Fat is an Issue that Won’t Go Away

Painting of Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of the...
Painting of Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of the English King Henry VIII, by Hans Holbein the Younger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anne of Cleves, ‘photoshopped to buggery’ to quote Kerri-Anne Kennerly

I just read this very well written article on body image in the Guardian:


Eva Wiseman talked to different women – including the ever present Susie Orbach. She’s the author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, which she rather fetchingly calls FiFi. Women and girls, according to the article, are more critical of their appearance than ever, even positively hating themselves, and Wiseman lines up the usual suspects, celebrities, fashion and photoshopping. But as with all things, this issue is more complicated than that, which the article acknowledges.

For most of my 65 years, I’ve never regarded my appearance very highly. In some respects, I was justified – my nose, for example, has fine Celtic proportions, but could hardly be called cute, retrousse or photogenic. It stayed that way. The only time it saw surgery was unblock one of its mighty canals, and that hurt so much I never went back.

My hips were of the sturdy persuasion, and I was on and off diets for most of my life. Sometimes I liked my body but only because it obligingly fitted into the clothes I wanted to wear.

Think girls are obsessed with diets now? In the 60s we a slew of them to choose from – the grapefruit diet, the cabbage diet (or the farting diet as it was more popularly known), the Ryvita and cottage cheese diet, the no potatoes and bread diet – this was the one that infallibly worked for me – and the PLJ diet (Pure Lemon Juice, which you drank religiously every morning). There were so many, and we were kept aware of our shortcomings by the popularity of skinny leggy models too – Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton for example.

People talk about a ‘gentler time’ when everything was so simple and girls had none of the anxieties of modern times – but honestly, who is silly enough to imagine that we didn’t obsess about our weight in the era of mini skirts? The only difference back then was that we talked about ‘my figure’ and not ‘my body’. But we talked about it, believe me, and we all learned the only way to get that slender Twiggy shape was not to eat.

Oh, and photoshopping – you’re so sure that’s a new thing? In 1539, the painter Hans Holbein presented King Henry VIII with a very flattering portrait of Anne of Cleves, so pretty that Henry contracted to marry her at once. However, when Anne turned up in person, Henry was apalled and tagged her ‘The Flanders Mare’ – Holbein had indulged in a bit of 16th Century photoshopping.

I’m thinking none of it is new really – it is in fact, old, so old that maybe it it is too entrenched to be entirely overcome by well meaning think tanks like the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR – no kidding) at the University of the West of England, or even Susie Orbach, who has been banging on about this (and staying thin) since 1978 when her book was published.

Oddly enough, the most salient point comes from a British reality TV show person, Lauren Goodger from The Only Way Is Essex, who is regularly slated in the trashy British press for her – ahem – fuller figure and the tight clothes she chooses to cover it with. There’s nothing new there, she is following in the fondly remembered tradition of other buxom British gals like Diana Dors and Barbara Windsor, but when she starts talking about her 11-year-old sister she really nails the difference between now and then. The little girl wants to look like someone ten years older – when I was her age I would have been killed for wearing lipstick, let alone sporting Prada bags. Yup, that’s a turn for the worse in women and girls and body issues – girls as young as 11, even 7, are getting sucked into it.

But I like this comment of Goodger’s – “Just because someone’s not a size 10, it doesn’t mean she’s a bad person.”

Perhaps the hysterical skinny nitwits who have been attacking Australian TV presenter Chrissie Swann could bear that in mind before they reach for their mobile phones and twitter more nasty comments. How dare they pitch their bile at a little boy, Swann’s adorable son? And this too, is something new. Back in the day, it was only the odd comment from a nasty neighbour or workmate that might mar your day and make you reach for the diet Coke, but today these self righteous bulimics (“Look how I have to suffer to stay thin, and you get to be a celebrity even when you are so fat…”) can tweet, comment and blog about a little boy, without even a thought for his, or his mother’s, feelings. Just because you are a size 10, doesn’t give you the right to stand in judgement on those who are not.

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