This evening I found out what a bikini bridge is. I wasn’t seeking out this knowledge; I was reading the news and it popped out at me, unbidden. The trouble is, now I can’t ever un-know it (to give you a chance, I’m not linking to the piece in question). Bikini bridges will henceforth be stored in my brain alongside thigh gaps, muffin tops, bingo wings, cankles and a million other terms which exist solely to make women hate their bodies a great deal and their minds even more.

(more…)

I’m pleased – well, not exactly pleased – that the death of Amy Winehouse has finally been linked to her suffering from an eating disorder. I’d always suspected that about her but then, having suffered from an eating disorder myself, I never trust my own opinions. I’ve been through phases of thinking that everyone in the entire world has an eating disorder, while at other times I’ve thought no one has, with all the super-skinny people just being bizarrely self-controlled. It’s hard to make sense of it all when the prevailing ideal for body shapes is always marginally underweight.

Between the releases of Frank and Back To Black, Winehouse clearly lost a dramatic amount of weight but the eating disorder rumours were quite never as newsworthy as those relating to booze and drugs. After all, having anorexia or bulimia is, on a day to day basis, decidedly lacking in drama. It’s far easier to tell someone’s off their face than it is to witness their miserable, brain-numbing hunger. Still, at least in the months before her death the Daily Mail pronounced her “healthy” enough to deserve mockery for having the dreaded “muffin top”. (more…)

Yesterday I found myself in a room with a woman who was telling me that it was permissible to eat. She also told me that it was permissible to put on weight, and permissible to grow as you age, and permissible not to have rules about every single item of food that you buy. It was all very radical and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It felt a bit cultish, or rather un-cultish. It was as though I was being de-programmed, made to unlearn all that I’d come to believe. What she was saying made sense, yet it sounded so odd. I kept thinking “but that’s not what I’ve been told. How can you be right and everyone else be wrong?” (more…)

Today’s Observer includes a piece entitled “Women own up to guilt over eating habits”. It’s an interesting choice of wording – are women “owning up” to the eating itself or is this some kind of meta-guilt relating to their response to food? I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s both. These days, not only is eating too much and being a porker a Bad Thing, but so too is failing to be a Real Woman who celebrates her curves. Hence regardless of whether you’re literally stuffed, metaphorically you are.

According to the piece “millions of British women have eating binges, lie about how much they weigh and have a negative relationship with food”. All pretty remarkable, when you consider that only 2,000 British women were interviewed. It’s amazing what wilful extrapolation can do:

Three-quarters of UK women – 24 million – say they often feel guilty about how much they eat. Women typically think about food 12 times a day and those under 25 have it on their minds twice as much as those over 55, the poll found. Six out of 10 told researchers they had lied about how much food they ate, almost half (43.74%) said they snacked in secret and more than a quarter (27.68%) confessed to binge eating – this rises to more than a third (36.72%) of those under 25.

Whether or not this really does affect 24 million women, it’s sad that anyone has these feelings at all. Eating ought to be a pleasurable and sociable experience. Still, at least the dieting industry is doing its best to raise awareness of all the lives it fucks up, albeit while taking the opportunity to persuade a few more people to fuck up their lives just that little bit more. (more…)

Tomorrow I must write down every single thing I eat and drink. Not just that, but also the time, place and how I feel about it. What’s more, all of it must be done as soon as possible after the eating and/or drinking event. To be frank, the whole thing is set to be a complete pain in the arse. All the same, I’ve got to do it. It’s the rules.

Next week I start my Last Ever Eating Disorder Treatment, in preparation for which I have to keep a food diary. My first treatment took place in 1987. Thus a whole quarter century later I’m still trying to rid myself of ideas that took hold when I was eleven years old. I can’t help thinking what a fucking idiot. How did I ever end up in such a position? I only started the sodding diet so I could end up perfect. Is that really so much to ask? (more…)

Equalities minister Jo Swinson, co-founder of the Campaign for Body Confidence, has written an open letter to magazine editors, asking them all to avoid “the reckless promotion of unhealthy solutions to losing weight”. I’ll be honest – this really annoys me, and not simply because I’ve got billions of unhealthy solutions to losing weight to promote, just in time for the new year. I mean, if you’re interested, I’ll have you know that all of mine work. Indeed, on several occasions I lost so much weight I ended up being hospitalised. Plus I can always think up more (it’s just a matter of getting the right combination of not eating enough and brainwashing yourself into thinking that feeling cold, miserable and obsessed with food is acceptable as a constant state). Anyhow, that’s not the thing that’s annoying me the most. The truth is, I don’t want Jo Swinson, or anyone else in a position of authority, telling women how to feel about their bodies. It’s just none of their business. (more…)

In 1993, over the Christmas break, a woman faked her own abduction and then falsely claimed to have been raped. Her reason for doing so? Publicity, perhaps. A misguided need for attention. But also an attempt to get away from the holidays. The woman, a bulimia sufferer, simply could not face this time of year.

When the news of the fake abduction broke, I remember most people, my family included, being scathing. What a waste of police time and money. What a great deal of worry caused to family and friends. As if an eating disorder can be an excuse! And yet, while I couldn’t exactly understand the woman’s actions – and still can’t – a bit of me wanted to try. As a sufferer of anorexia and bulimia, I recognised the panic that Christmas can cause and I recognised, too, the lack of comprehension that sufferers face. (more…)

So yesterday, 18 months after I decided to go for treatment, I finally attended my first “proper” session at the eating disorders clinic. It went well and I feel positive about it. Therefore, once it was over, I decided I ought to treat myself. Hell, I deserved it. Because obviously, walking into a health centre, sitting down with a black coffee and spending 90 minutes moaning about your messed-up life requires huge amounts of courage (although thankfully not too much in the way of stiff upper lip).

You may be wondering, as was I, what constitutes a suitable post-ED clinic attendance treat. Not food, obviously, because Food Is Not A Reward. But then what? Fags? Booze? Porn? No, because all that would lead to potential cross-addiction (or whatever being into everything bad is called these days). How about a nice, good book? No, because I’ve still not finished my current non-fiction (Delusions of Gender) nor my fiction (The Stranger’s Child) and besides, when I’m allowed something new, it’ll probably have to be something boring like How Not To Have A Totally Ridiculous Attitude Towards Food. (more…)

Don’t you just hate it when you’re all set to have a grumpy, humourless feminist moment and you happen to find the thing that was meant to annoy you vaguely amusing instead? That totally pisses me off – but not enough to put me in the grumpy, humourless feminist mood I was aiming for to begin with. Pah! (That is about the level of it – a wry smile, then a “pah!”. Where’s the Sturm und Drang in that?)

In case you’re wondering I’m referring to that new “viral” ad for KFC. In It doesn’t count if… a young woman runs through various situations in which eating “forbidden” foods is permitted, all of them ridiculous (it doesn’t count if you drink green tea afterwards, it doesn’t count if you’re wearing gym gear etc. etc.). Ha, thought I, yet another food company making a massively unfunny joke out of women’s shitty relationship with food. I will not find this amusing. But then I did, a bit. It actually is what some women – myself included – do, and as such it’s very well-observed. I suspect the only thing some viewers might miss is that when women say these things, they already know it’s a lie; this is their sad, wry joke, not KFC”s. (more…)

Last Sunday my brother had his 40th birthday lunch in an Italian restaurant. As our starters arrived, I glanced across to the table next to us and spotted a young woman who I’m pretty sure was suffering from anorexia.

I hate writing that – “pretty sure was suffering from anorexia”. As though thin women aren’t constantly being over-diagnosed by ignorant observers who know nothing about the inner lives and fears of others. Celebrity magazines are the worst for this; one week a young starlet is in “size zero hell” (usually because she’s breathed in while wearing a bikini), while the next she’s “flaunting her curves” (having breathed out again). I don’t want to make these pathetic, faux-concerned assessments of others, especially since, when I was anorexic, I was paranoid that everyone else in the entire world had an eating disorder, too (at least I think I was paranoid). All the same, something about this particular woman really struck me. It was her face rather than her body. Pinched and haunted-looking. Her eyes looked so dead. She seemed so lonely amidst all the food and conversation. She looked cold and scared, and it reminded me of a fear that sometimes I’m able to forget. And then her order arrived. It wasn’t quite as she’d expected it to be. She questioned the waiter, her voice rising, this mix of nervousness – she didn’t want to cause a fuss – and terror – she had to say something, absolutely had to. I was afraid she’d cause a scene but she didn’t, eventually backing down. She ate only the garnish of a meal that perhaps she’d been planning for several days. Throughout it all her hollowed-out hands were shaking. (more…)

What do each of the following have in common:

  • the inappropriate use of apostrophes
  • advertisers using “pan fried” when they could just use “fried”
  • the belief that bulimia is an illness rather than a moral failing
  • the idea that there can be more than one meaning for the word “gender”
  • the notion that people other than smokers, motorists and fox-hunting aficionados can be persecuted
  • having to use the term “African American” when you just want to say “black”

All of these things are, of course, examples of political correctness, about which I am now an expert. (more…)

Mummies! You know how it is – you’ve just had a baby and sure, it’s the miracle of life and all that, but just for one moment (during nap time, once you’ve set the washing machine to ‘delicates’) let’s all take time to consider your tummy – that tummy which, for the past few months, has been glorious and drum-tight – and let’s now focus on how terrible it’s looking. One big mass of shapeless, useless flesh, brimming over the maternity pants you thought you’d never be wearing by now. Urgh. ‘Baby weight’ is far too cutesy a term for something so repulsive, is it not? Look, I’m not asking you to feel ashamed. On the contrary, it’s far better just to be honest. Say it loud, say it proud: “I look shit! And I hate all those women who snap back into shape in five seconds flat! The bitches!” Come on ladies, out with it! It’s the perfect post-feminist rallying call. No longer do we have to rely on men for misogyny. Independent and resourceful, we’ll make our own! (more…)

Right now, twitter feels a dangerous place upon which to be making jokes and random quips. Sure, the twitter joke trial is over, Guy Adams has had his account reinstated and the Tom Daley troll has not, as far as I know, been tarred and feathered on the nearest village green.* Even so, I wouldn’t want to push my luck. Not with corporate lawyers on one side and the righteous twitter mob on the other.

Thus I am not going to make a huge fuss about rap star Professor Green tweeting crap “jokes” about bulimia. I have no desire to kick a man when he’s down and I’d imagine that, if you’re a rapper, having Private Eye point out that you look like Michael Gove would be making you feel pretty down to begin with:

So yeah, Professor – real name Stephen – I have no desire to mock you, in the manner in which one might mock sufferers of a potentially fatal yet nevertheless hugely embarrassing and much misunderstood illness. (more…)

Is Miley Cyrus a singer or an actress or both or crap at both things but somehow coasting along out of sheer luck and a good publicist? I have no idea. I know only two things: her dad is Billy-Ray Cyrus, and she weighs something stone something. I do know the exact figures for this; I’m just not telling you. It’s in this week’s Star magazine. Actually, it’s not even in it; it’s on the cover, along with the weights of Nikki Grahame, Abbey Crouch and Nadine Coyle.

I saw this while shopping in Sainsbury’s. It put me right off my food, and my body, and myself. There are, apparently, even more facts and figures regarding underweight celebrities if you look inside. I didn’t look inside. The cover was enough.

So, why give the (assumed) weights of underweight celebrities? Is it because Star magazine is worried about them? Well, no, I’m not a complete idiot. It’s because it sells. Women and girls with eating disorders love this shit. But you’re not allowed to actually write “this is what you should look like, fatso” next to a picture of an emaciated celebrity. Or rather, you probably are allowed but it’s not considered good form. So you couch it in fake concern.

10% of women with anorexia will die. It shouldn’t be this socially acceptable to display anorexia porn at eye level to people buying their Guatemalan coffee.* It just shouldn’t. So I have decided to write to my local MP.

Is this a ridiculous idea? Writing to your local LibDem (yes, I know! Hangin’ on in there!) to point out that, actually, you find the cover of celebrity magazines a bit offensive, and didn’t want to know the body mass of someone who may or may not still be in Girls Aloud, and could this please be mentioned at the next PMQs? Or could they even table a motion, whatever that means? Or motion a table, if that’s easier? But the thing is, MPs have made a fuss about pro-ana sites before, so why not this? It’s worse; attacking pro-ana sites strikes me as victim-blaming. Anorexics do whatever they need to do to make the long days with fuck all to eat and a brain being driven round the twist slightly more bearable. With Star magazine, it’s just the strong preying on the weak, for money. Should this really go unchallenged?

I don’t necessarily want it to be banned. For starters, it would be a legislative nightmare, and might even descend into just attacking thin women for being thin and thus encouraging others to be thin (sorry, I forgot; we do that already). I just want some loud, formal acknowledgement that what magazines like Star are doing IS BAD. And that NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT WHAT A CELEBRITY SHE HAS NEVER MET WEIGHS UNLESS THIS PERSON HAS AN EATING DISORDER HERSELF, IN WHICH CASE KNOWING THE CELEBRITY’S WEIGHT CAN ONLY DO HARM.** This strikes me as self-explanatory. Shouldn’t there at least be some degree of shame? And if not my MP, whom do I contact? The shit magazine police?

Anyhow, this is my email:

Dear [name of plucky hanging-on-in-there LibDem]

I am writing to you to express my concern about the proliferation of what I can only term “anorexia porn” in celebrity magazines such as Heat and Star. A recovered anorexic, I am genuinely disturbed that it has become acceptable for such publications to display emaciated, clearly ill women on their covers and inside their pages out of some fake concern for these women’s well-being.

I cannot see what would motivate a person to buy magazines with such features unless it was to fuel an existing or developing eating disorder. The current issue of Star, for instance, includes actual weights of underweight women on the cover. Generally, another person’s weight is of no interest; if you are anorexic or bulimic, it’s fascinating. It might make a person buy the magazine and it might also cause a deterioration in this person’s condition.

Since MPs have previously drawn attention to “pro-ana” sites and the use of underweight models in magazines and on the catwalk, I really think this is an issue that should be made more public. Thin catwalk models are not, I believe, promoting anorexia in quite the same, direct yet entirely hypocritical way that Star is doing. Obviously if the headlines were “this is what you should weigh!” it would be a lot easier. But I think you would find any eating disorders counselor would support me in saying that this active promotion of magazines on the basis that you will be told exactly how low another person’s weight is is damaging and requires far greater public condemnation. I would be extremely grateful if you could use your position to play a part in highlighting this.

Yours sincerely

[me, but the pompous, serious version, including the "Dr" title]

Yeah. This’ll make ALL the difference.

* My partner insists on having Guatemalan coffee. He quite liked it, then read somewhere that only the true connoisseur likes Guatemalan coffee, so then he totally loved it. I humour him. It’s drinkable, and the Percol version has a photo of a monkey on the bag.

** I used a female pronoun here but do acknowledge men have EDs too. It’s just “him- or herself” messes up the flow of full-on ranting to which I aspire.

POSTSCRIPT: I have since remembered that part of my confusion about Miley Cyrus comes from the fact that I always confuse her with Hilary Duff. Didn’t they both used to do similar things? Mind you, it’s all changed now. I’ve finally got the respective roles straight: Cyrus = “being too thin”, Duff = “needs to lose baby weight”.

On 6th June I will be marking a six-month anniversary. Although actually, can one have such a thing? A half-anniversary, I suppose, only that doesn’t sound as good. Anyhow, whatever, on 6th June this year it will be six months since I last stuck my fingers down my throat to make myself sick.

I’ve been doing this on and off since I was eleven and got freaked out after eating a Cadbury’s Chocolate Button Easter egg. I’d broken my diet, a diet that mainly consisted of One-cal, Slim-a-Soup and Crunch ‘n’ Slim (not just anorexia, but retro anorexia!). Over the coming months I experimented with throwing these up, too. And I carried on throwing things up for 25 years, in between bouts of starvation. In the end I started to think it was normal. To some degree, perhaps it is.

Bulimia is far more common than anorexia, and many anorexics go through bulimic phrases. It’s harder to talk about, though. No one can necessarily see you’re suffering, if not by the bite marks on your hand. And it’s a disease that lacks status. Throughout my treatment for anorexia I lied about the bulimic bits. Even here, on this blog, the anorexia tag is far larger than the bulimia one.

Recently I attended a self-help group for people with eating disorders. I could feel the status issue there, in the air. It’s unspoken, but the hierarchy is obvious. I know because I used to be at the top. Young, desperately underweight, I’d patronize women twice my age, the women still struggling with bulimia, looking “normal” but not knowing how to cope. This time I’d become one of them. I looked at the anorexics, so full of enthusiasm about recovery – as you can be when you’re not yet a different size – and felt sad. Sad in case in actual fact they ended up like me. But also sad in case they didn’t, because what would that then say about my own failure?

Whenever I read literature on eating disorders, the difference in descriptions of anorexics and bulimics reminds me of the way our society divides and judges women as a whole:

Anorexics – thin, intelligent, hardworking, lacking in sexual experience

Bulimics – normal weight, disorganized, lacking in self-control, sexually active

In essence the anorexics are our virgins, the bulimics our whores. Yet, as ever with these definitions, we usually end up talking about one and the same person, conflicted by the standards of those around her.

There’s a genuine distaste for bulimia that isn’t there for anorexia. Obviously vomit is disgusting. Shit is disgusting. But I think it’s more than that. It’s a hatred of appetites. The anorexics in our group would deny ever feeling hungry for anything. But I was. I was more hungry than you can imagine for 25 years.

Anorexic, I didn’t feel sexual desire. But I thought about food all the time. I even dreamt of giving birth to food (neapolitan ice-cream, and on once occasion, a strawberry Opal Fruit. Make of that what you will). One night I woke up an entire hospital ward crying out in my sleep about French set yoghurts (believe me, these were big in 1988). However ethereal and removed from common concerns I may have appeared to others, I wasn’t some great intellectual Hungerkünstler. I wasn’t modelling myself on St Theresa of Avila. This was the eighties; I wanted to be as thin as Nancy Reagan and/or Kylie Minogue. Possibly also Bill Wyman’s teen bride, Mandy Smith, when she went through the alleged “allergy” phase. I mean, was it just me? Does everyone else get cool, ascetic anorexia and I just happened upon a terminally naff variation?

So anyhow, I stopped with the self-induced vomiting last December. I don’t know why I managed now and not before. And I wouldn’t say it’s changed my life. I still twat about with food. But I don’t binge because I don’t allow myself that way out. I’m not anorexia-thin, so I’ve not gone back to being one of the “good” people either. I suppose I’m getting closer to not-ill, but it’s a strange place to be. A better place, though. And now I’ll just shut up and have another biscuit.

PS If anyone reading this is struggling on their own, I’d highly recommend Christopher Fairburn’s books. He’s led the way with CBT methods, and as well as offering in-person treatment, he writes for people who aren’t able to access direct care and need to progress alone. I met him once at a treatment centre. But I was living off gin at the time, so I haven’t the faintest idea what we actually discussed. Still, I’m sure he’ll have been a very nice man.

PPS That same day, quite randomly, I met June Brown who plays Dot Cotton in Eastenders. Completely wasted, I poured out all my troubles to her and she was lovely. I even got a signed photo. That walk-on part in the Queen Vic never did materialise, mind.

If you were an actor, what would be the job you’d dread most? (Not counting porn. Besides, if you discount all that exploitation stuff, porn looks a laugh a minute.) Now, I’m not an actor myself (shocking, I know), but I reckon that one of the most feared roles has to be “that woman from the laxative advert”.

You know the woman I mean. The one who frowns, rubs her “bloated” tummy a bit, then emerges later all “happy inside”, as the Senokot slogan goes. Can you imagine being the director on that shoot? “Come on, baby – do your I feel great cos I’ve just had a shit look again!” (do you reckon they have sessions on that at RADA?). While you don’t actually see the “having a shit” bit – instead you get some nice senna leaves twiddling about in the breeze – it’s what’s left to the imagination that’s the worst. And what’s particularly painful is the contrast between said woman flicking her hair and trying to be all glamourous (in the most recent ad she’s getting off a plane like some movie starlet) and the knowledge of what she’s just meant to have done (ie had a massive dump in a tiny plane toilet and released it onto the world below).

In addition to not being an actor, I’m not a doctor. Even so, I suspect that young, healthy, apparently affluent women such as the one on the Senokot ad do not form the segment of society most prone to suffer from constipation. I imagine it’s the elderly, those on specific forms of medication, and those who can’t afford a varied diet. Therefore I find it quite odd that Senokot choose someone who you’d assume isn’t their target market to represent their product (I mean, you don’t see 100 metre sprinters advertising Stannah stairlifts.) What do you think the reason for this could be?

It’s not just Senokot who do this. Do you remember Dulcoease with their bizarre Sex and the City-style add for stool softeners? What was THAT about? Four well-dressed women meet up for a bitch about men interspersed with personal confessions regarding bowel movements. We’ve all done that, haven’t we? I mean, WHAT THE FUCK?

Is just me, or does it not feel a tinsy bit like all these ads are aiming, not for the constipated, but for the mildly (or not so mildly) bulimic amongst us? Get rid of all that “bloating”! Stop feeling so “heavy”! Think of all that food inside you – you need to get it out, NOW!

In case you’re still having trouble getting unscientific neuroses into your fat head, think about an advert that was on UK screens a few years ago. A woman was seen pouring piles of stodgy food into her handbag and carrying it around everywhere, indefinitely, because that’s just what your stomach’s like! There’s no such thing as using food for nourishment, ladies! Thankfully by the end of the ad said woman took some laxatives and was “allowed” to empty her heavy load in a nearby bin. Got the metaphor, girls? Was I the only person to be totally freaked out by this?

Perhaps you can also remember the Surefibre ad that included, somewhat bizarrely, the Altered Images track I could be happy. A group of very “happy” women jump around – float in fact – because they’re light, light, light! There’s fuck all in their intestinal tracts! (I’ve a feeling Surefibre itself went down the pan, presumably because it’s just fibre rather than a full-on, gut-wrenching, killer-spasm-inducing laxative. I mean, what’s the point in that? That’s not going to make you “happy!”)

Do you ever wonder what percentage of the profits drug companies make from laxatives comes from laxative abuse? I’d hazard a guess that it’s not insignificant. And while such companies might argue that they’re not responsible for the proliferation of eating disorders, I’d suggest that the marketing strategies they use can indeed tip vulnerable women over the edge (and given the cultural shit that surrounds us, we’re all pretty vulnerable). On top of that, it’s all based on such a lie. Because OVERDOSING ON LAXATIVES WILL NOT MAKE YOU LOSE WEIGHT.

Or rather, it will, in the same way that having a piss, or cutting your hair, or biting your nails will make you “lose weight”. There will be less of you for a bit but you’ll have just as much body fat as before. Then you’ll rehydrate only to become more bloated than you were previously, so you’ll take more laxatives etc. etc., inflating and deflating like a fucking concertina but being essentially the same old you. The same old you, only more at risk of shitting yourself in public. One thing’s for sure, you will not be dancing about like the happy Surefibre women.

But still, I don’t like to offer criticism when it’s not at least constructive. So on behalf of the laxative manufacturers, here are some replacement marketing strategies:

1. The blunt approach:

No shit? You need to take …

Plus the follow-up ad:

You bought a different laxative? Well, that’s just tough shit …

etc. etc. Shit puns are ace, they just run and run.

2. The cosy approach: nice, plush-looking bathroom, with magazine rack next to the loo:

There’s nothing better than taking a good ol’ dump. Trust us to help you get there.

3. The retro-humorous approach: get permission to reuse the “who does number two work for?” scene from Austin Powers 2:

That’s right, buddy. You show that turd who’s boss.

4. The enigmatic approach: just one word in big, bold letters:

PUSH

Plus your brand name down below, in tiny, just-legible lettering (look, this one might not be very effective. But I reckon it’d be cool nonetheless).

Anyhow, take your pick, pill-pushers. Just no more glamorous I’ve just had a shit women. Our bloated stomachs can’t take it.

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