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.