Every now and then you come across a viewpoint which you have been feeling for a while, but haven’t articulated, and then when you read it in someone else’s words it goes bang! and you say ‘that’s it!’ out loud to yourself in your empty sitting room. For me, reading Caitlin Moran’s book How to be a Woman was filled with such moments. The other day she did one of Mumsnet’s ‘Live Webchats’ (which seems to have gone slightly better than Naomi Wolf’s the week before!), and someone quoted a brief passage from her book which resonated with so much of what I’ve been thinking recently.
Overeating is the addiction of choice of carers, and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of fucking yourself up whilst still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the ‘luxury’ of their addiction making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that’s why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice. (Moran 2010: 117)
It’s spot on:
“It’s a way of fucking yourself up whilst still remaining fully functional, because you have to.”
One of the more horrifying moments in my single-mum life to date was when I realised a long time ago that there is no point in a cry for help because no one will help. My daughter’s dad has on several occasions dropped her back home and literally legged it down the path to get away while I was either crying or at least very obviously having a rubbish time. One of my best friends changes the subject when the conversation moves towards a difficult area. I occasionally consider allowing myself to feel all my negative feelings, hoping that the people around me will realise that I’m struggling and give me a hug or step in to make things easier. But eventually I realised that if I let myself wallow, the only person who is going to be there to pick up the pieces will be me, so it’s best to limit the number of pieces to pick up. Because I have to remain fully functional.
I have been really dissatisfied with how I look and feel recently. I was going to the gym twice a week for several months and enjoyed it, but I stopped going when I kept getting cold after cold, and when I had not had a consistently healthy week for three months I gave up counting. So now it’s been half a year and none of my clothes fit properly. Partly I’m still trying to get used to my body after rapidly losing weight during my pregnancy, the obvious changes pregnancy brings with it, and the aftermath when everything is a different shape. Because of the serious food deprivation my pregnancy brought with it, I told myself after giving birth that I would be allowed to indulge for a little while, and after all, everyone tells you that breastfeeding uses up 500 extra calories so you have to eat when baby is eating, and what’s easier to eat one-handed than a biscuit. Three years later I’m still not out of those habits, and now I already have an answer prepared in case anyone points at my tummy and asks when my next baby is due (thankfully this hasn’t happened yet): ‘it’s my biscuit baby’.
Eating too much doesn’t affect anyone except the person who is doing it. I don’t get drunk or shag random guys, I’ve moved away from the drug dealer neighbours. I feel bad for having breakfast in my dressing gown. I am in charge of everything and it’s all sorted. I simply like a family-size bag of crisps and a chocolate bar on the sofa of an evening.
I know all sizes are beautiful, and I love the body positivity campaigned for by blogs like Already Pretty, The Beheld, and Women Against Non-essential Grooming (the latter being on the more kooky end of the scale). One huge eye-opener for me, after spending my childhood being indoctrinated by my mother that being even just solidly built inevitably signified crushing self-loathing, really bad health and a lack of self-control, was a blog post on Sociological Images about how overweight and obese people can be just as healthy as thin people if all have four healthy habits. ‘Healthy’ in this case means ‘at risk of premature death’, and the healthy habits are regular exercise, eating at least five portions of fruit and veg daily, moderate alcohol consumption and no smoking. It’s great. I started quoting the study at my mother every time she pointed out a ‘fat’ person (she really does this), and during her most recent visit she did it a lot less. Result!
However, the thing is, I just don’t feel great. I never smoke and hardly ever drink, but there is a serious lack of fruit and veg in my diet, and my only exercise is walking. Perhaps I am actively sabotaging myself because two important people in my life (my mother and the man I married) have made it clear they think I am an awful person. Clearly all that negativity had to go somewhere while I was busy coping. So now it’s time to get back to the gym. All this food has been masking issues, so perhaps when I feel better ‘in myself’, everything will magically be better.