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.