I struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with food. Fat was bad when I was growing up; thin was marvellous, beautiful and (most importantly) unattainable. Other people could be thin, but not me, because I was ‘big’ from an early age. Carrots were ‘good,’ but they weren’t used to communicate approval, or support, or love. That was the role of chocolate, cakes and biscuits, even though these foods were were ‘bad.’ You could eat cake – in fact, you’d be treated as a spoilsport if you didn’t – but you had to feel terrible about it later. People who did impressive things were thin; everyone else (including me) had to wait until they lost weight before they had the right to try. Being incredibly miserable gave you the ‘right’ to a doughnut or a box of French Fancies, as did being tired or disappointed, or getting a good mark in an essay (or a bad one, for that matter). Overeating was an indication of having a good time (‘Aren’t you going to have any dessert? Oh but I can’t if you don’t’); it was the mark of a bad time, too (‘With all that we’re going through, we really should have dessert!’). Food wasn’t about sustenance or nutrition; it was a moral thing. If you really enjoyed a food, you had to eat loads of it. You could hurt people’s feelings, show them you loved them, allow them to show they loved you, reward yourself, punish yourself – the possibilities were endless. What you couldn’t do was eat what you wanted, when you wanted. As a fat person (‘darling that looks lovely, but you can’t afford to put on even another ounce’), the only real aspiration was being thin.
‘Thin’ had a second meaning, too – it meant never buying clothes any bigger than a size twelve. The number in the label carried a moral value. Fourteen and above was failure. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties, trying on clothes with girlfriend who always seemed to enjoy clothes shopping, that I realised she looked so good because she wore clothes that fitted her. She wasn’t trying clothes on in order to find something in a size 12 or under that she could get into; she was trying on clothes in order to find something that made her look and feel good. It was revolutionary. ‘Have you got these in my size?’ she carolled cheerfully at the changing room attendant, waving some trousers she liked. They had, and they looked marvellous on her.
Oh Lord, what rubbish. What a terrible waste of time and energy. There aren’t many photos of me from that time – hiding from cameras was another thing you did out of respect for anyone who might have to look at the photographs, and to save yourself from being confronted with the evidence of your bulges. But when I look at the few that there are, I don’t see fat. I see youth and enthusiasm and earnestness and I wasn’t fat. I was never fat. And if I was, it shouldn’t have mattered.
Another reason I believe in God is that God really, honestly, truly doesn’t give a damn what I look like. I find it incredibly refreshing. We can disagree about God’s existence. We can agree about God’s existence but argue about equal marriage and abortion (for absolute clarity, I support the legal availability of both). But no one is ever going to argue that God attaches a numerical value to the figure that should appear when you step on the scales.
Play sport, learn an instrument, write a book. Go ice-skating for the first time; audition for a choir; go dancing. Apply for that job; register on that course. Fall in love, buy a burgundy lace jumpsuit and actually wear the bloody thing. I’m telling you, with all the passion I can muster, that your weight simply doesn’t matter. You are beautiful and glorious and unique. Not one of your dreams and ambitions was given to you on the condition that you looked a particular way; not one of them should be postponed or shelved until you conform to an arbitrary notion of acceptability.