I was a teenger in the late 80s early 90s, the era of The original “Karate kid and Footloose,” (it must’ve been a good decade for film because they’re remaking them all!) Daryl Hannah was a mermaid long before she was a one eyed assassin. Jane Fonda was “feeling the burn.” Women were tall, lean and willowy. I was a short, plump, muscular girl.
My wonderful mother and her friends were always expressing their desire to lose a few pounds, if not actually on diets; and tanning, not so much my mother who has the palest of skin, freckles and mousy hair like me. (I’ve always hated my freckly arms) but this was the era of the sun tan too, before there was as much knowledge of the different elements of UV and fake tan made you look like an orange Z list reality tv star. Many more people still smoked too probably because of the era before them when all the film stars smoked.
We’ve always been subliminally bombarded with subtle messages, them and us, successful people do this, so we all do this too. Attractive people do that so we all do that, generation after generation far before the deliberate introduction of advertising.
It’s no secret body types come in and out of fashion like hairstyles and clothing, from Rubenesque rolls to Twiggy’s jutting collarbones but when you’re a dumpy prepubescent chubba in the decade that created “The Truffle shuffle” to ridicule a fat kid, your Mother and her friends are always criticising themselves (none of these women possessed an ounce of fat btw!) It’s easy to develop a complex.
This complex didn’t see me eating less however or trying not to eat pound after pound of sugar. I should probably point out I was well fed by my mother, she was born in 1940 and remembered the years of austerity after the war, her Mother was an amazingly adept woman, she kept house, made, bread, clothes, had an allotment where she grew her own vegetables. She never seemed to have a down day. She worked for Channel before she met my grandfather, long before women routinely worked so always had an impeccable sense of style too. Hearing that it’s no wonder my Mother was and is to this day hard on herself, she has a lifelong depressive illness, it must have seemed so much to live up to. The point I am rapidly losing was, she cooked our meals from scratch. My lunch box contained fruit, sesame snacks, ryvita and natural yogurt, not kitkats, coke and crisps like my peers.
Along came “Heroine chic” Kate Moss and her generation of super models gray eyed and gaunt, peering moodily from the pages of every magazine. A horrific incident with a purple velvet dress from Miss Selfridge, I’d seen in Just 17 magazine, I loved it, saved for it and bought it. I still remember the debilitating crushing feeling of self loathing when I looked in the mirror and saw a 5′ 2″ chubby girl looking back at me. The sting of the tears and wave of nausea when I didn’t look like the 6 ft size 8 (4 US) model in the picture. All these things just underpinned my feelings of inadequacy about my looks. I was flat chested, pale skinned with freckles. Short and plump to boot.
It was the decade after punk where goths came in (in Oxford anyway) I was a didi goth, floaty fringed black tassel skirts, black spikey hair and liquid eye liner, hidden behind a mask of make up and a sullen expression.
Various experiences added to the feelings of negativity towards my body. A local teenage skin head chanting at me, “I’m a goth, I’m a goth, what kind of goth am I? A fat one!”
Goth moved on to faded ripped Levi jeans and brogues with Grolsch bottle tops in homage to ‘Bros’ I’d catch the Oxford Tube by myself and go to American Classics on the King’s Road in London & buy second hand Levis 501s, kept the black hair and make up mask but toned down the kicks and pattern to my liquid eyeliner. And I still gorged my feelings of self loathing with sugar and fat.
My lifelong friends, my mother’s best friends daughters were, of course, tall and willowy too, another incident with rara skirts, my short muscular, corn beef legs compared to their long lean tanned ones were another blow to my confidence.
All these little events plus many more subconscious blows created an insecurity about my body and intrinsically my self worth.
The value of an individual has no baring on their appearance but society, social media, magazines etc tell another story. They drip feed fat means lazy and ugly while slim is successful and sexy. I guess at least now muscular is becoming something women can aspire to too, rather than the assumption you’re butch or taking steroids.
Where was I going with all this you may ask?
I’m 47 and fully aware of the value of the soul not the outward appearance. I try not to judge others for theirs, although as a human being have to admit this isn’t always possible. We all judge second by second without necessarily being mindful of it. I’m not in bad physical shape, I’m not a cross fitter but I train regularly and am pretty fit and I’m not usually overweight perhaps a few pounds over what is ideal for optimum health in the winter but this could be the body dysmorphia talking. To quote my mother I look wonderful for “a woman of my age.”
Despite this I’m still unable to separate insecurity about my body image from my emotions. To this day if I’m angry or sad I fight it down with sugar; usually chocolate or gummy sweets. I celebrate with sweet food, reward myself with sugar. Any excuse.
I fight the urge to gorge in secret because of the shame I feel eating something perceived as fattening. I started hiding food, usually in the form of bags of cadbury fun size, after I went interrailing round Europe, mostly Italy with my first serious boyfriend at 17 (before he went off to York University leaving me in Oxford heart broken) He told me if I lost two stone he’s marry me, an off the cuff remark he undoubtedly wouldn’t remember making. I was probably only about 9 stone 10lbs – 10 stone. The relationship died when he went off with a girl he met at freshers week but for me the need to lose 2 stone remained.
I lost the 2 stone and then some, following a pregnancy and subsequent birth of my beloved eldest daughter who’s 27 today, and various means not all of them healthy or sensible to be the subject of another blog but I’m still a slave to sugar, I don’t care if people say it’s not addictive, I’ve given up smoking and various other highly addictive substances (that other blog again) and for me it’s the worst!