Sunday, 18 March 2007

The path to enlightenment...

My impending homelessness means that I've been looking on Moveflat a lot recently. I've decided I quite like the idea of living in a girls-only flat - I've got this idea in my head that it would just be like one big long sleepover, hanging around in shortie pyjamas, watching Clueless and talking about boys. However, the reality even of what the ads themselves look like is enough to scare me witless.

"Looking for a clean and tidy flatmate"
"Looking for someone clean and tidy"
"Must be clean and tidy"

I guess that wouldn't be me then. However, the other thing I've noticed about all these girls' ads is rather more sinister:

Flatshare interests: Cooking, gym, yoga
Flatshare interests: Fashion, reading, yoga
Flatshare interests: Yoga

What is it with the yoga? When Geri Halliwell shrunk to miniscule proportions a few years ago, advocating yoga has her secret without mentioning the fact that she had probably also been living on celery which might have had something to do with it, it seems as if most of the female population bitched about how skinny she was and how awful she looked whilst simultaneously signing up for as many yoga classes as they could fit into their lives. And judging by moveflat, this fad is not on the wane.

Maybe my knowledge of anatomy and metabolism isn't that hot, but where I come from, in order for exercise to have any benefits in terms of increasing fitness and burning calories, it has to raise your heart rate above resting level. I'm not saying that yoga isn't good for you. Of course increasing flexibility can't be a bad thing. But helping you lose weight? Not unless the thought of turning up at the gym with cellulite hanging out of your pink lycra yoga outfit terrifies you into giving up pork pies.

So, sitting in one position for hours will make you thin? Well, I spent a good two hours in the "Slob Position" watching Dancing on Ice last night, and it's most gratifying to know that I might have burned a few thousand calories whilst I was at it. I felt so at one with the universe whilst watching Kyran Bracken fall on his arse, so enlightened witnessing Philip Schofield's nauseating interview techniques ("So, did you EVER dream that you'd be here, in the final?" I always hope one of them says, "YES, actually I did think I'd make it to the final" but they never do).

I did do a yoga class once. It was in my first year of music college and it was the only extra-curricular activity available, so I jumped at the chance to try it out. I have to say, it was the most putridly dull hour of my life. Everyone else was talking about how relaxed and enlightened they were feeling afterwards - I was just wishing I'd gone to the pub instead, at least I would have got some exercise lifting my non-slimline G&T to my mouth. Perhaps it might have been more scintillating if they'd had TV screens showing Dancing on Ice

Girls, yoga will not make you thin. If you happen to have the superhuman attention span required to enjoy it, good for you. But if you want to lose weight, try running, or cycling, or swimming, or kickboxing, or maybe even ice skating... Or you could just go to the pub instead.

Thursday, 15 March 2007


My mother is a size 14-16 and has spent her entire life on a diet. There hasn't been a day since she was about sixteen that she hasn't been dieting, or thinking about dieting, or despairing of her figure in some way. My mother is built like a brick shithouse and the one time she did get down to a size 10 on the Cambridge Diet (don't do it, kids!) she looked skeletal. She's a bit fat, in a normal, post-middle-aged-spread kind of way. She is certainly not the hideous, whale-like creature that she thinks she is.

When I was little, she was convinced that I'd be fat too, that I'd take after her. She told me this in order to prepare me for life as a fat bird, because I would always struggle with my weight, because I would always be unattractive for it and the earlier I learned to live with it the better. She fed me skimmed milk and Diet Coke and cottage cheese and rice cakes. She insisted on buying me a size 14 blazer for secondary school because I was bound to balloon to gigantic proportions sooner or later (if I tell you that my skirt bore an "Age 9" label, that should give you some idea of just how effing stupid I looked on my first day of school). Essentially, I was brought up to believe that my destiny was to become a disgusting, unlovable creature who had to live on Slim Fast milkshakes in order to avoid ballooning from a size 16 to a size 26.

I'm twenty-four now. Apart from the odd few weeks of dieting to get into a weight category for martial arts tournaments, I haven't restricted my food intake in any way since the age of seventeen. And I am a size 8. I feel cheated - all those years of my childhood I felt distressed at the thought of being unattractive when I grew up, all those years of my adolescence I stressed about gaining a bit of weight on my hips which nobody bothered to tell me was perfectly normal, it was all for nothing.

If only somebody had told me. If only some magical creature with the ability to see into the future had tapped me on the shoulder when I was six years old in the supermarket with my mother tutting over the fat content of Mr Kipling's latest offering and whispered in my ear that I should eat cake if I want it, that I would always be blessed with a natural inclination towards healthy food and exercise, that I would be so naturally slim I probably couldn't gain weight if I tried, and that a few extra pounds never hurt anybody anyway.

What if I had taken after my mother though? What if I was a natural fat bird? Would I be devouring diet books, going to Weight Watchers and wearing black one-piece swimsuits with a sarong? Would I make my future daughters memorise calorie counts? I bloody hope not.

The thing is, if you're slim, you've no idea how difficult it is to be fat. (And by fat, I mean fat by society's standards, not necessarily medically overweight). It's easy to look at fat friends and think they look fabulous, but not so easy to be one, to be surrounded by billboards that tell you what you should look like, to be surrounded by other women who more closely resemble that ideal, to be surrounded by men who hit on your slim friends because they constitute better "arm candy" although nobody ever tells you that you're just as attractive as them really, for the F word to be the first insult that's thrown at you not because it's such a terrible thing but because it's the most hurtful thing you can say to a woman. I can imagine what it's like, and I can also imagine that nothing I can imagine could possibly come close to reality. We are so cruel to fat women. A fat man is merely unhealthy. He needs to lay off the chip butties and get some exercise. But the word "fat" is emotionally loaded for women. It smacks of laziness, slovenliness, unworthiness, unattractiveness, stupidity, emotional instability, meanness, greed, lack of self-control...

No wonder my mother wanted to protect me from all that.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Only the ball should bounce

Sportswear pisses me off. Specifically, it pisses me off because of its unavailability. But all sports shops have women's sections, I hear you cry! All labels provide women's clothing! Well, it depends on your definition of "sports" and what your requirements are. Women's sportswear generally consists of silly little lycra numbers available in a size 8-14 - perfect for gym bunnies on macrobiotic diets who do yoga classes, chug vile probiotic yoghurt drinks and shun carbs; not so perfect for someone who competes in martial arts on a national level, who is disinterested in shaking her booty on a cross-trainer and whose enormous jugs need support.

Despite exhaustive searching, I have never found a sports bra in my size. According to Nike (whose lovely dri-fit tops I have to admit I am a bit of a fan of, so sue me) a woman should be able to exercise in a "supportive" top consisting of a rubber band underneath her bust and non-adjustable straps. That's perfect if you're 5ft8 and a 34A. But what if you're 5ft1 and a 30F? Well, Berlei finally saw the gap in the market for big sports bras a few years ago and started manufacturing their range up to a G-cup. They ran a memorable billboard campaign featuring Anna Kournikova and the slogan "Only the Ball Should Bounce". Thanks for reminding me how important it is to look after my boobs, but your bras still don't fit me. For starters, their back sizes start at a 32, but more importantly, the straps simply don't adjust short enough. I'd have to be at least four inches taller to wear a Berlei bra. Apparently, only tall women require sports bras. Here is what I've had to do to get a suitable sports bra: Buy one of these which comes in a suitable size and then take it here for the straps to be altered. Total cost per bra = £55. Boy is being short with big jugs an expensive business.

Women's trainers are not designed for running. If you go into a sports shop to buy a pair of trainers the first thing you'll notice is that the women's section is miniscule. The next thing you'll notice is that there are very few styles that are actually suitable for any kind of sport, as opposed to being simply fashion accessories. The next thing you'll notice after that is that if like me you're fortunate enough to be a size 5 or below, you're better off shopping in the boys' section - no VAT and they're actually designed for running in! Oh, and by the way, girls' trainers don't exist AT ALL. You can get cute things in pink for toddlers, but once your little girl is past the age of about eight, good luck finding her anything that isn't obviously designed for boys. No wonder teenage girls tend to lose interest in sport - they haven't anything to wear for it.

The cut of women's sportswear is not at all suitable for an athletic physique. I trailed round several sports shops last autumn to try and find a nice, comfortable yet stylish hoodie to go running in, and found that I could barely fit my arms into my usual size - the sleeves were cut for a skinny model rather than for an athlete. I had to go two sizes larger before I could move my arms comfortably, meaning that it was far too big on my comparatively slim torso. It's not as if my biceps are freakishly enormous - I'm a martial artist, not a weightlifter. Further evidence that the most strenuous exercise that sportswear companies think us girls are capable of is pilates. I never did buy a hoodie.

So, a sporty woman can look forward to chafing from ill-fitting clothing; droopy, stretchmarked breasts from ill-fitting bras; and joint and back problems from dodgy trainers. Great! It's enough to make anyone hang up their sweatpants in favour of a date with a large tub of Ben & Jerrys.

In short, women's sportsgear is all well and good if all you want from your hi-performance lycra mesh dri-fit hi-tech overpriced little spandex outfit is simply something to pose in which shows off your abs to full effect. But if you want something that's actually suitable for doing sports in, good luck finding it.