Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A guest post by Karen: From the other side of 'acceptable'

For seven years, I have alternated between suffering and recovering from anorexia nervosa. While I have never been overweight, I have been confronted by many people about various weights, ranging from 6st7 to 9st7. These people have included family, friends, acquaintances, but also, perhaps surprisingly, strangers. I have had raging arguments with parents (“it’s not attractive”), friends who have grabbed my bottom, or lack thereof, and informed me that I’m too thin. I have had strangers in the street shout at me to eat a burger, and point me in the direction of the nearest eating disorders clinic as a hilarious joke with their friends. Perhaps most hurtful of all of this was a supposed friend coming to me in the college toilets, lifting my jumper and pulling my jeans to expose my ribs, concave stomach and hipbones to her friends, to prove that I was “too thin” as she’d told them.

The strange thing about all of this is, while I have strived for and achieved that UK size 2 (US 00) frame where knickers only stay up because they can be hung on protruding hipbones, this never made me happy. I openly admit that I did feel achieved when I could no longer buy clothes, with adult clothes being too big and children’s being too short and yes, I did feel achieved as I lost more and more weight. For years, losing weight has been my goal but at many times during these seven years, it has been my life.

However, I am now a UK size 6 (US 2) and, while the days of endless dieting and obsessive exercise do not seem as though they are a thing of the distant past, I am a healthy weight and shape. One would assume from this that I am a much healthier person, but this assumption couldn’t be much further from the truth. While my healthy 9st body and my 28F chest give me a curvy, womanly shape, and while I eat regularly and I am more confident, this does not mean I am healthy. I smoke 20 roll-ups a day. I don’t run unless I’m going to miss the metro and, if I do that, I practically need resuscitating upon entrance to the train. At the same time, my boyfriend’s weight is exactly double my own, making him technically obese but, while the BMI charts all do battle with him trying to make him eat less and get more exercise, I spend time doing battle with him myself, simply to get him away from his weight bench! Of the two of us, he is far healthier and sets a fine example of how healthy one can be at a higher weight. I, however, work more as a terrible warning of the opposite issue!

While this has, so far, been a message of how unhealthy one can be when slim, I do not mean to suggest that one must be curvy to be healthy. For me, it is a question of balance - a balanced diet in which one nourishes one’s body, and a daily routine that keeps the body active but not exhausted. This balance is something I have not yet struck, but I intend to once I have come to be more comfortable with the sudden arrival of my bust and my bottom. If I led a healthier lifestyle, however, I would lose weight and that in turn would lead me back to the same situation of people passing me in the street and feeling that they have a right to comment on my shape. For me, then, and for many others, this situation becomes catch 22. I lose weight because I am leading a healthy lifestyle; I gain weight to please others by fulfilling a certain ideal of appearance. There is no point at which I am acceptable. Why?

The issue that few seem to consider is this: commenting on the appearances of others in a negative way is NOT polite, acceptable or necessary - rather, it is rude and it is damaging. By telling someone thin to go and eat something fattening, one will not inspire them to gain weight, just the same as telling someone fat to put down their pasty will not encourage them to lose weight. No one should be made to feel ashamed of their appearance but, furthermore, are the people who wish to comment in this fashion not being rather shallow? I am no more or less happy, successful or loved at this weight than I was at any other. Those who care about the person inside don’t care about the person outside but, those who do care about the outer “beauty” are often the ones with the power to make the individual miserable and lonely.

An argument against Thin Hate

 Whilst I applaud any attempt to erode the idea that you have to be a size 4 to be beautiful, I find it just as hateful to be labelling thin bodies as unacceptable as I do fat.  Your dress size does not define you, it does not show whether you're a 'good' person or a 'bad' person.  You are not more or less real if you are a size 6, 16 or 26.  Skinny women are real women, fat women are real women, in-betweenies are real women.  We are all real, goddamn it, and this shouldn't need any kind of debate.

The prevalence of anti-thin hate is just as damaging as anti-fat hate and the fat-acceptance movement needs to be just as against it as any other form of body shaming.  If we support this kind of behaviour then we are perpetuating the myth that some body types are just plain unacceptable, and whilst some may see poetic justice in reversing the status-quo, the reality is that we will just leave another generation of women struggling to be something that they simply are not.  I wouldn't wish the looks, the comments and above all the self-hatred that I have felt on anyone else. The ridiculous panic of 'but if we accept fat people then people will be encouraged to live unhealthily' could become terrifyingly real if we were to reject thin-ness and replace the ideal with one equally unobtainable for many women.

Of course, most 'real women have curves' rubbish isn't suggesting that we replace thin with fat or anything so simple.  What it actually suggests we replace the 'aspirational' skinny body with is one not too dis-similar from a Barbie doll - big boobs, tiny waist (because it's beautiful to have curves but not to have fat).  It is not helpful to replace an ideal that  is (for a large proportion of women) neigh-on impossible to achieve (ie. starve yourself to be acceptable)  with an ideal that is (again for a large proportion of the population) only possible to achieve with surgery (or, according to the Daily Fail, breastfeeding ).  I used to work with a beautiful young lady who had neigh-on starved herself skinny and still felt so uncomfortable with her body that she had breast implants (which left her in near-constant pain) - no woman should have to go through this.  We need to promote the beauty of curves without negating the beauty of other body types.  We need to stop promoting unhealthy behaviours in the service of being acceptable.  We need to stop equating body size with health.

Which brings me to my final issue with thin-hating pro-curves propaganda.  The misuse of the term 'anorexic' is becoming increasingly prevalent  Anorexic does not mean skinny - anorexia is not a choice - anorexia is not something to be mocked.  Anorexia is a serious fucking illness and sufferers do not need your judgement to make them better.  In the same way as telling me that I should stop eating cake (for my own good) it is NOT FUCKING ACCEPTABLE to tell an anorexia sufferer to get some pies down her.  No matter how socially acceptable it might seem.  The increasing social acceptability of the idea that anorexics should be persecuted is ill-informed, discriminatory and unhelpful in every way.

The inspiration for this post came from the deplorable 'Hips and Curves, not Skin and Bones' Facebook group.  Yet another hate-filled board full of trash (I've reported it and suggest you do too) - 297,607 people 'like' this page.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Philosophy of Maxi Dresses

Faux Lace Maxi, originally uploaded by BB Allen.

This is my new maxi dress from Simply Be, it's my first maxi dress above a size 14.

I've always considered maxi dresses as for thin people, so the only times I've worn them has been when I was thin, or before I fist began dieting (under age14).

Of course, now I have permission from myself to eat and wear whatever hell I want; what I want to wear is the things I had forbidden myself to wear when fat. I needed a maxi dress.

And so I have spent months trying to find a maxi dress, and it proved much harder than I thought. Maxi dresses tend to come in extrodinarily garish fabrics, the kind of fabric that's ordinarily only used in Fat Person Clothing.

Fat Person Clothing is he kind of clothing that you're supposed to wear when you're fat: perhaps the theory is migraine-inducing colours will distract from the hideous fat fatty fatness of our bodies.

I would not dream of wearing Fat Person Clothing, it's just so intensly not me. I sometimes wish I was someone who could pull it off (and some wonderful Fatshonistas totally do), because it'd make finding clothing on the high street so much easier (Evans I'm looking at you).

So I love this dress, the mock-lace pattern is classic enough for me to pull off - that it's a white dress patterned in black means it's summery enough too. The dress is from Simply Be and is a size 18 (I range between roughly 18 and 24 depending on the garment), the fit's on the larger size so it fits pretty much perfectly (I have a cocktail dress from Simply B in a size 20 and it's a tiny bit on the large size).

Dilemma well and truly solved.