Thursday, 14 May 2009

FAT IS AN ECONOMIC ISSUE

Months of misery eating and drowning of sorrows have taken their toll. I have eaten enough chocolate to recession-proof Sir Hans Sloane and Cadbury - the latter offers rather better consolation. As in fiction, so in chocolate: Jilly Cooper is a guilty pleasure in a way that Proust could never be, and Galaxy will always comfort where Willie Harcourt-Cooze 's tiny dark blocks of Venezuelan 100% cacao can only exhaust one with its self-conscious artisanal craftsmanship. There's no wanton hedonism in something that could be considered improving - I want chocolate to have the potency of cheap music, and the anaesthetising effect of soma.


And it's not just the chocolate: as bad news hit at work - whether of redundancies or just the daily grind of doing more with less or hunting around in search of business with all the efficacy of a badly trained truffle pig - I hit the bottle. Not - I hasten to add - in an inelegant, or health-threatening way, although a piece in the newspaper on middle class binge drinking gave me cause to count units and flinch - but in the way that nothing feels really quite so ghastly after a couple of cocktails or a nice bottle of wine.


But of course, all good things must come to an end. One must always take the consequences of one's errant behaviour. And so, mid-May, as I found myself struggling to get into my summer wardrobe, I swept the dust off from the scales only to discover with horror that I've put on nearly a stone since Christmas. The anguish! The recriminations! The self-berating!


Nothing for it: what looks fabulous on Mad Men's Joan, only serves to shatter my amour-propre. And so it was that I marched straight to WeightWitches, to begin my penance for my season of indulgence.


Yet, as I was on my way back to the office, in possession of a points counter and stalwart determination, into the inbox of the Blackberry pinged an email link from the Guardian- a fascinating and salutory interview with 'Bodies' author, Susie Orbach, forwarded by my clever and beautiful friend Sarah Churchwell.


Orbach is most famous for 'Fat is a Feminist Issue' which, as Aitkenhead writes is 'a ground breaking work, the thesis of which was so simple that no one who read it could dispute its logic...diets make us fat by distorting our relationship with food'. More than thirty years later, Orbach asserts that we're more disconnected from our bodies than ever before: we can't get past our indoctrination by a plethora of media images that celebrates an exceptionally narrow definition of female beauty. Intellectually, we know this is wrong - the paradigm we want to have reflected back at us in the mirror every morning is an artificial construct - a fantasy achieved by a few, and then only with abject self-denial, vast expense and the aid of an army of assistants from plastic surgeons to personal trainers to airbrushers.


Yet somehow, smart as we think we are, and no matter how fervently we assert that the route to sanity is self-acceptance, when we deviate from this 'ideal', it's deeply troubling. The anxiety of not fitting in, of not conforming, of not being acceptable, surfaces again. Feeling 'fat' recalls all those horrid childhood memories of not being picked til last for the netball team, of being cast-out from the clique for not having Caran d'Ache colouring pencils, or some such stupidly trivial badge of belonging.


Like many women of my age and class, I've struggled with my relationship with food - 'normal appetite becomes pathologised as the enemy'. Fortunately, it's many years since I accepted that aspiring to eat nothing at all is not only time consuming (how the throught of food and its denial inhabits one's every waking hour), but also utterly bonkers. And actually, it was Weightwitches which de-pathologised my relationship with food, and re-taught me what a normal meal looked like. Yet in the office, the women talking about the new and seriously expensive diet drug Alli are not those with the required BMI of 28 - like me, most of them would need to be a good 28 pounds heavier to qualify - they're women who, again like me, struggle with this modern paradox. Whatever we might know and believe and subscribe to, and however much you might hear us praising the gorgeously voluptuous Joan, we still berate ourselves for not being Betty Draper.


But for me, the renewed commitment to a sleeker physical aesthetic is economically, rather than politically or even psychologically motivated: I simply can't afford a new wardrobe. I either drop the 13 lbs and wear last year's summer clothes, or I'm reduced to two or three rather ugly items in the wardrobe, one of which I last wore when pregnant. And it's also about time that I knuckled up to the harsher, more demanding world out there, rather than medicating myself with sweets and treats.


I can't pretend to have addressed any of the psychological issues that make me crave to maintain a weight that works for fashion. Nor can I pretend to have reconciled the contradictions around the distorted way women see themselves. Yet somehow I feel Orbach would support the breakthrough I've made in identifying the relationship that exists for me between troubled mood and disordered eating. Sometimes one needs to create a watershed moment in order to realise that one has both the courage and tenacity to square up to it and solve it.

19 comments:

So Lovely said...

Such a great post. I have wasted so much time thinking about weight and what size I should be, what size I would like to be, how to obtain that size, what to eat so that I don't put any weight and on and on and on. So dull and really what a waste of precious time when I could be doing something a little more enlightening.

Jo said...

I LOVE your blog. This so prefectly sums up the endless paradoxical feelings women feel about their own bodies. For the record, a couple of years ago, I was shoppping for my wedding dress and was reduced to tears by the shop assistant explaining I had to lose weight as I was a size 16 on the bottom and a size 8 on top and the dresses simply did not come that way. I'm not a dieter, I'm a die-hard foodie and I had no problem with the way i looked till then.

So - believing the evil assistant - I did some research and found the one book that explained - as you have - the relationships and why and how we eat and how to lose weight - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Neris-Indias-Idiot-proof-India-Knight/dp/067091648X - and I did, but in a calm controlled, slightly stubborn i-will-have-the-last-word way. I have to say to this day I still occasionally re-read it, the weight has stayed off and I AM happier as a size 8-10 than I was before. BUT - before you all shriek - I will never forgive that woman for making me look upon my body as something weird and unusual and unable to be accommodated. Horrendous. And completely soured the experience.

vicki archer said...

Spot on I would say and farewell to those 13 unwanted pound. Do you ever wonder where all those dieted pounds disappear to?? xv

Kitschen Pink said...

I get the feminist issue thing. I get the need for a fashionable wardrobe (a limited need in my particular corner of rural England), but really, sometimes, a bar of chocolate just hits the mark! Like now, I could eat chocolate right now. It's that time of day. After 9pm so that it settles nicely on my voluptuous hips! xx

Julia Smith said...

I wish beauty was more about being strong and healthy, rather than so thin that you could barely lift a Birkin bag.

That said I think the way it's perceived that people go from extreme to extreme is just crazy - there is a middle ground between bingeing on chocolate and wine and living on sprouts and thin air and I'd imagine most of us are happily there most of the time.

Follow the 80-20 rule and it should work out - healthy 80 per cent of the time leaves you room for the odd Galaxy (or three)

exromana said...

adore your honesty. real women have real issues- even glamorous, gorgeous ones like you. we all want to eat well and yet be able to fit into that gorgeous dress by malandrino. 'equity feminists' like Sommers (vs 'gender feminists' like steinem) would like what you wrote. best of luck with weight-witches. and god forbid, if the old wardrobe doesnt fit, dont worry, we know Hunca Munca has already vetted it for personal reasons.

Margarita said...

I have gained 14 pounds since Christmas as well. Oh dear, I have the same predicament, I fit in no clothing (I threw out all my fat clothes because I knew I wouldn't get back here, well, I obviously did). I can't afford a whole new wardrobe, and I don't want one - who likes shopping when you're a larger size anyway. Diets unite!

westendmum said...

Mmmmm you've made me want chocolate.
2 sisters I know are having a diet-off, who ever reaches their goal weight first gets their chosen outfit bought by the other. Love 'WeightWitches', haven't heard that one before.

Babycakes said...

Very well written. Agree with you about so many things, especially
Jilly Cooper and Galaxy.
And about wanting to be thin to fit in.

Wife in Hong Kong said...

Months of misery eating? Oh dear, Mrs Trefusis! I admire your resolve but how to confess that I enjoyed your post when you are feeling down? I take the view that if I am to get fat, I will only do so on quality. Life is too short to eat rubbish. And top quality food is too expensive to get fat on. Good luck at WW.

HelenSparkles said...

I wish I could be more cogent but fatigue leads me to comment simply that I read the article and felt sad that every woman I look at, regardless of her size, is probably thinking about losing weight. As am I. Constantly, whether I eat more or less.

Persephone said...

Do you know what ticks me off? The endless gags and sketches about fat people being obsessed with food. Fat people aren't obsessed with food. How do I know this? Because I've spent the past six months not thinking about food much. And, much like you, I climbed on the scales after a lengthy absence, and horrors! What I hate hate hate about watching my weight is that it's so unutterably boring. I don't wanna think about food all the time; I just don't wanna...

However, if I don't, the weight creeps up on me. (I should have seen it coming; I have breasts. They're the first thing to go when I lose weight.) So, speaking of economics, I can't afford to buy yet another larger wardrobe. It's back to keep track of everything I put in my yap. This sucks.

rainsinger said...

Funnily enough, your posts are like bitter chocolate to me - I like to savour them slowly, and enjoy them hugely.

I make half-hearted attempts to diet, but largely I just strive to flounce around with flair at whatever size I am (but on the other hand my wardrobe is cheap and I suspect I'll never be glamorous).

Good luck with shedding the pounds!

Iheartfashion said...

Well said!
I shudder to think of all I could have accomplished (PhD, Great American Novel?) had I been using all the hours I've spent obsessing about eating (or not eating) productively. I too am burdened by the relentless desire to be "fashion-thin," not just acceptable-BMI-thin and it causes me no end of anguish.

mothership said...

Firstly, beautifully and eloquently written, as usual.
Secondly, was trying to think where you put these alleged pounds - did not see them at lunch - did you hide them in your shoes? Perhaps wedge heels are heavier than I had supposed.
Thirdly, the weighty issue of size as it relates to us and our feelings about our worth, our beauty and our value seems to be not only confined to women - I notice that men increasingly suffer from this ailment as they become more targeted by appearance-related marketing where impossible ideals with aspirational lifestyles/physiques are held up as something that we simply cannot be happy without. Oh, God. I think I'd better go and eat a mini roll while I'm still on British soil...

Kate Lord Brown said...

The tyranny of the summer wardrobe *sigh* glad I'm not alone.

Welsh Girl said...

Great post. I am not in the 'skinny woman' brigade and it is interesting that most of the time I like myself as I am. It is when I with thin women and they look at me with horror, as though I offend their principles by not being bothered by my weight, that I start feeling somehow guilty at not caring that I just ain't thin. Thin women perpetuate the paranoia I think. Having said that good luck with ditching the unwanted pounds. Isn't that what the recession is all about after all? having fewer pounds....

Katherine said...

In my youth, way back then, I used to dance a lot...barre work and floor to ceiling mirrors are no fun. I kept myself skinny ditto my mother (she danced as a Tiller girl in the 60's) who weighed just under 7 stone at her thinnest. I now have a good relationship with food; I find it a major part of what I choose to do (eating out is my night out of choice). I am lucky in that I put weight on but loose it very quickly; however, the words "diet" and "weight watching" just make me feel...well...hungry (and I do like my pies!).

Katherine said...

"loose" weight; sorry meant "lose" of course....too many late nights for my baby addled brain to handle.