February 19, 2010

A Torrent of Unadulterated Rage (Natasha)

I must preface this blog by letting anyone reading know that I currently have PMS. As such, my propensity for rage knows no bounds. Every poor soul I’ve encountered has been on the receiving end of it this morning, even inanimate objects (I startled an innocent bystander as I walked out of my flat, shouting “t*sser!!” at my I-pod for daring to run out of battery 4 seconds into Bowie’s “Slow Burn”).

However, I am fairly confident that, even in my more usual, significantly less hormonal state, I’d still be outraged this morning, greeted, as I was by the story that a perfectly healthy looking 5 year old girl came home from school with a note stating she was overweight, prompting her to ask her mother “I’m not fat, am I Mummy?”.

I’m unable to register any other emotion than abject despair.

The online version of the article features similar stories from parents, who have been sent letters from people who have, incidently, never met their children, containing all sorts of scaremongering language about increased risk of cancer, heart disease etc. Upon closer investigation, it has transpired that their child is just 1 lb over the “recommended BMI” (whatever that may mean), yet still they are sent this standard letter, designed to terrify them into….what exactly? Putting their child on a diet? (Because we all know how well they work don’t we?)

Anyone who hasn’t taken heed of the constant, condescending advertisements and media messaging about getting your “5 a day” and cutting out “bad fats” that have been chucked at us in every conceivable form over the past decade is either living under a rock or, frankly, aint gonna change now.

It seems the government would rather see our kids paranoid, isolated and miserable, yo-yoing between strict diet regimes and the inevitable binge-eating these ultimately provoke, than with a little bit of puppy fat.

Anyone who regularly reads my blogs will be now be all-too familiar with my feelings to the dreaded BMI. If I was in charge of everything (*pauses typing momentarily to pursue that train of thought*), I’d ban people from using the phrase “BMI”.  You might as well have doctors, the media, and misguided, gym-going members of the public saying “air whipped sausage statue” or “three headed green pig-dog liver” over and over again, for all the meaning “BMI” actually has.

I’ve come to the conclusion that whoever is responsible for implementing these nationwide health and education policies is either a) constantly hungover b) has a severe form of attention deficit disorder or c) has employed an extremely smelly person to sit on their desk all day poking them on the shoulder repeatedly whilst chanting “what are you going to do about obesity? What are you going to do about obesity?”. Or possibly all three. They’re the only explanations I can fathom for the haste and lack of thought that’s gone into this latest venture.

When I was 13, I was about 5 ft 6 and weighed about 10 stone. I was much taller and a little chunkier than many of my peers, but not overweight by a long stretch. I ate every nutritionists’ dream – demi-vegetarian (I ate fish only, no meat), lots of wholegrain bread, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables etc. I played netball 3 times a week, did comprehensive two-hour dance training sessions at least twice a week, swam and walked everywhere. I was the healthiest I have ever been in my life, in the days before alcohol, late-night TV and PMS (speaking of which, will someone please pass me some chocolate before I scream?!!).

I was, at the time, friends with this very slight, sickly sort of creature, whose name I shall spare for the sake of her blushes. Let’s call her Sarah. Sarah was significantly shorter and thinner than me, was one of those sorts of people who said they “didn’t like” most foods before even sampling and seemed to have an aversion to daylight, preferring instead to sit in a darkened corner somewhere and read books. With the layers of fantasy my imagination and hindsight have imposed, I always picture her as a hybrid of a mouse and a vampire shortly before being forced into daylight and exploding into dust. It’ll be useful for the purposes of this anecdote, if you picture her in the same way.

One evening, we were sat in the back of her Mum’s Range Rover chatting idly about life, the universe and everything, as you do when you’re 13. I can’t remember the context (and that, in itself is significant), but her mother suddenly interjected with “well, yes, but Natasha is larger than most”.

She wasn’t to know that this particular throw-away statement proceeded to fall on top of a myriad of existing insecurities, jibes from people at school and feelings of unworthiness and to well and truly break the camel’s back. I proceeded to remain silent for the rest of the journey, cry for a protracted amount of time once safely ensconced in my bedroom and resolve to put myself on a diet the very next day. For the next 4 months I survived on an apple, a plain boiled potato and sometimes, if I was good, one weetabix with water every single day. My weight plummeted to just over 7 stone. My hair fell out, I developed Raynard’s disease, my school grades inevitably suffered, I no longer had the energy for sports and the upshot of the entire thing was in the summer of 1995 when my doctor threatened to hospitalize me and have me put on a drip unless I ate something.

During my bulimic decade, so indoctrinated was I by the culture of “thinness = health (however it is obtained), success and happiness”, that I yearned desperately for those early teenage years, when I had what I perceived to be the resolve to starve myself. So you might say that one comment – “Natasha is larger than most” – went on to have a knock-on affect for the next 15 years of my life.

Now, I am not, of course, suggesting that Sarah’s Mum is entirely responsible for my history of eating disorders. That would be hideously unfair and overly simplistic. How could she have possibly known she was touching on a sore point? But therein lies the point. People who have, and I stress this again, never seen or met our children are telling them that they are overweight. And who knows how much damage that could do – The increasing trends of self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse and body dysmorphia in teenagers, in addition to the ever-present threat of eating disorders, all have one common origin – Low self esteem.

And what could be more perfectly designed to lower children’s self esteem than an official letter from the powers that be which might as well say “you are not normal, you are a greedy pig”?

Stop. The. Madness.

To read the article, click here

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