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.