December 21, 2009

Natasha -v- A Few Very Narrow Minded Daily Mail Readers – Another Beauty Debate

Anorexia, Bulimia and Compulsive Eating Disorder deprive you of your ability to eat in response to hunger and being able to register when you’re full. When I came to Mark Newey 18 months ago, with a hole in the roof of my mouth, suffering from life crippling depression and having alienated most of my friends after a decade long history of bulimia nervosa, it wasn’t just the bingeing and purging that we needed to address. I needed to conquer my all-consuming fear of weight gain (ironic, considering bulimia doesn’t really make you lose weight anyway) and start paying attention to my “reptilian brain” – The one responsible for instinct – when it came to food, rather than my “mammalian brain” – The one responsible for emotions.

Now, I’m happy to say that for the first time since I was 10 years old, my relationship with my old friend Food is pretty healthy. Food and I have learned to love each other once more, after years of bitterness, resentment and arguing. Like any couple, we hit the occasional rocky patch. I occasionally overindulge and berate Food for being so attractive and enticing, but then I remember that I’m the one in control and with the responsibility for my own well being. Food and I have been coasting along nicely for about a year now and have even introduced a Third Party to spice things up – Exercise. I took the time to sit down and ask Exercise what it was all about. I’d heard rumours that it meant hours toiling on the treadmill, grunting and profusely sweating in an enclosed, windowless cell with pose-y people on steroids. Exercise assured me that was all hearsay. Turns out exercise has quite a relaxed attitude to relationships and said I could define the parameters. I asked her if she’s be happy with me walking the 2 miles each way to the train station every day, taking the occasional swim and quite often boogying around my living room to my new Beyonce CD- That was all the commitment I was capable of at this stage in my life (I’d become too close to Exercise in the past, had my heart broken and my emotions were still raw).

For the first time in my life, I can tell you how my body is, naturally, when nourished and treated with a bit of TLC. I’m 5 ft 11, with long slender limbs and tend to carry excess weight around my middle and….shock horror…..I’m a size 16. 2 years ago, the prospect of being a size 16 would have induced suicidal thoughts. I’d taken on board the narrow definitions of beauty flung at me by the media and fashion industry from every direction to the extent that I equated size 16 with “fat” without any regard whatsoever for height, shape or bone structure. Turns out, size 16 isn’t such a bad place to be at all, and more importantly, I am there as a result of a natural and healthy life path (much more so than when I momentarily achieved the oh-so-elusive size 10 by making myself sick 8 times a day, taking hundreds of laxatives, exercising for 4 hours per day and sleeping for hours to avoid having to eat), so I was rather dismayed to see the reader comments posted on a Mail Online article today. The article concerned how Selfridges have withdrawn their “plus size” range and now do not stock above a size 14. Some readers took the rather spurious introduction of the topic of weight to express some very worrying and narrow minded views, amongst which were the following, ludicrous assertions:

  • Anyone above a size 14 is “obese” and a “drain on the NHS”.
  • “Fat” people do not deserve to wear nice clothes. If they wanted to “look nice” they would go on a diet.
  • It is “normal” to eat one boiled potato for dinner. If people eat more than this, they will become “obese”.

I should point out that many, more sensible people did log on to rebut – pointing out that if you are 6 foot tall, a size 18 is perfectly healthy and that actually eating a boiled potato for dinner and exercising compulsively is really not that healthy at all (you don’t say). However, I felt compelled to add my own thoughts (I was especially offended by the “drain on the NHS” point):

Unless you are teetotal, do not smoke, avoid ALL stressful situations, get just the right small amount of direct sunshine, do not live in an urban area and get exactly 7-8 hours sleep per night, you have the potential to be a “drain on the NHS”. Unless you live your life within these incredibly strict parameters, you have no right to judge people with regard to what they may, or indeed may not, eat.

The NHS is there for everyone. We all pay taxes, we all fund it, we all have the right to use it, regardless of lifestyle.

When people listen to ridiculous, bigoted comments like those displayed and take them to heart it can trigger eating disorders and surely that is a “drain on the NHS”, by their definition?

To be a size 14 and “morbidly obsese” you would have to be about 3 feet tall. One cannot make sweeping statements about what size people “should” be without any regard for their body type.

I also, whilst working myself up into a frenzy of outrage as I read more of the ridiculous comments, developed the embryo of a theory:

A lot of the people who commented were supposedly “outraged” because they spend a lot of time going to the gym and focussing on not eating to maintain a size 6 or 8 figure and they argue that they do this in order to be “healthier” and “feel better about themselves”. BUT, would they be so enraged if they were really doing it for themselves, to feel better on the inside and “healthier”? Isn’t it the truth that actually, they are doing it as a result of the prevailing social view that thin = beautiful and expect to enjoy privileges and popularity and attention that larger people don’t, for their efforts? And is their anger in fact, as I suspect, motivated by the fact that the tide is turning, that thinness is not so automatically associated with beauty as it once was, and therefore they think that all their effort has gone to waste? Isn’t it that truth that these people accuse larger people of being “weak willed” for not eschewing all food over 50 calories when it is in fact THEY who are weak willed for not being able to stand up to peer pressure?

I would hate for this blog to be perceived in any way as “skinny bashing”. As I tell the students I teach in my Body Confidence Campaign, I really don’t care what size they are as long as they are healthy and happy. There is a whole spectrum of beauty out there ranging from slender to curvaceous and it all needs to be represented and respected. I would never comment detrimentally on a thinner person’s body shape and would only offer someone advice on their health and lifestyle if they asked for it. I would appreciate the same courtesy in return, please, Daily Mail readers!

Please visit my Body Confidence Campaign page and also learn about Body Gossip to join the revolution!

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