I’m what’s called, in common parlance, a skinny bitch. But inside my head is a world where I have to permit myself to eat cake.
They say that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.
I can’t confirm that because I have tasted French cheese and Swiss chocolate (not together). But I’m pretty sure that nothing feels as good as being in control of your body image.
I’m just not completely sure.
Mostly, I have good days.
Mostly, I eat the cheese and the chocolate.
But when I do, I’m often still reminding myself that it’s OK to do that.
Which I guess means it’s not a good day.
I was 17 when I became a lightweight rower.
Every weekend I had to stand on scales in front of strangers to ensure I wasn’t ‘overweight.’
I never was. But that didn’t mean I didn’t worry some days and ‘weigh in’ without underwear in case I was a few grams over.
I weighed myself during the week to make sure I was on target for the weekend.
I read labels and I ate small portions.
Sometimes so small I got told by my parents to go back for seconds. It wasn’t easy on them either.
My problem is that I naturally fall around the lightweight/heavyweight tipping point. And rather than come up against clear heavyweights, I had to go down to lightweight.
It was a key reason in my decision to stop pursuing elite rowing.
I knew that the older I got, the harder it would be to maintain my weight. I recognised that I already had a problem and chose to not put myself in a position that would almost certainly make it worse.
It was the right decision. But the tears over it continued many years later.
Can I blame my current thought process on that? Probably not. But I think the foundation was there.
A few years ago, it was explained to me by a doctor and elite cyclist that while we talk about eating disorders, we rarely talk about disordered eating. That it’s a spectrum, not a black and white scenario.
It helped to make sense of it in my own head. I knew I didn’t have an eating disorder but I knew that the guilt I placed on myself for eating dessert wasn’t right.
(Why am I using past tense?)
Dessert is something I allow myself to eat. That I permit myself to eat.
Obesity campaigns don’t help.
They tell me that I can’t eat all those things I remind myself that I can eat.
Graphic images of clogged arteries and fat cells. Articles about eating less fried food and the damage that ‘bad food’ does to you.
I eat very little fried food but feel worse for the few chips I eat after those ads.
There was an article doing the rounds a few months ago about obesity. I tried to find excuses to not eat tea when I went home that night; I had eaten a piece of cake after lunch.
If I feel I have eaten ‘bad food’ for lunch, sometimes the only reason I eat tea is because I have a partner to cook for, or who has cooked for me.
My exposure to the stereotype of French women who ‘don’t get fat’ is a recent addition to my thoughts.
I now carry the burden of fitting in to the (stereotypical or otherwise) aesthetic ideal of a culture I’m entering: A stronger feeling than worrying about fitting into the aesthetic ideal of my own.
I belong to my culture whether I look the part or not, but anything I can do to smooth the transition into a new one is desirable.
I will never sound French but maybe, just maybe, I can look French.
Yes, I see images in the media of ‘beauty’ and think I want to look like that.
And the thing is, I sometimes do look like that.
I like to look like that.
Not the size zero models. Just the ones who still look human. Slim, but human. Who can still buy their clothes off the rack.
Will my concern about body image and appearance go away? That I don’t know.
I would like to say ‘yes’ but then I worry what I will look like when that time comes; when I no longer worry about the appearance of my body.
Obviously if (when?) that time comes I will no longer be thinking like this. But right now it’s a scary thought to consider I may actually be happy not being the size I am now.
Does that mean I no longer take pride in my appearance? Or, worse, that I have just given up?
Ageing happens, of course. But I fear dramatic change.
So maybe next time you think I’m a skinny bitch who is judging you for eating your first burger and chips in months, consider that it might be mine too. And I’m judging myself for eating it.