Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Weighty Issues


It’s pool season again. This means packing and schlepping the belongings of three small people, plus snacks and towels, off to the local pool (Mummy as Sherpa). It means covering four people – here include self – with suntan lotion. It means getting two aspirant swimmers togged up in their swim belts, equipped with their pool noodles and keeping a beady eye on them while introducing a third small person to the delights of really cold water. It means taking the whole family to the loo when one person needs a wee. On the plus side there’s fun in the sun for everyone.

Being poolside in Germany is refreshing, however, because Germans are extremely unselfconscious about their bodies. Big or small, heavy or slim, brown or pale, tatooed or not tatooed, they’re all there in the smallest of swimsuits, splashing about and having a fine time. I like this. I like a society where bodies are not judged and where everyone is having fun no matter their physical characteristics.

What I can’t quell is the judge in my own head. My background is this: I come from a family obsessed with weight and after a random comment from an adult (who should have known better) when I was twelve, I spent my teens, twenties and thirties believing I was fat. I now look back on photos of myself as a teenager and I was a sylph! All those wasted years thinking I was fat. I started dieting at 17, was sub-anorexic for a few months (an apple, a health-bar, and a few vegetables as my daily quota) but luckily liked food too much to really succumb. I have been food-obsessing, dieting, weighing myself and being depressed/delighted with the daily numbers ever since.

So while I watch happy Germans cavorting, there’s a sane side that wants to celebrate the variety of shapes on display and there’s a twisted side that’s comparing my thighs to someone else’s, thinking ‘you are too fat for a bikini’ or ‘can you really afford to eat those chips?’. It’s like weight’s my filter – I just can’t help it being important to me. I don’t want it to be, but it is.

I recently told a friend I was going to shake the hold that weight has over me and love where I am right now, because I don’t want to waste the rest of my life obsessing with the scales and what I’m eating or not eating. It made me feel good for a while. But since in the last few weeks, the scales have been telling me I’m carrying a couple of extra kilos, I’m back to food hyper-consciousness.

I have many positive experiences with food. I like to make food that makes people happy. I love cooking something my kids like. I like planning, preparing and serving food to my family and friends. I like finding a great recipe, sourcing the ingredients, making it and enjoying it. I like food books and TV programmes. I love going to my local market twice a week and selecting beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables to cook and eat. I like talking about food to my foodie friends. I love it when my husband has one of his creative moments in the kitchen and cooks us a great meal. 

I keep my weight madness internalised because I don’t want it to rub off on my children, especially my daughters. I never say anything negative about my own body or anyone else’s. I always tell them that they’re beautiful (and they are). I encourage them to eat healthily but don’t ban sweets either. I think I’m managing to raise them with a balanced attitude to food.

I just would like it if I could manage to go to the pool next time and not play ‘spot who’s fatter than me’. I would like it if being three kilograms over or under my ideal weight didn’t cause me such disproportionate misery or joy. And I would like it if, for once, I didn’t care whether there was chocolate in the house or not.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

7 thoughts on “Weighty Issues

  1. Thanks for this. So many of us struggle with body image and food. It’s conversations like the one you’ve begun here that really make a difference — I think it’s your honesty that does it. I’ve recently been reading a book called The Shangri-La diet which, though it sounds insane and faddish, is actually a very interesting take on the subject of how our bodies function (or misfunction) around certain kinds of foods. If you google shangri-la, I’m sure you’ll find it. I don’t quite know what to make of it, but the guy teaches at the university in my city and seems like he’s pretty smart — and somebody who is so interested in what he’s doing, that he isn’t afraid to seem eccentric or to depart from conventional wisdom on the subject of healthy eating. Anyway, sorry to leave such a long comment — hope you have a summer filled with long pool days and many more insights like the ones in this post.

  2. The image of ideal beauty has changed so much over time, it’s worth remembering what a fickle culture we are. In Rembrandt’s day you would probably have been considered unpleasantly skinny. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and we can’t predict other people’s reactions. As you seem to know, we just project onto others our own fears. My bet is that you are lovely just the way you are, and that you should tell that harsh inner critic to shut up.

  3. You are dead right about the un-selfconsciousness.. I suppose it is the plus side of living in a style void. And then of course there is the grown up approach to female body hair. I still have mixed feelings about going hairy, but at least I have the choice 😉

  4. Charlotte, you are one of the most beautiful women I know, both inside and out. Truly, you are. And if you start to feel bad about the copiate amounts of chocolate eis you eat this summer, just head to the beaches in Lisbon and you will feel a whole lot better about your physical state. I know I do after seeing nudists much larger than the traditionally accepted body size… and jiggle for that matter!

  5. you look pretty damn fine to me mrs O…

  6. You’re right about the German’s versus the Americans and pools. I had forgotten all about going to the pool in Hof where we used to live.

    We’d also like to see some recipes and photos. 🙂

  7. here, here! and I heartily agree with Tesha and theotherthomasotter. However, I do the same as you when I take the wee one swimming and see my thighs that wobble a little too much and the tummy that sticks out a little too far even when I am breathing in. I have been blaming this on having a baby but have to admit that it wasn’t that flat pre Henry, ho hum, now where did we put that ab exercise thingymebob??

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