The True Weight!
In 1985 I was five years old and full of the joys of everything – I was a monkey like Jimmy and just like him I cared not about what I looked like, or for that matter how anyone else looked. I was young, carefree, I ate what I ate and I didn’t think about it any further than it was breakfast or lunch or yummy, I was having a snack.
But looking back that might be the last time I was easy with myself and I totally believe that’s because I was easy with food. My favourite attire back then, in the days when I knocked on our new neighbours door a day after moving in to ask them if I could come in because my Dad was at work and my Mum had gone down the pub again (told you I was a monkey – come on, we’ve all seen Insta-Gram, can you imagine her going down the pub… AGAIN?!) was my birthday suit and red wellies. It worked for me and my Mum (sober as a judge and totally at home, I promise) said I simply never wanted to wear any clothes. And that was fine. The worst thing that happened was being bitten on the bottom by my Grandmother’s goose and the best… Oh the best was that freedom!
I can’t imagine today just being able to strip off and run around with no clothes on without thought. I mean it’s not done in polite society anyway but the uneasiness of it would not stem from social etiquette (you know me) but because somewhere in the years that followed came the notion that I was fat. It drove into me as fast and as wildly as a rampaging virus which took hold of my mind and altered it forever.
By the time I was 14, well into the thick of things at one of the most prestigious stage schools in the country, surrounded by ballerinas who ate tissues on their break and dancers who swore by water tablets to soak up any fluid intake to bring the scales down, I was well and truly under the disease of hatred for myself in the way that I look and that’s something which try as I might I can never let go of. Even now. Nearing 40. I hate the way my body looks and I can never. Ever. Eat normally.
At 19 I weighed so little that a simple operation to remove my tonsils had the Doctor handing my Mother the care information leaflet for eating disorder helplines and advising her that I had a problem – as if she didn’t know or hadn’t tried to do something about it. In my recuperation from this very simple everyday procedure, Insta-Gram (as she is now known, but back then was a single mum struggling with how to cope with a daughter who simply would not eat) employed my best friend to look after me when she had to go to work. She paid Emily to be my minder and as my Mum went into her class to teach a load of five year olds, wondering what had happened to me in the intervening years from when I was the age of the children in her charge to this solemn teen who had bones jutting out at angles and skin so hairy and thin it was trying to cling onto those visible bones, she worried about me all day. What had happened to her little girl that meant she needed my friend to be with me while she couldn’t be? She didn’t know but she knew Emily had to be there. To feed me. To sit with me. To make sure something went in.
And I remember very vividly, I wonder if Emily will too, the look on her face as my friend brought me some food into my bedroom. She sat on my bed which was by the window back then, it’s moved now, and took my hand in hers. She looked at it, at my arm, and said ‘Ruth, you’re SO thin, this isn’t right, this doesn’t look good’ – she said the words ‘YOU DON’T LOOK GOOD!’ But I didn’t take them to heart. I heard the ones which preceded it telling me I was so thin…
And I loved it.
Now I could wax lyrical about all this over and over. In fact search my blog and you’ll find more if you want it but I want to fast forward. I want to bring you up to the here and the now missing out the years when I ‘got better’ because I found love and he simply wouldn’t stand for being in restaurants with me while I picked at food he’d just bought me yet refuse to actually eat it. He built me up and he threatened to leave me if I didn’t do something about it because a girl who wouldn’t dip her finger into ketchup to see that yes, it really wasn’t going to poison her, wasn’t a girl he wanted to hang out with. I shall skim over those years when Jonny and I joined a gym and I still ate nothing when I wasn’t with him but gorged at the weekends when I was – as if I was some super bodied amazing who could eat what she liked but still stay slim. I was ‘all’ on those days and nothing but burn in the week. I went to the gym every single day. I refused cakes on birthdays at work, I felt repulsed on behalf of the others who would tuck in as I watched wondering how they could be so disgusting on a simple Wednesday and then on Saturday I pigged, literally, out!
We shall jump over all of that until I got pregnant and finally really did just eat what I wanted and guess what… I didn’t stay slim. And I went from controlling all of my food to being completely out of control and that’s where I have stayed.
I think about food non stop – I did then and I do now. What I’m going to eat and when I’m going to eat it. What meal is next, when it’s coming, how I’m going to get there. I exercise thinking about food, I dream about food, I wake thinking about FOOD! And I just about manage to keep it in control. I’m way heavier than I want to be for my frame and I eat way too much today instead of too little. But I can’t stop. I want to but I don’t know how as if all those years of starvation are physically forcing me backwards. I’m teetering on the precipice with every meal and I fucking hate it. I FUCKING hate it!
It’s not about confidence… It’s not. I have that. Or… I have the ability to fake it. Even as a very skinny 18 year old who only allowed herself one apple a week so fat I felt I was and I was able to strip bare to model naked for art students. Now, hate filled about every lump, bump and sag of my body and I can still take my clothes off if I decide I’m going to. I can fake that empowerment. I just can’t feel it.
I had my photograph taken by Charlotte from @EmilyGreyPhoto and she said all I did was criticise myself and that I looked great. I can hear it but I won’t digest it. I don’t know how. That’s not what’s in my head. The other day Lauren from @Dilan_AndMe sat naked on a swing with me for more photos and she said I had great side boob but I backed it swifly up with a comment about how rancid I am – and I have the need to tell you now, but I won’t. They both told me I have to stop being so hateful about myself but I can’t. My automatic, my setting, my programme is to hate it.
This is inbuilt now and no amount of BoPo is going to change that but it can change it for my children. My children CAN grow up in a world where they are comfortable in their own skin and while they might not want to run around in their altogether with just red wellies on I want them to be able to walk in front of their partners when they are adults without feeling huge shame and disgust for themselves not wanting to be seen.
My issues started with other girls at school and from magazines with the 90s dynamic to force feed emaciated images as being the ideal.
We now tell our children a different story, one that they want to be STRONG not SKINNY! And they are buying it, thank the bloody lord they are buying it, but… Despite all the investment wonderful women are putting out there because we now hold the power of the media in our own hands, Florence still comes home from school telling me she’s upset because another girl repeatedly tells her how much she weighs herself and asks Florence what the number is on her own scales before noting to everyone that Florence weighs more than her… Florence can’t see that this girl is a different shape no matter what they weigh. That Florence herself dances and swims and surfs and eats well and looks amazing. Florence can only hear the comment that says ‘I weigh less than you’ which is said with a tone of victory about the fact.
And that, my friend, is the shit that sticks.
I spend all my time telling her how lovely she is, how beautiful, how gorgeous, how fabulous – because she is, oh she is, and then one silly girl at school is obsessed with her own body already and it burns into her like a lazer of wild fire on the run. The fire is burning and it has made her refuse a mini magnum last night, refuse even a bloody yogurt – today she doesn’t want her crisps at lunch. She believes this one comment over all my hard work and investment in making sure she doesn’t get wind of the fires on the horizon. But I’ve put them all out before and I’ll put this one out too, mark my words.
As Julia Roberts says in ‘Pretty Woman’, the bad stuff is easier to believe… And that’s why this fire of doubt is so virolous and feral.
I’m fuming this morning after seeing Florence look at herself with sadness in the mirror. I’m fuming. And I feel like there’s so much I can do about it and nothing all at the same time because all it takes is one voice on the school trip saying ‘I’m not eating any sweets because…’ and that’s it. A run, at length, off that precipice and into the shark infested waters below…
If you’ve got girls tell them THIS. Tell them not to listen. Tell them to love themselves and spread that STRONG NOT SKINNY message because we will change this. We have to.
This is the ticket for the only ride or they’ll end up like me!
Words our children hear like this are what damages them for forever more. This particular girl obviously already has issues be that ones about her own weight or jealousy and wanting to bring others down but I’m damned if I’m gonna let her hang ups drown my little girl – her sharp sharks jaw gnashing will not get sunk into her. I will find a way out of the water for her in a way that I never could myself and if that means more body positivity shots of my naked arse then so bloody be it – you’re getting them. Florence’s normal will be normal. I’m damned if I do anything else!
The party line as far as Florence is concerned is to reply to any comments about how much she weighs with this: ‘I don’t actually know how much I weigh (TRUE) because we don’t have scales in our house (not true but Florence doesn’t know this), we aren’t obsessed with what we look like, we just enjoy ourselves (because I am putting that on the menu instead)’ – she LOVED it when I told her to reply with this and actually… You know what, I might be faking it but she’s gonna be making it, that’s for sure!
The true weight of little girls having conversations like these is not innocent, the true weight is a lifelong mill stone around ones neck which strangles and suffocates until all enjoyment from simply fuelling your body is removed. One great pleasure in life taken away in a moment to be replaced with self hate… And that’s the true weight!
We need to find a body freedom for our little girls, nurture it and keep it safe. I want to promote strong bodies, not skinny ones but at the same time healthy bodies and not overweight ones. I’m aware the body positive movement could and does promote saying that being heavily overweight is a good thing and it really isn’t. It’s just as damaging just in a different direction. It’s a hard one but neither extreme is one to promote. We need to say we are all different, some of us naturally bigger and others born smaller, we have lumps and bumps which aren’t air brushed and we are REAL. We want to sit in the middle of any type of extreme body type and just be comfortable and easy letting ourselves be who we were born to be without much thought. That would be the dream huh, everything in moderation and no one really even thinking about how they looked but just looking as they should through a healthy and balanced lifestyle.