As I sit here, stirring sugar into my tea (shh! My dirty secret) and wishing I had a custard cream left from the stash I brought back from England, I am thinking about a book I was reading to Five earlier this evening about astronauts and what they ate on board spaceships. It didn’t sound very appetising or glamorous and they also had to exercise in the most cramped and awkward conditions to prevent muscle wasting due to the lack of gravity. But I’m pretty sure they don’t complain or worry about their waistlines looking at issues of Vogue, Hello or the fashion pages of Astronaut’s Health and feel inadequate as a result. My guess is they regard the food as mere fuel and just do their exercise so they don’t waste away, and besides, it’s probably quite difficult to weigh oneself where there isn’t any gravity.
There has been a lot of talk amongst my Twitter compadres recently about the trend for dangerously thin celebrities and models and how the entertainment and fashion industries are to blame for turning people into anxious, self-starving, body-obsessed miseries. If it wasn’t for them, the premise goes, we would all be happy with our body image and would not torture ourselves with dieting, failing to diet, bingeing, bulimia, anorexia, compulsive custard-cream eating and the rest.
It would seem only common sense that these entities would have a vested interest in making sure that we are not content exactly as we are, because who, then, would buy all the aspirational goods and services which create the profit to drive the machine?
We’d all sit at home being happy, having that second slice of cake whilst chatting companionably to our friends and families instead of poking anxiously at ourselves with dissatisfaction while the latest movie star flits across the screen insisting she is naturally a size negative 2 and she washes her face in gravel and cow dung. We might do something more interesting, fun and worthwhile with our time and money than perpetually trying – and failing – to turn ourselves into human toothpicks to the tune of $40 billion per year in the US alone while a few thousand miles away there are children literally dying because they don’t have enough to eat.
I recall a conversation over Thanksgiving dinner the first year we were in America after Five was born. One of the guests worked as a drug rep. in the pharmaceutical industry and she was very excited about a new wonder diet drug for which her company was trying to get FDA approval. She told us it was made from a plant that the Sani Bushmen of South Africa have chewed for centuries to suppress their appetite in the lean times of drought and famine. It is a fragile herb that only grows in a specific region, the homelands of these oft persecuted people. Now this large pharmacom had ‘discovered’ it, were trying to market it, and (she said indignantly) had unreasonably been slapped with a lawsuit by the Sani who were demanding restitution as they considered the plant theirs – it grew solely on their traditional land and had been appropriated without their permission. To be absolutely fair, as soon as I heard the words Big Pharma vs. Indigenous tribe, it was pretty clear whose side I would be on, no matter the details, but what really did my head in was what she said next:
“I mean, it’s not like those people EVER have to diet or lose weight! So what do they need it for anyway?!”
Husband could obviously feel the Vesuvius about to erupt next to him so, uncharacteristically, he stepped in quickly and quietly and pointed out to her, rather more kindly than I would have, that the Sani had a much more basic need for an appetite suppressant than we did – they got hungry and there simply wasn’t any food. This helped them with the pain of starvation.
“Oh!” She said, with a kind of dim, flickering light-bulb look.
“I never even thought of that”.
When you were small did your mother ever tell you to eat everything on your plate because there were starving children in Africa?
Mine too, and like you I also used to tell her to pack it up and send it there, then.
I wonder what would happen if we could send our overconsumed dinners to the starving children in Africa plus the money we spend trying to uneat them again(all US$40 billion)
How many lives would we save?
And how many cute pairs of jeans would we subsequently fit into?
This specific set of data did not seem to be available readily on Google but I am planning to write to the World Bank and suggest they publish a white paper on this very subject.
I do not mean to belittle the agony of feeling unhappy with one’s size or weight. I have been personally tortured by that demon. I will go to considerable lengths to avoid face-time with a set of scales – why know the number? A whole day can be ruined by a set of random digits.
I do not think this befitting for a person of my intelligence.
I also find it inadvisable to look closely at one’s reflection when a little unhappy or hormonal. Mirrors tend to expand and retract in direct proportion with one’s emotional state – if you feel a little wobbly inside, you can be damn sure that’s what your eye will catch in the glass, regardless of what is actually padding your skeleton.
I got the best piece of advice regarding body image from a girl I once knew who was, oddly enough, a former anorexic. As soon as I began to feel anxious about my weight she rolled her eyes and told me to shut the fuck up, go to the gym, eat a little less, love myself a little more, and stop looking at the people who made me feel fat and ugly.
Because that is the problem. Not my weight or yours. That’s pretty easy to control, it’s just a math problem. It’s the feeling, yes FEELING fat that is so awful and hard to battle. And therefore ugly. Why else would the two words go together as seamlessly as gin and tonic? Or thin and beautiful?
If we are constantly bombarded with images of perfect beauty, and these perfect beauties are having perfectly happy lives with all the perfect consumer goods that I do not have but a great deal of psychology and money is put into making me want then not only will I want to have those consumer goods but I will feel that I, too, need to look like those perfect beauties (being a type of consumer good myself, as a woman) and therefore need to purchase further goods/services in order to contort myself into the perfect female form in order to attract one of those white-toothed men in the ads (they do exist, don’t they?) who will provide the consumer goods I am coveting etc. etc.
I read the other day that 24% of women (and 17% of men) would trade three to five years of their lives to be thinner.
NEARLY A QUARTER OF US WOULD GIVE UP THREE YEARS! That is just crazy talk. They didn’t even say which ones, like, okay, I’ll give up three shitty ones in a nursing home where I can’t wipe my own ass and I don’t know if it’s Tuesday anymore. Just a random “three years”.
In the last three years I have borne and raised my beloved son, Two. Imagine missing that so I could squeeze into a smaller pair of trousers! The mind boggles.
It was so awful that I felt inspired to write my own diet plan. I can’t promise you will be a size zero at the end of it, but you won’t care if you’re not by the time you’re done (kind of like they say about Dilaudid – not exactly a painkiller, but you don’t care that it hurts? Maybe that’s a bad analogy..) Anyway, here is is:
The Last Diet You Will Ever Need:
Throw away your magazines
Switch off the TV
Do not watch Hollywood movies
Do not follow Entertainment figures
Do not compare yourself to other people. You can only look like you, just a few pounds either way. EOS.
Read good books
Eat good food when you are hungry. Don’t eat crappy food, it’s not worth it.
Laugh a lot
Spend time outdoors with people you love
Find an exercise you love and do it because you love it, not because you ought to.
Don’t look in the mirror when you are sad or feel unstable
Don’t weigh yourself
If you feel a bit fat, start moving your body and stop thinking about food.
Repeat, do not think about food. Think about life.
If you really need a biscuit, just bloody eat it. It’s not arsenic, you know!
Remember that life is brief and nobody will be engraving your dress size on your tombstone.
If, when you are done with the diet, you have any extra dinner money left over, do remember to send it to someone who is truly hungry. I have the feeling that once you have adopted The Last Diet You’ll Ever Need, you’ll never feel like you’re starving again.