Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Musings from the Pool


In the last two weeks, I spent a lot of time here:

It gave me the chance to examine closely and at length other people’s bodies. Let me say this, there is almost no such thing as a perfect body. Flaws are everywhere. While looking at bodies large and slender, I was also able to examine my own weight madness. I think my attitude to weight is odd and skewed, coming as I do from a family who believe on seeing one another that it is acceptable to say things like, “You look like you’ve lost some weight! Last time I saw you you had buttocks like a zebra.” Or who like to fling an arm around a pregnant woman and announce to a group of 12 people that, “Charlotte will lose all this weight as soon as the baby is here.” Or who think it is helpful to say to a pubescent 12-year-old, “I see you have inherited the Von Mengershausen (read: Teutonic and large) thighs.”

As grown-ups we have to own our madness and not still blame our families for every single one of our failings, but having had such a fertile start, my twisted attitude to weight has grown apace like a feral and overactive vine. While I relaxed reading in a lounger stood in the shallow waters of the pool watching my small people cavort, there was a dialogue between my weight madness and my sane mind. It went something like this …

Weight madness: Fat people shouldn’t have tattoos.

Sane mind: Anyone can have tattoos. Even if I don’t like them much, it’s anyone’s right to decide how to decorate their bodies.

Weight madness: Oh God, look at the size of her. How can she bring herself to put on a bikini?

Sane mind: She is relaxing and enjoying her holiday with her family. Isn’t that lovely?

Weight madness: I’ve never seen so many fat teenagers. Look at that brazen one.

Sane mind: Yes, there are a lot of fat teenagers. Children nowadays have different pressures to face. It’s better that she’s out there having fun with her friends than cooped up at home feeling sorry for herself.

Weight madness: I wish my thighs were thinner.

Sane mind: I’ve had three children. My thighs are a badge of pride.

Weight madness: Yes, but look at my stomach. It’s gross.

Sane mind: My stomach could be a little trimmer.

Weight madness: I’d better lose all this weight before I go to Berlin in September. I don’t want (dear and accepting friend) to go back home to South Africa and tell everyone how fat I am.

Sane mind: She loves me for who I am not for the size of my thighs.

Weight madness: True, but she’ll still go home and tell everyone how fat I am.

Sane mind: South Africans are more weight-obsessed than anyone else I know. Look at all these happy fat Italians. They’re having a lovely time and no-one’s feeling self-conscious at all. I could let my stomach hang out a little more if I wanted to.

Weight madness: No I musn’t! I won’t be able to see my feet. I’m going sit down in the water so only my thin bits show.

That bit of internal insanity aside, here are the facts:

1. I am 10 kilograms heavier than I was when I left school in 1986.

2. When I left school in 1986 I had the beginnings of a food disorder, during which I ate an apple for breakfast, a Slim Slab for lunch and only the vegetables at supper. No-one noticed that I was not eating enough, and everyone congratulated me for looking so thin. The disorderette went away after about six months when my hunger thankfully returned.

3. There is a five-kilogram window in which my weight radiates up and down, depending on mood, season and hormones.

4. I wear the same size clothes as I did before I was pregnant. The clothes are sometimes a little tighter, sometimes a little looser.

5. My husband and my children think I am gorgeous.

6. I have never mentioned weight to my children. I tell them they are beautiful, and they are. My weight madness dialogue is completely internal.

Despite knowing all of the above, I still believe – when I am at wrong end of that five-kilogram window – that I am out of control and shameful. How mad is that? I sucked in all those weight messages my family sent my way like a thirsty camel hitting the oasis. The messages were thin = good, fat = bad; thin = good girl, fat = shameful girl; thin = stand up and be proud, fat = run away and hide and don’t come out until you’re thin again.

The sane part of me has completely accepted my Von Mengershausen thighs, but the weight madness stills scrapes away in the back of my head critiquing myself and those around me who dare to wear a bikini when they clearly shouldn’t. I need to send the weight madness for re-education, from whence it can come back a Beth Ditto fan, shouting “Love me, love my zebra buttocks”. Most importantly, it needs to look at other people and not run through an exhausting checklist of how they could look better. At best, it’s superficial, and at worst, it’s cruel.

Thin-propaganda free, I could relax a little more at the pool. It takes a lot of energy being mean.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

37 thoughts on “Musings from the Pool

  1. I am going to celebrate my zrbra buttocks next time I pass a full length mirror – thank you for the new phrase – it fits the bill perfectly!

  2. i think you are very lucky that you weigh only 10 kg more than when you left school. i’m … let me see … 30 kg heavier than when i left school. okay, i’m on the way down, i intend to lose about 20.
    i despise my father’s commenting on my weight. it’s not as if i hadn’t looked at a mirror or a scale the past twenty years. i managed to get some kilos off a couple of times, but they came back and brought their friends along. i hope i’ve finally managed to tweak my eating and exercise habits so this time it’ll become a permanent thing.
    that strange internal dialogue happens all the time inside of me – it’s weird that i’m still judgemental about others even though my weight problems can hardly be overlooked. now that i’ve cut some stuff from my diet i’m scared about becoming a fat snob – yesterday i was in the cashier line behind a considerably overweight lady who had slabs of pork, buckets of potato salad and a tray of extra-cream-added yogurt in her shopping cart. in my mind i started going “she’d rather choose some green salad and chicken breasts”. snob.

  3. 1) You are gorgeous!
    2) I will hereafter always use the term “Von Mengershausen thighs” when thinking about my own weight. It seems apt and so Teutonic. Where’s my horned helmet?
    3) I have the same internal dialogue whenever I am within 50 feet of a swimming pool. I haven’t owned a bathing suit in…well, I can’t remember any past childhood. Then I look at other ethnic/cultural groups, like your Italians, and see all the grandmas with their enormous selves in bathing suits, all flappy arms and rotund buttocks, and I wish I could just be one of them and not care.
    4) I wish my thighs were thinner too, and the rest of me. I try to tell myself that it’s because of health reasons, so that my body can serve my purposes more easily and happily, but really it’s not just that. Seeking health = good, shame and guilt = bad.

  4. Hi Ali, very glad to have provided you with a useful phrase. My family do have a way with words.

    Bine, I also judge the contents of people’s trolleys. “Not much fresh fruit and veg there” I find myself thinking. I don’t like this part of myself. Good luck with your healthy eating and exercise programme. I’ve found the healthy eating, now I just need to work the exercise into my life.

    Henitserk, I can see us both in bathing suits and horned helmets, advancing courageously toward a swimming-pool with nary a cover-up or pareo in sight. Let us boldly go where all Italian grannies have gone before!

  5. As I recall South Africans are weight conscious & generally appearance conscious too to an unhealthy degree. There were so many anorexics at my school and who knows how many girls with bulemia. I was very thin as a teenager so weight wasn’t my main issue (though I didn’t like my thighs or my slightly bulgy tummy). I was however very self conscious about being naturally extremely pale and not fitting the tanned golden girl ideal. People, complete strangers even, didn’t hesitate to comment on how white my legs were. It quite annoys me that I have increased my risks of skin cancer because of all the times I got burnt trying to be something I never could be.

    My eat anything and remain thin metabolism stopped working when I hit 30. Nowadays I can fit into my pre pregnancy togs but only just and would like to lose about 5kgs- but not really enough to do anything about it.

  6. If you’ll forgive me for recommending a book I haven’t actually had a chance to read myself yet, I’ve got my eye on Rethinking Thin on the basis of the reviews I have read and the kinds of people who are recommending it.

    From what I’ve heard, it can help us redefine the concepts of “fat” and “healthy” into more realistic, and in some cases surprising, terms.

  7. I love your last line about being mean taking a lot of work — it’s so true! Thinking bad thoughts is such a waste of energy.

  8. I have the same disorder. I am usually about 65 kilos but move up and down between 64 and 67. Now this is a pathetically small range, but still I feel like a loser if I pass 66. Sad and pointless, I know. And nobody will ever see the difference, I know. But still, the worry is there.

    But the last month I have fixed the problem. My ex has taken the scales, so now I have no idea of my exact weight. And it has ceased to worry me. I can heartily recommend this!

    As well as not eating after 7. This works!

  9. S. dated a South AFrican the year he lived in Cape Town and said she rarely ate -it was one of their biggest fights and part of the reason they eventually broke up.

    I have such a similar internal struggle, I can really identify with this post. As much as I want to love me for me, and not judge people heavier, I have an intensely difficult time doing so. This is a really honest post, and I appreciate it.

  10. This post spoke to me so deeply, Charlotte. It especially spoke to the part of me that just shoved some chocolate covered espresso beans down her throat while hating herself for not choosing cherry tomatoes.
    Seriously though, you really put into words how I feel about my own weight. But when I write about it, I feel like a mentally deficient teenager. You sound sane and cool.

  11. Well Charlotte, I have the perfect solution: Instead of the pool, next time hit the Cinquetera and swim in the sea with the locals. The Italians are so beautifully unselfconscious. We took a boat to Portovenere for the day. The women on the beach watching the children were mothers and grandmothers of all ages, shapes and sizes and they were all enjoying the sun in their bikinis!!! I thought, well if they can soak it up and not be self conscious, then so can I!

  12. Thank you thank you thank you – I have been making myself miserable lately and I now see that it is ‘weight madness’!! Years ago we were living in India and I lost a ridiculous amount of weight – I just didn’t eat – I had no control over any part of my life – so I took the starve-myself path. Each trip to Germany to see the in-laws was met with approving gasps and ooohs and aaahs – wow, didn’t I look great – so slim! – But I was dying inside. Now I am happier, but a little over the ‘5 kilo window’ – ok well more than a little, although I know that others do not see it like I do and my husband and children love me too. But there is a Xmas visit to Deutschland looming large and I am so busy making myself feel bad about my round tummy that I can find no joy in the trip…until today. Your post has just hit the spot and I feel like a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Thank you thank you thank you.

  13. I liked your post a lot, although I don´t experience quite the same problems with my weight. Rather the opposite actually, as I have great problems putting on weight. Now don´t tell my how lucky I am, as I have heard that so many times and believe me it is as hurtful as being told you are overweight, only most people don´t realise that being very thin is also difficult. I envy your extra kilos so do send them north to Denmark where I live. I am sure you look gorgeous just the way you are.

  14. It’s it a shame we find ourselves to be less beautiful than others find us? I had that 5 kg window most of my adult life. Then I started to go pre-menopausal and recently, menopausal, and that 5 kg window has stretched to a 10 kg. It’s disconcerting. I am determined to push my weight madness diva off of her pedestal in my subconscious.

  15. I do know what you mean about people saying thoughtless things. I have a problem (and it IS one) with being too thin. Everyone feels they have the right to tell me off for being anorexic, even after they have just witnessed me chomping my way through a big plateful of food. I’ve had people grab my hands and check them for furriness and one of my best friends just shakes her head in horror everytime she sees me and says ‘You are looking terribly, terribly thin. When are you going to go to a doctor about it?’ So believe you me, a nice, healthy bit of gentle plumpness is far, far preferable to having all this aggro.

  16. I read your post yesterday evening, just before I went out to belly dancing, where the first thing one of the others said to me was ‘You’ve lost weight’. I immediately denied it, as though I haven’t checked, my trousers aren’t any looser than normal. There then followed a discussion on the fact that saying that to people, even intending it as a compliment, immediately makes them think they need to have lost weight.

    What it certainly did was make me conscious of my appearance, when I was just ready for some stimulating social interaction with adults having escaped the children, and send me into a self examining mode!

    I sympathise with you for growing up in a family that made you so self-conscious, it’s hard enough developing confidence as a teenager even without the spotlight on thighs! I didn’t have family pointing out my chubbiness, but was painfully self-conscious about getting boobs at eleven – the peer pressure sent me underground into baggy jumpers and tops, which I still haven’t completely discarded!

  17. *reads with interest*

    I nearly emigrated to South Africa, knowing nothing about the country I accidently found a job in Kwa Zulu Natal and got a visa form and everything, I was filling in the visa form, and making the practical arrangements when I got offered a job I couldn’t turn down in the UK. I’m glad I didn’t because the appearence thing would bother me. I’m rather overweight – but in medical circles it’s seen as Ok to comment, because we do tend to see it only as a health thing and not a value thing. Or at least amoung male Doctors.

    I had one boss who would ask me at my appraisals regularly how the diet was going and give me work out tips. I certainly got corridor advice from our metabolic medicine consultant on the best diets from an evidence based point of view.

    I can comfortably say that I don’t give a damn about what I look like as long as I have a girlfriend. I do care about not dying at 50 from sleep apnea, and not being fit enough to go ski-ing with my friends. And the fact at the badminton club I can play quite well but am too unfit to play competatively. And the fact I can look at nice mountains and know I couldn’t walk up them.

    Anyway since moving to the new job and not being in an obsegenic enviroment (ie walking 20 minutes to work and not having much to do in the evening apart from go to the gym) I have lost 5 kgs which is good.

    I was wondering – charlotte, if you’d like to interview me. I know it’s a bit self centered but it would be interesting to see what people would ask me.

  18. kit, it occured to me that “you’ve lost weight” seems to me a well-meant compliment between people who have to lose a few pounds, like other people say “you look great today!”
    i’ve noticed that the only people who ever say this to me are people who are overweight themselves, never slim ones. and they say it even if you obviously haven’t lost weight, just because they think it’s something nice you’d like to hear.
    now i realize this is probably stupid, i don’t even know if you have weight to lose. so, take it it’s just something i experienced that came to my mind when i read your comment.

  19. Pingback: Musings about my body - the ultimate self centred blog. « FtM Doctor

  20. Oh I am the same. I could have written this post (but not nearly so eloquently) 😉

  21. Does the weight madness ever disappear? I’m overweight and as much as I hate comments on my weight, I’m just as guilty of judging other overweight people on the basis of what they’re wearing or what’s in their trolley. But the voice I hear is my mother’s, not mine…

    Thank you for this post Charlotte. I will remember it when I’m on the beach at Christmas time, trying to pluck up the courage to make the dash from my towel to the waves. I hope by then that I will have subdued that voice, just a little.

  22. welcome to my head.

    I’m twice what I was ten years ago. I can tell myself over and over again that its mostly having kids and being bipolar, but it doesn’t make me hate my body any less.

    I try to be accepting at the beach, but I do draw the line at the man thong. I’m with you though-I keep the weight comments to myself around my girls.

  23. Hmmm…did my sane minds and weight madness selves go on h0liday to your brain, since you were off in Italy where it seems it was actually warm enough for swimming, while I was stuck here in freezing cold Connecticut, packing?
    What I want to know is how I ended up with these two warring souls, since I was raised by parents who assured me (and still do) that I was beautiful, no matter what my weight.

  24. But zebras have lovely buttocks! So spherical and firm… no? Ok, I agree it is not one to get human females glowing with pleasure.. I think we could redefine the meaning of beauty; curves are feminine, stick insects are not. I reckon it is the wobbly bits that bother me so much… however I have found belly dancing promotes a ver positive attitude to jiggly bits, which suddenly become an asset the moment you hit the dancefloor!

  25. What a perfectly timed post. Last night I was so upset with myself for binging on chocolate that I called a friend and asked him to be my “call-as-I’m-on-the-verge-of-binging-so-please-help-me” guy. He is alcoholic, I’m chocoholic. We all have our weaknesses (addictions) and life is a personal journey in learning moderation and learning how to support others on their journey.

    btw: you look fantastic!

  26. What an appropriately timed blog! I am passing time (is that what they call it?!) at the Hydro in Stellenbosch (see, even here, you are read – and not on my laptop!). Hoping to kickstart an attempt to shed more kilos than ever before in my life! I never weigh myself but here there is no choice – why didn’t someone say something?! And I have a fabulous mirror in my bathroom at home where I ONLY look at myself face on! I DID notice that I was a bit short of clothes that fit comfortably………..

  27. I guess there is a reason we call it the battle of the bulge; the weight madness seems to afflict all of us, whether we be a little too zaftig or can’t gain weight to save our souls.

    I have been working on changing my inner dialogue. I subscribe to the belief system that states that what you state (or claim) has a tendency to come true. If I tell myself that I am fat and disgusting when I look in the mirror at my rather plump self, then my words perpetuate the problem. I become fat, more fat. And I keep telling myself that is what I am.

    So, my new statement is this: I am healthy (true), and I am strong (also true). I do not need my gut. As I repeat these statements to myself, I find that I remain healthy, I am heaving rocks around like an Amazon, and slowly but surely I am starting to lose my gut. I’m not sure why, but making this change has helped me to make healthier choices about how much and when I eat.

    That all being said, there are studies out there that point out that as we age we are really better off if we have a few extra pounds stashed about our persons. Then, if we contract influenza or some other nasty, we have the energy stored up to help fight it off.

    Meanwhile, we can all listen to our inner critics, or we can choose to replace them with an inner cheerleader. It is up to us.

    And my condolences to all you ladies who try and try to gain weight and cannot. I have had massage clients with your situation, and their suffering is real. It does not help them to hear “Oh, you can have some of mine!” from those of us who are struggling to lose weight.

  28. Wow, lots of comments here! I found all this fascinating (and it reminds me of my reading of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters) but I am completely enthralled with those trees. What kind are they? I’ve never seen trees like that. The tall wiggly ones with leaves only at the top.

  29. What exactly are “zebra thighs”?

  30. the price of perfectionism is self hatred

  31. I could relate to this. I have a similar internal dialogue, only not about weight. It’s just been in the past week, as I’ve been trying to think positive, that I’ve become aware of how hard on myself I usually am.

    I have to say, in addition to what everyone else has said, isn’t it awful the remarks people make when you’re pregnant? I had constant comments about my weight, from my family to complete strangers. They thought they were being funny but it was totally hurtful. I found it put an extra pressure on me that I did not need at that time. Remarks about weight to pregnant women should be banned – by law!!

  32. I don’t have issues with my weight but I do have issues with my morphology. I would like less on the bottom and more on the top 😉 And I would like to get rid of the cellulite. And I would like more muscle mass.

  33. There is something quite sane-ifying about spending time around Italian women/girls in bikinis–they really seem to be so comfortable with their bodies no matter what they look like. I’m working on that. Great post!

  34. This is a fabulous post. I’ve been a personal trainer and a healer and a health consutant for quite a long time and I haven’t met a woman yet, no matter what she looks like, who doesn’t have this internal dialogue. This is what we are taught to do from a very very young age and it’s so sad and so destructive to our own souls and our self love and therefore our own spiritual evolution.
    Great post!

  35. My main obsession when I am people-watching in that kind of environment is constantly comparing women’s figures to mine in a ‘well I am not that bad’/’well I am not that good’ kind of way. It is pretty exhausting and depressing. I wish I could just be. And let others just be too.

  36. You see, this sort of thing gets in your head. I am four stone heavier than I was before having my son and feel wretched about it. Totally wretched. I’ve been this heavy before and know what a battle it was to get to a state I was (well, wasn’t really but better than now) happy with. And because I’m breastfeeding I feel I can do nothing about it without compromising my milk supply.

    And next month I am going on holiday. I know other women will be looking at me and judging me. I’ve always felt this was happening but have never actually seen anyone say it before, and now you have I know it is true.

    I’m dreading the pool.

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