When she was fat, no one ever said a word to her about it. But when she got thin, the bitchy comments came thick and fast. As she recalls her own ups and downs, Niamh Horan wonders why we have to tread on eggshells around fat people, while it's open season on those who are thin.
But, she says, she will bear the slings and arrows because, as Kate Moss says, nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. Photography by Sarah Doyle
On my fridge there proudly hang the photographs of 16 semi-naked women. Some are bending over cars in string bikinis, others are suggestively peeling down their hot pants, and still others gaze back at me every morning as I open the door for a carton of juice, while they prance around in revealing lingerie.
The only thing they have in common is that they all appear unapologetically smug about one thing. They are all vaingloriously, enviably thin.
Naturally, my unorthodox shrine to the skinny never fails to raise an eyebrow. Whenever we have new company over, guests will walk towards it, open-mouthed, as they read aloud the quotes at the centre of the display, which champion slimness.
"Thin has a taste all of its own", "Not eating right makes your clothes too tight" and, of course, the now infamous motto that landed supermodel Kate Moss in hot water several weeks ago: "Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels."
And do you know what? She's damn right.
The reason her comments were met with such uproar is that, unfortunately, the scales of political correctness have slid unceremoniously into the hands of fat people.
But before you choke on your double-cream jam doughnut, let me explain.
We now live in a world where clothing giants label bigger clothes with smaller sizes so their expanding customers won't feel so bad about their weight; where entire associations have been set up to promote fat acceptance; and where ludicrously politically correct terms are bandied about while those who aren't fat tiptoe on eggshells for fear of upsetting the feelings of fat people.
These days, in some sections of society a slim woman isn't just slim; she is now labelled as having 'thin privilege'. For crying out loud!
As one pro-fat supporter argued, people blessed with thin privilege "do not have to worry about fitting into restaurant booths, airplane seats, or other small public spaces; they can go to any department store and know they will have clothes in their size.'' And -- wait for this -- "they can even eat in a fast-food establishment without being pegged as the typical 'Super Size Me' fatty."
But the rest of us earn our comfort in seats and our fashionable clothes.
We decline copious amounts of fatty food and we exercise regularly; therefore we can enjoy these so-called simple privileges in life.
To stop you clogging up my post box with cries of "fattist", let me explain how I've come to this harsh, but entirely honest, viewpoint.
I used to be fat.
At 17, when I should have been enjoying my teens, meeting boys and celebrating my newfound womanly shape, I was stuffing my face with greasy takeaways and king-size Snickers bars.
I'd wake up and eat four slices of toast smothered with butter and jam; at 11am I'd hit the button on the vending machine and chow down on a Double Decker or another personal favourite, Turkish Delight.
Lunch would consist of curry chips and a can of full-fat Coke. And once at home, tired and drained from a day of Leaving Certificate classes, I would park myself at the dinner table in front of a gigantic bowl of spaghetti Bolognese.
To this day I have a vivid memory of the culinary ceremony that would accompany that stodgy dish. I'd place a tub of grated cheddar cheese to the right of my plate and sprinkle a layer on top of the pasta. Then when the first inch of cheese and spaghetti had been stuffed into my face, I would sprinkle on another layer of cheese, repeating the process all over again until eventually, bloated and satisfied, I found myself at the bottom of a clean plate.
It sounds funny now, but my lowest moment came when I single-handedly ate an entire packet of Fig Rolls (there was 100 per cent extra free) before my mom arrived home to find me bent in two from the pain and bloating of over-indulgence.
I cried from the ache of my twisted gut as she took me upstairs and ran me a hot bath.
So there I was, sitting in Radox, looking like what can only be described as a Shar-Pei puppy. You know, that breed of dog with folds of deep wrinkles and extra skin?
Ashamed as I am to admit it, that was me.
That night, my mother didn't say a word. And in case you're thinking schoolyard taunts would have set alarm bells ringing, apart from one comment by two boys about the hefty size of my backside, no one uttered a syllable.
And so I began to live in denial, and every morning before school would throw on the same oversized hoodie belonging to an older brother, eating my way through packets of crisps and bowls of ice cream every time a flicker of unhappiness about my growing waistband caught me off-guard.
The bottom line is I wanted the junk more than I wanted to be thin.
In the end, as with everything in life, it took someone who truly cares.
And so my mom, who had kept her counsel while I sat my exams, did the decent thing. As I sat into the car on the last day of my Leaving Cert, she explained how she was rewarding me with a surprise. She drove me straight to the local gym, where I was told in no uncertain terms that it was time to lose the weight.
Deep down I knew it myself; I just needed someone to give me that extra little push.
Up I plonked on the scales as the excruciating figure sprang up.
"11 and a half stone," declared the sympathetic instructor.
"What? Are you sure?" I protested. There was no response: my mom just gave me a knowing smile.
I had climbed all the way to that hefty figure from a healthy eight stone.
I vowed to do everything within my power to shift the extra weight.
I kept a diary of everything I ate, logged my exercise sessions (five to seven times a week) and dropped that extra baggage quicker than you could hand me a pair of Spanx. Within a few short months, I had dropped to 7 stone 12lbs, just over three and a half stone lighter than the day I was given my wake-up call.
In hindsight, I was a bit too thin for my 5ft 6in frame, but better that than the alternative nonetheless.
And then a really funny thing happened. Suddenly, friends felt they could get away with saying ridiculously hurtful things to me, purely because I was once again slim.
I lost count of the times I was told I had the figure of a boy, or that people decided to point out how I had no breasts. Without prompt or question, I would regularly be told on nights out that my face didn't look pretty anymore, or that I was simply no longer attractive. A girl I barely knew even sent her boyfriend over in the middle of a buzzing nightclub to give me a hug and tell me to put on some weight.
Every comment seemed off the cuff, without a second thought for my feelings. Funny how society thinks it can pass on hurtful remarks and assume a person won't feel it if they have 'thin privilege'.
But when I would point this out to them, they would simply shrug and say: "I'm just telling you for your own good."
To this day, I am baffled as to why people have no problem voicing their aversion to the sight of a bit of ribcage, or recoil in disgust when a collarbone dares to protrude a little too much, yet those same weight watchers clam up for fear of hurting people's feelings when it comes to judging those among us who are carrying an extra few stone.
And yet, never has there been a time when honesty was more needed.
Ireland's streets are filled with fat people: with women with legs so large they waddle when they walk, with men with guts so vast it's hard to even picture the amount of morning fries and late-night takeaways it has taken to get them to that sad and lonely place.
Obesity is now endemic in Ireland, and is one of the major challenges facing our health services.
Latest figures from the Obesity Task Force show that 39 per cent of the population is now overweight; 18 per cent of the population is obese; 22 per cent of children aged between seven and 12 are overweight or obese, and up to 300,000 children could become obese soon, if present trends continue.
The cost of this disease to the nation's health, its health service and the economy as a whole is immeasurable. And yet, the frustrating thing is that it is entirely preventable.
Leaving aside people who have genuine health conditions such as an underactive thyroid gland, show me an obese person who claims to eat just three healthy square meals of fish, salad and vegetables a day and I'll show you a liar.
Show me an overweight person who pounds the pavements each morning and abstains from junk food, and we'll shadow them for a week so I can prove you wrong.
Show me a fat person who is happy in their own skin and I'll show you someone in serious denial.
I've been there; I should know.
Perhaps now you can see why I have a serious disdain for all things obese.
Don't get me wrong: I don't hate fat people. I just hate the extra weight they're carrying.
Whether it's the unsightly muffin top that pops out over the waist of their jeans, those surplus inches that spill from under an ill-fitting T-shirt, or the extra chin that appears the moment they burst out laughing at a funny joke.
It's all so unnecessary.
It's not the unsightliness of it that gets me. Nor is it the fact that they are such a heavy burden on our already overstretched health-care system. Heck, it's not even the thought that they are slowly killing themselves for the sake of all things sugar-coated.
It's the knowledge that the majority of them are lying to themselves and to society.
Despite what they tell you, they are not happy in their own skin. They're not bubbly, friendly, happy-go-lucky characters who have this extra-great personality to compensate for that extra three stone they don't need.
They're miserable, they're lonely, they pine for their skinny selves during rare or not so rare moments of solitary reflection, and they need a way out.
And sometimes they may need someone close to give them that extra nudge in the right direction.
We need to ask ourselves why we feel so morally obliged to confront someone about their weight when they're dropping on the scales because we see it as a serious health concern, and yet become too socially embarrassed to challenge others on their expanding waistline.
"Ah sure, God love them," is our sympathetic attitude, as we let them off the hook because there's simply too much stigma attached to telling someone they're fat.
Well, if you're reading this and you're fat with no genuine medical cause, I have no sympathy for you. You're lazy, you're making excuses and you're letting yourself down, all for the sake of the fleeting comfort only a bickie tin or a late-night kebab can provide.
When it boils down to it, each and every one of us has to take responsibility for our own weight.
We can blame a fat gene, oversized parents, the convenience of junk food, confectionary advertisers, stress or long work hours until the cows stroll home, but in the end it is we who have to face our reflections in the mirror.
If Barack Obama can find time to exercise for an hour each morning before he runs the most powerful country in the world, then so can you.
The best analogy I've heard for the battle many fat people face these days is the story of how the fisherman handles a box of crabs. When he goes fishing, he dumps all the crabs into a big box without bothering to secure it with a lid. This is because he knows if some of them try to escape by climbing up the side, they'll be pulled back down by the ones left behind. My advice to fat people is not to let family or friends keep you down, simply because they're afraid of hurting your feelings by suggesting you should escape from the fat trap.
And to those of you who know someone who is overweight, grow a pair of balls and decide on a way of confronting them about their problem. It may be a bit upsetting for them when you bring it up, but believe me, they'll thank you in the long run.
All clothes from American Apparel,
114 Grafton St, D2, tel: (01) 670-6936
Photography by Sarah Doyle
Make-up by Seana Long, Make Up For Ever, 38 Clarendon St, D2, tel: (01) 679-9043
Hair by Style Club, 12 Sth William St, D2, tel: (01) 472-2444