, to be hardest on the softer parts of this body.
But I want to tell you (me, us) something.
I have made you (me, us) strong.
You (I, we) are strong.
I love the part of my side that is the lower curve of my waist,
(The carnal pleasure I take in food won’t let it waste away)
That undulates and fluctuates in size and
Becomes my hips that have grown inches as I have grown older, upwards and outwards.
26, 27, 28, 29, 30.
And as these numbers grow higher I have noticed the first grey hairs appear and they fascinate me,
Silver to the point of being invisible but still they glint ethereally against the black.
So delicately spun as if a spider tip-toed across my head and abandoned the threads in her wake; silk orphans presented to my head that cannot help but take them in and hold them.
We have been fatter and we have been thinner, we will never be taller, though we most certainly have been smaller and look how we’ve grown.
Our presence has never been larger and time only moves one way –
You will never be younger than you are right now.
Let’s not forget to mention the elephant in the room…well, elephants.
These breasts are not small and there was no choice in the matter but to have them.
They, like every other part of me, grew and I know nothing else but the experience of having them.
They are the part of this body that one day might feed the children I hope the whole will bear.
It may not of course – that potential is as yet untapped and I have as much control over it as I do over how it has grown in all the directions it has expanded.
Sometimes all you (I, we) want is doughnuts or pastries or bagels, toasties, deep fried sushi, mayonnaise with a side of chips, chocolate milk, coffee with a tower of whipped cream, cake with buttercream icing, biscuits, pretzels smothered in melted cheese, all in the plural for maximum guzzling consumption.
Sometimes all I (you, we) want is to swim and dance, run or cycle, vinyasa and downward dog in ashtanga sun salutations to lengthen and strengthen and stretch.
You, I…we…I. We are the same one stuff of course.
But we’re told there’s mental and physical.
Head and heart and fat and muscle, organs and bone and hair and teeth, eyeballs and skin cells and nails and hands and feet and brain matter, synapses, nerve endings, pigments, sinews, joints, a head, a body, a heart, a brain.
It is all just this. Just I.
But we’re told mind over matter.
But we see all these images of be smaller, be thinner, be less, be beach body ready, be the best you who is by no coincidence the skinniest you-
You’re ok. You’re strong and healthy. We…
I am strong and healthy.
Except maybe for those doughnuts. They’ll get me every time.
I’m a foodie. I always have been. I love food. I love cooking, talking about, watching programmes on and eating, wait for it…food.
I am proud of my love of food. I’m proud that I can go to a restaurant and order something and enjoy every bite. I’m proud of my discerning palate and my guilty food pleasures (a banana with peanut butter and chocolate chips is an excellent snack.)
I’ve noticed two things about being 25 and a food lover. The first is that I actively enjoy eating healthier foods. This, combined with a total adoration of BBC Radio 4, has convinced me that I must be somewhere along the way to being a grown up. I’ll happily get a lighter vegetable option rather than chips but that’s not through weight consciousness, it’s because I genuinely like vegetables now. I hope my parents are proud.
The second is that my metabolism has definitely slowed down. I gain weight more easily than I used to, and, to me at least, it seems noticeable. I find it harder to just lose those few pounds again than I did at, say, age 22. This is despite eating more healthily and exercising more frequently (though in all honesty, still fairly sporadically).
These two observations have led me to the conclusion that being healthy and maintaining what I’ve arbitrarily decided in my head is the ideal weight for myself are not the same thing.
Every so often I look at my body and I think about the things that bother me. And then I look again and think about why they bother me. Is it because I’m inherently unhappy with how I look? Do I have a severe case of body dysmorphia? No. Neither of these things are true. I would say I have a fairly average view of myself with things I like, things I dislike and things I am indifferent to. But the language we use to talk about food and our bodies is engendering what I feel is an unhealthy approach to ourselves, both physically – how we actually are – and mentally – how we see ourselves and what we value.
Let’s look at the image I’ve chosen to put at the top of this post. (I added the caption, so we’ll disregard that.)
Here’s what it says to me:
1- If you eat a burger and a massive packet of chips, you will be fat. If you eat an apple, you will be skinny.
2 – Only fat people eat burgers and massive packets of chips.
3 – Healthy food is equated with being skinny.
4 – Healthy foods and small portions lead to the same outcome: being skinny.
5 – If you’re skinny you get to read books.
6- Fat people don’t read books because they don’t have room in their hands due to all the chips and burgers they’re eating.
6a – Fat people are stupid because they don’t read books. Skinny people are intelligent because they’ve left themselves a free hand for a book.
7 – There is no context given to this picture. Are we comparing like for like? What if that’s all they both eat all day? Suddenly the skinny one holding the apple looks a whole lot less healthy.
All of that makes up a fairly horrible set of messages in a randomly selected picture from Google images. But I do think it’s actually quite an accurate microcosm of the message that is broadcast daily from most magazines, fashion houses and retail stores. There are a few campaigns focusing on real women such as Dove and Aerie (whose latest campaign is that there will be “no more retouching our girls and no more supermodels”. The tagline: The real you is sexy) and those brands are to be commended for the work they’re doing in favour of healthy body images. But for the most part we deplore fat, we glorify being thin and almost insist upon it, so much so that we can’t even let the fat cartoon girl have a book with her delicious looking burger and chips!
I was told something by a friend and it was this: You can eat whatever you want in as high a quantity as you want and you will get fat and be pretty unhealthy to boot. You can eat in moderation, be a bit careful but still enjoy treats and you can be quite average. Maybe a bit cuddly, maybe not – depends on your body type. Or you can deprive yourself of all the yummy things that you like to eat and you can be thin. You can fit into tiny clothes but the cost is all the nice food. But it isn’t even that healthy! Maybe I’ve gone to crazy town but I’m pretty sure starvation and none of the calories are not a good way to live!
Food makes me happy. I’m a full on monster bitch when I get really hungry. If I decided to embark on a nutjob mission to get super skinny I genuinely believe I would lose friends because I’d become horrible. And you know what? I love my friends…plus I’m pretty sure being skinny isn’t worth it if you can’t show off that tiny body to all your envious mates. It’s no fun if it’s just you alone with a celery stick sitting in your UK size 6 jeans.
I’ve grown up with anorexia rife in my family. I have a relative who cannot weigh more than 85lbs…that’s about 6 stone, and I’m being generous. She’s ill. She always has been as long as I’ve known her. There’s been a huge controversy over the TV programme The Biggest Loser because the winner Rachel Frederickson lost so much weight so fast and looked, undeniably, too thin. Being thin is not the same as being healthy. But we talk about it as if it is the ultimate goal. This supposedly ideal body shape of the flat stomach and slimline legs with not an inch of flab anywhere to be seen is frankly impossible for some. And that, more than anything is the indicator – if your body cannot achieve that shape, maybe your body should not be forced into trying to achieve it. It has become more important to be thin than healthy, and weight/size is now so often the barometer of happiness. Maybe instead of working so hard to make our bodies do what our heads want, we should work on making our heads accept what our bodies need.
Here is a fundamental difference between losing weight for health and losing weight for image: being healthy is for you. It’s all about looking after yourself and being the best version of yourself on your terms. Being skinny is largely about other people. It’s about you letting others dictate to you what constitutes looking nice and being attractive. It is about how you are seen, not how you are. Being healthy is all about how you take care of yourself. I’ll concede that sometimes it takes other people to tell you that your weight is unhealthy, but that works for both being too large and being too skinny.
We’re told that the fundamentals of happy relationships are honesty, good communication, compromise, being open and accepting people. I’m not saying you should talk to your food (though I do, and I can tell you right now in my not even slightly biased opinion that it is hilarious) but I am saying it’s time to change the way we talk about food. I hate this business of “having a relationship” with food, but if we must use this horrendous terminology, let’s apply the fundamentals of relationships to it. Let’s stop using fat as negative and thin as positive and instead move the goalposts, to make our parameters about healthy and unhealthy. Our relationships with people are not all about looks so let’s apply that to food and remember the important stuff isn’t happening on the surface – it’s about what is going on inside.
Let’s make our food healthy and balanced, nutritious with the occasional pleasure (Note – not guilty pleasure) and treat thrown in for good measure. Let’s stop bragging to our friends about weight loss and how little we’ve eaten in a day, stop saying “I’ve been bad today” when we mean “I’ve eaten normally today”, and instead get up and do some exercise and then feel excellent about eating whatever the hell we want after. Let’s do away with the values that tell us that being thin is good and will make us happy. Let’s tell the word “thinspiration” to fuck off because it’s AWFUL. Let’s be honest with ourselves, as we would want to be honest with a partner, and encourage the understanding that when we are healthy we feel better and when we feel good, we look good by the virtue of our confidence. And let’s stop being so damn hard on ourselves. Let’s cut ourselves a bit of slack and instead of worrying about the bits we don’t like, let’s remember to say to our reflections
“You know what, you mostly quite healthy human? You look pretty fine today. Just as you are. Inside and out.”
Then let’s leave the house in whatever we damn well choose, heads held high, proudly placed above whatever body shape we naturally are.