So yesterday, I went to the doctors. This is rarely a pleasant experience, largely due to the fact that the doctors rarely even pretend to care, and I rehearsed the lines with my partner beforehand. I almost got it word-perfect. I’ve been suffering from carpal tunnel recently, as well as my usual problems stemming from having Perthes Disease as a kid, so I wanted to see if there was anything I could do, on top of physiotherapy, to help manage my pain levels. And what was the main subject of the conversation? Weight.
Now I appreciate that being heavier can put extra strain on your body. It’s something that I’m working on, both with my physiotherapist and by myself, but it is a long process, because I’m not the average person. I suffer from severe discomfort and am in pain on a daily basis. My joints, particularly my hips and lower back, are very weak. I take the advice from my physiotherapist and we work together on getting me stronger and healthier. But – and I’ll repeat this, because a lot of people don’t seem to understand – it’s a long fucking process. Got it? (If not, you can read more about my struggle with Perthes here.)
The doctor was completely focused on weight loss, even suggesting I join something like Slimming World (my disdain for which I shall be delving into in another blog post soon). I explained what my physiotherapist and I had discussed and put in place, and his response was to ridicule everything I said.
Me: I wish it was as simple as eat less and move more, but it’s a bit trickier than that.
Doctor: But it is that simple. If we put you in a room with just lettuce and water, you would fade away.
Me: … Fade away? Is that your recommendation?
I left without him examining me or taking me seriously at all, and with a prescription for strong painkillers and a dark cloud hanging over my head. It got me thinking about the way we view food and weight, and how it’s acceptable to tell people who are overweight that they should simply fade away.
When I was growing up, it was the Mischa Bartons and Paris Hiltons we looked up to. It was all about having sun-kissed skin and long, blonde waves. It was all about this diet and that diet, green tea and negative calories and thinspiration. It was all about being thin. Thin was our word, and thin was our goal.
I’ve touched upon it previously, but it’s time to tell the whole story. When I was a teenager, I had an eating disorder. Back then, it felt like every girl had an eating disorder, and maybe that’s not far from the truth, but each experience is different, and I want to explain mine.
One of the things I remember most is spending hours on “thinspiration” sites, looking at pictures of emaciated bodies and reading “inspirational” quotes and stories, of how these young girls (and sometimes guys) were tricking those around them into believing they weren’t starving themselves to death. These sites were closed down, but they always reappeared. They were probably a source of comfort for many, and, at the time, I believed they were helping me too, but hindsight allows me to see that they were also fueling my desire to be thin. Fueling my obsessions, my disordered relationship with food and with my body. As women, we’re taught that our bodies are inapproprite, wrong, to be covered up and protected. We’re taught from a young age how to conceal bad skin and not to wear red lipstick and blue eyeshadow. We’re moulded by society. But our bodies are also open to ridicule and sexualisation, to harassment and the male gaze. We’re owned by society.
As a teenager, I would obsess over calories. I had lists of foods that promised to have negative calories – eating them would, apparently, burn more calories than the food contained. I bought an exercise machine, and worked out for hours, no matter how much my hip screamed in pain. I weighed myself every day, and had goal weights. Numbers ruled my life. I drank copious amounts of green tea, survived whole days eating just yoghurt and mints and drinking diet Coke. Then I would binge on Pringles and chocolate biscuits, and hate myself afterwards. I couldn’t purge regularly, but I tried often enough, and “punished” myself by exercising harder. I was hungry, I was tired, I was miserable.
Back then, I wasn’t overweight, but I truly believed I was. My weight yo-yoed, which is no surprise, but I generally stayed a size 10. I definitely put on some weight after getting the contraceptive implant, but that wasn’t until I was about 15, years into this disordered relationship with food and weight.
On top of societal pressures and opinions exhibited by my peers, my father would regularly tell me that I was fat. He said and did other, arguably more horrible things to me as well, but that word always stuck. He would spit it at me, as if it was the worst thing a person could be. And that’s what I believed.
I no longer believe this. I no longer believe that food is an enemy. It took a long time, but, when I moved away to university, my relationship with food was just one of the many things I worked on. I was finally in control of my life, every aspect of it, and so I spent some time getting to know food better, exploring and, eventually, enjoying it.
Everywhere I turn, I feel like somebody is trying to knock down what I worked hard to build – my self-confidence. The delightful person who tried to fat-shame me on Instagram. The Slimming World Syns being advertised. A colleague who regularly calls me out on what I’m eating (and even went so far as to call me a “little oink oink”. Yup). I attempt to laugh these things off, but each negative comment tempts me to go backwards, to believe what they say, to slide back into a disordered eating habit. Every time, I manage to hold my head high and keep it together, but it’s getting harder. The thought that pushes me forward is the idea that there’s a 14-year-old me out there, looking at pictures of protruding ribs and hip bones, trying to quench the hunger pangs with water, crying themselves to sleep over nasty comments made by nasty people. Body positivity wasn’t a phrase I was familiar with back then, but if we can use it to stop just one young person from sliding down into the depths of an eating disorder, then we’ve done something amazing.
I’m now a size 14-16. I have no idea what I weigh – I will not have a set of scales in my house. I don’t overeat; we cook balanced meals, and indulge in less healthy ones too. We enjoy what we eat, and recognise what’s healthy and what isn’t. We don’t shame one another. I will never look at food as an enemy again. It’s shame that should be the enemy.
The only goal I have is to be stronger and healthier overall. To be pain-free (or as close as I can get), able to walk short distances, and put my own damn socks on. Losing weight may help with my health issues, but, in the words of my physiotherapist, it wasn’t the cause of them, and it certainly won’t cure anything. I agree that some changes would do me good (because who can argue with that, really?), and I’m taking steps towards an all-round healthier lifestyle. But I absolutely will not be shamed into hating myself; not my society, not by doctors, not by colleagues or family or so-called friends. Never again.