Are we finally saying goodbye to Size Zero?
Published 05/12/2012 | 06:00
have been thinking a lot about my body recently.
Maybe it is because I am pregnant and am watching it do all sorts of strange, crazy, amazing things (my stomach is hard for the first time in my life, yet round, too, like a protective shell for our baby), but when I look in the mirror and then look back at the 20 or so years since I became aware of it – since I first grew breasts and a bottom and started on this journey of womanhood – I am appalled. Horrified. Ashamed, even.
Not because I am growing bigger by the day and no longer fit into anything from Zara (anything at all). Nor is it because I have stretch marks on my boobs and I tore a pair of tights the other day bending down to pick something up.
No. When I look at my body I feel ashamed because I cannot believe the stinking attitude I have had towards it, the terrible things I have done to it and the way I have taken it for granted, as if it were a rusty old car and not the thing that has given me life and will one day soon – hopefully, please God – give life to someone else, too.
Here are some of the things I have done to my body, or tried to do to my body, over the years: I have vomited up food until it was coming out of my nostrils and my eyes were red and streaming and I thought I might stop breathing. I have vomited so much that on occasions it has taken me 15 minutes to pick the food out of my hair before I eventually returned to polite society.
After two years of late-teenage bulimia I lost a molar, its enamel worn away by the acid in my vomit, meaning that I had literally been sick to my back teeth.
I tried laxatives when I was 14 – I had read about the horrors of them in Just Seventeen and thought that defecating out my food seemed as good a way as any to lose weight – but the woman at the Boots counter rightly got suspicious when I returned the next day and asked for another two packets.
I went through a phase of exercising for 90 minutes twice a day, though how I ever found the time I have no idea. I have flirted with the Atkins diet, the Cabbage Soup, the South Beach and the Zone. I once watched an episode of Ally McBeal in which one of the middle-aged characters complained about her "wattle", the bit of flappy skin under her chin, and became convinced that I had one, too. No matter that I was only 21 and didn't have a wattle in the first place; on I went flicking my chin for a week-and-a-half until my skin went bright red and started to hurt to the touch.
When I read over this list I see that it is one of despair and self-hatred, yet the most shocking thing about it is that it is hardly exceptional. It is just what many of us women do. We count calories, measure grams of fat and cut out carbohydrates; we are programmed to think about food, or rather a lack of it.
Women do all sorts of crazy stuff in the eternal quest to be thin. We will drink only vile-tasting juices for a week in the name of looking good on a beach (newsflash: the only people who are going to see you are complete strangers, your friends and family who love you even if you are 4lb heavier than you'd like to be).
We will try out medically unproven diets in the hope of fitting into a pair of jeans while simultaneously worrying about infertility and breast cancer. We will measure our self-worth through our dress size, not our brains, which, despite all of this apparent craziness, are usually actually pretty clued up and clever – able to form opinions on the American election and Starbucks not paying their tax in Britain but completely incapable of escaping the ridiculous trap that is judging one's mood on the ability to fit into a size-10 frock.
It is like a huge, crazy case of collective body dysmorphia, and I have had enough of this tyranny. It isn't just because I am pregnant. For a while now I have been on a gradual journey from obsessing about my body to accepting it, having realised that I was far happier hovering between a size 14 and a 16 than I was straining to be a 10 or a 12. (I was an eight once, when I was 21 and not eating anything, and I was utterly miserable.) I realised I was exhausted with trying to shed weight, and in the process I feel like I have shed my skin.
Ladies: I think this is our time – the time to break free from conforming to unrealistic ideals. Everywhere I look, women are flaunting their curves and wobbling their boobs and showing off their dimpled thighs – and, best of all, they are not giving a damn. They are challenging the notion that we should all have breasts like Barbie dolls and waists like Kate Moss and skin the texture of a magazine advert; they are burning their Dukan diet books instead of their bras.
Take Girls, the American series written by (and starring) Lena Dunham. Lena is neither a supermodel nor supersized – just normal, with lumps and bumps like everybody else. And Dunham gets naked in Girls – a lot. Her willingness to take off her clothes is such that at this year's Emmy awards she appeared in a sketch completely in the buff, eating cake while sitting on the loo. "I don't feel like there are a tremendous amount of roles for the size I am," she has said about acting work. "There is your sassy chubby friend or the part of an ingenue." So in Girls she created her own role, and it has gone down a storm.
Lady Gaga recently posted pictures on her website of her new, more shapely self, alongside the caption: "Bulimia and anorexia since I was 15." She wrote: "My boyfriend prefers me curvier. When I eat I am healthy and not so worried about my looks. I'm happy. Happier than I've ever been. I'm not going to go on a psycho-spree because of scrutiny. This is who I am. And I am proud at any size."
Also refusing to starve their bodies into submission: Salma Hayek, who admits she is "at the limit of chubbiness at all times", and Kelly Clarkson, who is so used to being criticised about her weight that in June she told an Australian interviewer it had been happening for "seven years . . . it's like, 'okay, cool, the fat jokes'. I love my body. I'm very much okay with it. I don't think artists are ever the ones who have the problem with their weight, it's other people."
Then there's Adele – beautiful, talented, wonderful Adele, who has shown that not all platinum-selling pop stars have to wriggle around wearing hot pants and barely-there bikini tops in their videos. "I read a comment on YouTube that I thought would upset me," she recently revealed. "Test pilot for pies" – but I've always been a size 14 to 16 and been fine with it. I would only lose weight if it affected my health or sex life, which it doesn't." (I bet her sex life is a lot more fun now than if she were an obsessive dieter desperate to shrink down to a size zero.)
Adele has reportedly been advising Christina Aguilera – who has received criticism for her fuller figure – on how to deal with her detractors.
And it isn't just celebrities who are telling their critics where to shove it. In Sweden a student called Linda Marie-Nilsson took a photo of herself on the beach in her red and white gingham bikini. Then she stuck it on Facebook. She was only doing what so many other women like to do nowadays – flaunting their lads-mag-ready bodies that they have worked so hard for. But the difference is that Linda is a size 18.
The picture was liked by tens of thousands of Facebook users, and there are now fan sites dedicated to her. Linda, who has been bullied about her weight since she was a child and admits that she used to cry all the time about her body, has now realised that she "is beautiful, just like everyone else".
I spoke to Susie Orbach, the psychotherapist who wrote the seminal 1978 book Fat Is A Feminist Issue (or Fifi as she calls it), and she agreed that fat is still a feminist issue, though she felt there was a real sea change.
"Oh, there is a shift going on," she told me, "a definite one that I haven't seen since Fifi came out, but that was at the height of the women's lib movement when there was a lot of energy about.
"People are saying, 'We need to redefine the terms on which we are viewed'. And I've never seen that before. I work with a group called Endangered Bodies, which aims to challenge the diet industry and all those merchants of body hatred who turn girls and women against their own bodies.
"It amazes me how much of a movement there is. It is in London, New York, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Ireland, Sydney and Germany . . . I am trying to organise a call between all of the offices and, I tell you, it is difficult when they are in that many places."
Orbach says she feels as though it is "the perfect coming together of activists, and pressure on government ministers, and a change in culture. There is a lot of bravado around. There is a cockiness, a spunkiness, a sense of taking pleasure in our bodies. It's a fury, with women saying, 'No, we are not all the same shape and size'. I think there is a real attempt to remake the culture in which we live. It feels like we are taking part in a dare, one where we say, 'It's okay, this is who I am'."
And it is about time, too, she says. Time we nourished our bodies, instead of torturing them.
Bryony Gordon Telegraph.co.uk