My Dad used to have a book with this title… I have no idea what the content was, as I never read it, but while ‘fat’ is obviously something that occurs in both the male and female population, I have to agree with the sentiment that fat is an issue that feminists need to address. These days, we’d call it body image. Unless you’re writing a blog for The Age, in which case you clearly call it fat. I’m not actually going to go into the backward-mindedness of this woman who thinks a size 14 is fat, but I do want to examine something nihilla said to me the other day, which is “do you really mean it when you say you think you’re too thin?” (I’d just asked her to take the seven bags of spearmint Suga lollies left over from raven_’s bonbonnieres away from me as I’d just eaten a whole bag).
I usually joke that after hawk_eye and I broke up, I subsisted on nothing but whiskey and ice cream in my misery and that’s how I ended up at 85kg. While there is some basis to this assertion, the truth is that I had already started to ‘pile on the pounds’ in the lead-up to our break-up. Through most of our relationship, I’d been about 72kg. He mentioned the weight gain as part of why he wasn’t as attracted to me any more. After we broke up, part of rebuilding my self-respect was going to Jenny Craig and losing those kilos.
I chose 68kg as my target weight. I’d been as light as 61kg when I was 21, but that was as a result of a speed addiction and I figured that four kilos less than what I’d been was ambitious. I also knew there was a likelihood I’d put a few kilos back on after the “program” and 70kg sounded fine by me.
Surprisingly, I made it to 68kg fairly easily and kept the weight off. When I went to Europe in 2003 and walked around for four months with a backpack on, it dropped to 64kg and felt pretty great but a little underweight considering what I’d been for years. Arriving back in Australia, I put the weight back on and again stabilised around 68kg. I put some on in the US, came back to Australia and again stabilised around 68kg.
That’s about what I was when I got pregnant. Now, that’s weight… there are all sorts of arguments about its usefulness as a metric. For my height, according to my fancy scales, that makes my BMI just over 22, in other words, perfectly mid-range for my height. At 68kg, I’m about a size 12–14 and very happy there.
But what about shape? As a result of years and years and years of “IBS” that finally got resolved as a gluten intolerance through elimination diets and then taking ages to realise there was a casein intolerance too, I’ve had a “pot belly” for most of my adult life (and it’s bloating, not fat, so there’s not much I could do about it). I’m not a big fan of my “pot” but I practise loving it. (Remember Pulp Fiction? “I love my pot” said in a sexy French accent?) Following the pregnancy, I’ve lost the very small amount of weight I put on (and then some) but my belly is bigger and saggier than ever (and now it’s fat and muscle weakness, so there is something I can do about it).
When I say I’m too thin, I mean, “I’m 67kg, and that’s a kilo under my regular weight but I’m carrying all this extra saggy belly fat right now, which I assume is about 2kg worth. I want to lose that which I’ll do slowly through exercise, but that means I’m ‘really’ around 65kg right now. My arms look very thin right now. My face is a little more angular than usual. I definitely need to eat healthily and heartily to make sure I keep my weight up, especially as I’m breastfeeding.” I don’t mean, “Oh wow, I’m so skinny I can eat whatever I want!” and I don’t think there should be a wildly swinging relationship with fats and sugars anyway (that is, I think “I’m skinny! I can eat chocolate and sugar and cake!” and “I’m fat! I have to diet and avoid chocolate and sugar and cake!” are pretty unhelpful thought patterns). I also don’t mean, “I think my shape is perfect and I don’t need to do any exercise”.
Now, back to the feminist aspect of all this. First is the question of whether my weight and my attitude to it would be so carefully scrutinised if I were male. The answer depends on the culture: these days, rather than succeeding in removing body shape/weight from the public agenda, gender equality has simply transferred body image concerns onto some men as well. The multinational companies that depend on lack of self-esteem had to engineer that transition or they would have gone out of business. I don’t think people tell men they “look good” depending on their weight so much though. People constantly said to me, shortly after Harper’s birth, that I “looked amazing”. I think this partly related to how “skinny” I looked given that many new mothers still have a lot of pregnancy weight on. I also think it related a little to the fact that I sleep very well so I didn’t look as haggard as I might otherwise. I’m often told I look good when I’ve lost weight and I don’t get those comments when I put on a little. The comments mostly come from other women. I think that’s a problematic thing, not only the reinforcement of thin=beautiful, but also the fact that it’s women, the policing of each other’s bodies that we’re encouraged to do.
Saying out loud that I think I’m too thin when I am is partly about giving Harper a good sense of body image. It’s a delicate line to walk, between anorexia/bulimia on one side and obesity on the other. Both affect women more than men, I believe. And there are all the stories of nine year olds on diets and the rising issues of diabetes and obesity in our children. I fight self-image all the time, because I was brought up in this consumer magazine culture reading Dolly as a teenager just like anyone else, even though by Uni I was a honking feminist and have never read adult women’s magazines in anything other than a critical context. I’d love it if she doesn’t have to.