A questionnaire recently told me that I am a compulsive dieter. As anyone who knows me sufficiently well will know, I have spent the past five years or so constantly on and off different eating plans, or saying that I am ‘being good’ this week – all in the vain effort to avoid the dreaded term ‘diet’, and all its associations with super-thin California girls eating about three lettuce leaves a day or a desperate thirty-something surviving on protein shakes. When all is said, done and not eaten though, I can quite honestly say that yes, I am often on some form of diet. The question I have often been asked is: why?
Now, I am no stick. I am 5’4’’ with curves. I am womanly. But neither am I fat. I am a healthy weight for my height and a UK dress size 8-10. (Well, slightly more often 10 right now, rather irrationally making me feel huge and hence a brand-new ‘being good’ cycle has begun.) I am constantly asked by friends who notice changes in my eating habits why I perceive the need to lose weight. My answer is generally that I do not feel slim enough, especially if I only have a matter of weeks before braving the bikini, a task which I loathe so much it almost hurts. I feel one-hundred percent justified in this, but unfortunately for me, many of my friends seem to disagree, arguing that I have body image ‘issues’ and ‘distorted perception’. Flattering as this is, I – like so many other women – never quite believe them. I grew up with a 5’6’’ size 10 (occasionally 8) mother who has been on and off detox diets since before I hit my teens, despite the fact that she is already one of the slimmest in her friendship group. In no way do I blame her, but having such a slim mother who always looks fabulous inevitably piled on the pressure to look good as I grew up. Watching what I ate became a fundamental part of my teenage years. This was magnified by the quiet but fierce competition to look good in an all-girls school. Incidentally, a recent report found that anorexia and bulimia are more prevalent in single-sex schools than mixed ones, possibly due to the greater pressure (both social and academic) that the girls are put under from such a young age. Add all this to the airbrushed, skeletal glamazons glorified by the fashion world and media over the past decade, and you provide a girl with a seemingly solid self-justification for her somewhat irrational desire to lose weight.
Like many woman, I honestly feel that if I could just stick to my eating plans and exercise regimes for longer, I would be this skinny, glamorous fashionista that I have long longed to be. Unfortunately, I have commitment issues, a hatred of tracksuits and a bit of a penchant for chocolate and cocktails; so I usually slip up, take a week off, and then start the same cycle all over again – a process which I think may have almost permanently screwed over my metabolism. But then I considered it: at which point would I ever feel skinny enough? Looking back at photographs of myself from my teenage years and first year at university, I see that I really was very slim indeed. Skinny, even. But at the time, it’s safe to say I didn’t feel it. At all. I wasn’t any happier then than I am now. Quite the opposite. This begs the question: will we ever be satisfied with the figures we’ve got? If I carry on the way I’m going, knowing me, the answer is probably not. It’s natural to be a little self-critical, but surely this is a little too far. We all have different attributes, and with the world of high-fashion suddenly re-embracing curves, I think it’s time we all (myself most definitely included) should learn to like our natural shapes. A fairly tall order for most, I realise, but one that’s long overdue. Aside from all this, I can’t help but wonder if being thin would actually solve as many problems as I have convinced myself it will? Again, probably not. Nevertheless, it’s far easier to recognise this distorted attitude than to change it.
Here’s a start though… relax a bit. The world won’t stop turning if I don’t lost those pesky three pounds. Sure, be good, that’s fine. Go on the occasional crash-diet if you absolutely must (although take my advice, it’s only a quick fix). Continue to have bikini aspirations if you like. Just don’t let it become an obsession. Because something tells me I’ll really be happier carrying that extra pound or two and free to indulge from time to time, no matter what the skinny little devils on my shoulder tell me. I’ll try to shake them off, but for right now, where’s my skinny cappuccino?