December 13, 2014
There are times in your life that you find yourself going back over, again and again. For me the years 1987 to 1996 have a particular resonance. Filed away somewhere is the sense that then, and only then, I was really me. I know it’s not true – I was a dull person, a thin shadow who thought only of food and cold – but I still feel that I came closest to owning myself. Never close enough, of course, but what more can a woman expect?
I’ve just finished reading Elaine Showalter’s The Female Malady. It’s a brilliant book but one that I’ve found incredibly triggering (and “triggering” isn’t a word I often use). It has set off a lot of memories for me, and a lot of resentments that usually bubble under the surface of my fleshy, ageing exterior. It’s a book about women as people – real people with real inner lives – and it surprises me how rare that is. It’s about women trying to make themselves heard and then watching it veer off course, again and again. At the risk of sounding self-obsessed (and this is a self-obsessed post) I can identify with that. It reminds me of my own experiences as an anorexia patient and the scars that haven’t gone away. (more…)
September 3, 2014
When I first became anorexic, way back in the 1980s, we had to make our own thinspiration. Pro-ana websites and online communities didn’t exist. The best you could hope for was the odd Woman’s Own article on Lena Zavaroni or an ITV special on The Carpenters. Most of the time it was reading the same old recipe books and collecting newspaper cuttings of Nancy Reagan. Truly, today’s eating disorder sufferers don’t know they’re born.
By contrast, these days we cater to the needs of the most discerning anorexics, with starve-friendly websites packed with bonetastic images. Nonetheless, there are concerns that it has gone too far. According to an article in The Daily Beast (helpfully illustrated by a photograph of an emaciated body – get a load of that, thinspo-lovers!), “Italy’s Parliament recently proposed a bill that would criminalize pro-anorexia site authors with a $67,000 fine and up to a year in jail”. Disaster! What if all such sites were banned? Where would your average “friend of Ana” have to go for her next fix? Well, I guess there’s always Closer, or Heat, or Now, or the Sidebar of Shame, or a million other media outlets that regularly concern troll women who are clearly desperately ill (body shock! Starve wars! Size zero hell!). But still, at least you wouldn’t have those sneaky anorexics going off and doing it behind people’s backs, denying the poor publishers some much-needed revenue. (more…)
April 20, 2014
Most women hate their bodies. This is one of those boring facts that everyone knows and no one bothers to change. We half-heartedly order women to “love themselves” and “embrace their curves.” We encourage them to watch Dove adverts so that they may campaign for Real Beauty (while also worrying about ugly underarms). We eventually tell them fuck it, beauty is empowerment, why not embrace your self-hatred? Whatever we do, it’s not all that important since at the end of the day it’s all vanity. Hate away.
I can’t remember a time when I haven’t hated my body. Really, truly hated it, albeit in a way that I don’t tend to think of as hate (I think of it as “having a shit body” or “being a fat, ugly bitch” or in countless other ways which problematize not my hatred, but my body itself as an offensive object). At times my hatred of my flesh has almost killed me, leading to hospitalisations and force-feedings. I still wish there was less of me. Whatever my size I will always wish to be less. (more…)
July 11, 2013
Tonight I am writing about someone else who is writing about someone else who is writing about herself. So forgive me for going a bit meta. It probably makes more sense once you know that the second someone else – the one who’s being written about and who’s also writing about herself – is Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones. Right now, with the publication of Jones’s Girl Least Likely To memoir, everyone wants to write about Liz Jones, although it’s usually to say that the one person who shouldn’t be allowed to write about Liz Jones is Liz Jones herself (still, the fact that Jones is still writing about Jones gives the rest of us something to write about).
I, however, am going to write about Suzanne Moore, or rather Moore’s review of Girl Least Likely To. While I can’t work out whether Moore hates or loves to hate the book, it’s clear to me that Moore doesn’t like Jones. That seems fair enough. I don’t think I’m fond of her, either. Nevertheless, Moore’s attitude towards Jones’s anorexia shocks me far more than Jones’s own brand of deliberate, desperate provocation. (more…)
July 3, 2013
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…)
March 19, 2013
Obviously I noticed your daughter before I noticed you. I expect you are used to that. Legs so thin, how could it be any other way? I tried not to stare but it’s so hard not to. People used to stare at me in much the same way, or so I’ve been told (I never noticed at the time). Once you’d both signed in, you came and sat next to me, with her on the other side of you. I noticed you then but only because I couldn’t see her any more.
January 31, 2013
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…)
January 20, 2013
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…)
January 2, 2013
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…)
December 28, 2012
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…)
December 20, 2012
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…)
November 23, 2012
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…)
November 18, 2012
In my household I am outnumbered. On the pink side there’s only me while on the blue there’s my male partner and our two sons. Obviously this causes no end of troubles when it comes to purchasing food, but thankfully our kitchen has plenty of cupboards. Once the weekly shop is done we tend to use our space wisely to maintain an appropriate level of gender-based food segregation.
In my cupboard (painted pink) we have: Galaxy bars (for when I’m sad / wistful), Maltesers (for when I’m up for Loose-Women-style japes), Ryvita (for miserable lunches with unfunny friends) and the full range of Special K products (for when I fundamentally hate myself). Meanwhile, in the men’s cupboard (blue), we have: Yorkies and Snickers bars (the only chocolate straight men are permitted to eat), extra thick-cut crisps (since Skips are way too effete) and various Big Soups (since, unlike women, men are presumed to eat because they’re hungry – and to want to consume something genuinely substantial, as opposed to some deceitful “fuller for longer” salad nonsense). We used to have a shared cupboard for things we were both allowed to consume (it was painted yellow, obviously). Alas, it mainly contained carbs, which are now men-only and thus belong in the blue cupboard (although I’m considering creating a neutral shelf in the fridge for cheese and bacon – except I think the new rule is that women can only have these if they have nothing but these. And I’m not giving up my Galaxy – I might get all weepy and need it). (more…)
November 8, 2012
As a teenager, the actress Celia Imrie suffered from anorexia. Years later, in an interview with the Telegraph, she expresses regret at what she put her mother through:
I’m so angry with myself for putting her through that. Because it was my own fault. I had made myself ill […] I get very angry now – and quite unsympathetic – because it’s such a terrible waste of time and energy.
Part of me feels sorry for Imrie; it’s sad that she bears this burden of guilt. All the same, another part of me wishes she’d keep her feelings to herself. These might be her personal sentiments, and as such they’re valid, but they also happen to chime in with a broader undercurrent of opinion about anorexia, and it’s one that causes real harm. (more…)
November 6, 2012
Here are some weird tips for achieving a tiny belly:
- eat less food than you need in order to function as a healthy human being
- think about all the food you’re not eating all the sodding time
- feel cold, exhausted and miserable every minute of the day (and night, since hunger is giving you insomnia and when you do finally sleep, you dream of food you didn’t even like until all this started)
Eventually you will get a tiny belly, albeit one still covered in excess skin and stretch marks. By the time you get to this point, you won’t be able to stop shrinking, but you will no longer care. The person who would have had the capacity to enjoy being thin – or indeed being anything – will no longer exist. (more…)
September 28, 2012
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…)
September 26, 2012
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…)
September 13, 2012
Many of the jobs I’ve done have involved a degree of marketing. This usually means crowding anxiously around a table, thinking about one’s “target market”, and pondering the “positioning” and the “message”. Eventually, at some point or other, one person will ask, portentously, “but what’s the actual benefit?” Whereupon we will all ask ourselves just what it is that our product is offering to those who buy it. You’d think that by this time we’d already know. To be fair, we generally do, albeit in a long-winded, wordy manner. The difficulty is translating this knowledge into a snappy message that will speak to the customer straight away i.e. a message that patronises the hell out of said customer while simultaneously looking as though it respects his or her intelligence. Such a task is, in my professional opinion, a complete and utter bugger. Now and then I relish it as a creative challenge. However, on the whole it just makes me feel like a knob. (more…)
August 24, 2012
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…)