I had a LOL-tastic conversation with my ex boyfriend once. I was explaining how, post Christmas, I didn’t feel like I could be trusted with the enormous tin of Quality Street that had materialised in my flat after a party, and how I’d hidden the tin in a wok on top of a difficult to reach cupboard. And despite my efforts I’d spent the better part of a bitterly cold winter’s evening standing on a chair, reaching into the wok and hunting for toffee pennies.
“You want to watch that” he said, poking me. “Or you’ll get fat.”
“You do know I used to be anorexic, don’t you? And that kind of comment makes me feel, well, you know?”
“Yeah. But that doesn’t mean you have to be all…rexic.”
Funny chap. Shame we broke it off, really.
I was a textbook anorexic teen. A middle class over achiever with tendency to plumpness. I was shy, bookish, and just before I reached my teens I slowly stopped eating. There were various reasons for this – I don’t think there had ever been a point growing up where I didn’t feel bigger than everyone else. I wasn’t obese, just chunky. Clumsy, ungainly and crap at sports. And I’d quietly comfort eat and read and look forward to the day I turned 18 and magically become willowy. And then suddenly I got tits. Holy Jesus, how I did not want tits. At 13 I was a 38C. I had a body not dissimilar to Joanie in Mad Men. Which is great for her, and great for me now, but when you’re going about your thirteen year old business and suddenly adult men respond to you as if you’re an adult lady it freaks you the fuck out. So it started as a diet which became an obsessive cycle of binging and purging and thrown away packed lunches and diaries with entries that went “I can’t believe I ate a jam tart at Hattie’s sleepover. I hate myself so much.” And eventually I had the body I wanted, which was much like that of Gareth Keenan off The Office.
It sounds really vague and irritating to say I grew out of it, but I did. I got my first crush and learned how to say boo to a goose and discovered that having friends and a social life and doing an embarrassing amount of after school drama meant I needed energy and a better topic of conversation than how I hadn’t eaten any Doritos. But watching my body slowly reinflate, like a cushion regaining shape after it had been sat on, was tough. And even now, when my body has more or less the same aspect as it did when I was thirteen (and I’ve had another thirteen years to get used to it) I have moments of intense body hatred. Nothing I can’t imagine other women experiencing – in fact, next to Liz Jones, I am the poster girl for body confidence. But still, I hate those days when you skip dinner even though you’re starving because you had a cake for lunch. The days when you want a sandwich but you’re hardwired to believe that bread is worse for you than heroin so you sulkily slurp a 30 calorie Miso soup and burn your tongue. The times when you’re naked with someone new, and instead of admiring the curve of your hip in the mirror or wondering what they make of the detail of your tattoo you’re secretly, secretly worried that they’d much rather be there with Natalie Portman. The line up of “curvy” women paraded in front of us to admire – usually very slender women with breasts – who leave us thinking “if they’re curvy, what am I?!”
I know I could be super skinny – dangerously skinny – but I wouldn’t have an elfish Natalie Portman quality, I’d just look like Gareth from The Office again. And I know that the pleasure of a perfect burger, or a Malbec revealing its velvety depths as it travels across your tongue, or whacking and breaking the surface of a crisp crème brulee with the back of a teaspoon, or 5AM cheesy chips after seven hours of straight dancing – I know these glories are greater than having a body Gwyneth Paltrow would approve of. And I know that there is nothing glorious or joyful about anxiously and self loathingly working your way through a packet of Custard Creams.
But I know that my wobbly days stop me from getting shit done. The hours I spend internally debating what to eat or if I’m allowed to eat – they could be put to far greater use. And I’ve no doubt this shit applies to boys as well, but I would be really interested to see how many lady hours are lost pondering the purchase of a sandwich and then regretting it. And if all of us hot clever ladies gathered together and used our sandwich debating time collectively, to do something awesome, what would we come up with? I like to think it would be powerful enough to completely eradicate any negative thoughts or feelings engendered by the Daily Mail picture gallery.