Sunday, March 08, 2009


For the evening of this International Women’s Day, I thought I would write a few words about an issue that bothers nearly all women, in the west – WEIGHT. Most of you know that I spent the last three months of 2008 being ill and consequently shed quite a lot of the stuff. I am now down to the 52.5 kilos , or 8. 27 stone, that I was in my twenties and early thirties. Well, I am 52.5 kilos in the morning but 53 – 54 kilos at night and the fact that I’m weighing twice a day shows I’m already unhealthily obsessed with the issue, does it not?

I did not react to this weight loss in the way lamented by Kim Chernin in Womansize - The Tyranny of Slenderness:
“When she was discharged from the hospital, with the condition undiagnosed but possibly abdominal cancer, my friend came home. There, the first thing she did was to rush into the bathroom and go over to the scale.
‘I’d like to tell you, ‘ she said to me, ‘that I’d willingly gain back the five pounds rather than go through that horrible pain again. But I honestly don’t know whether that’s true.’ ”
Nevertheless, I was happy to be slender again and I’ve lost a stone more since coming home, without dieting.

In case any of you out there are thinking it’s all right for me to preach at 52.5 kilos, let me remind you that I have been there and here I am with lovely, slim Liz in 2007:

But I don’t think I looked too bad most of the time. [On my birthday in 2007]:

I would also point out that, quite apart from the inconvenience and expense incurred in having to throw out or give away most of your wardrobe, being very slim at 59 is very different from being that way at 29. For weight, dammit, does not always come off where you want it to. I’ve been lucky enough to have retained something resembling a bosom, but this time my arms look awful and my face is gaunt. “You look better facially when you are chubbier”, said a “friend”. [Did she have to use that word? What’s wrong with “plumper” , “rounder” or just “a bit bigger”?] Getting attention from men is not hard in Italy if you are any shade of blonde, whatever your age, and sometimes I think I got more of it when I was “rounder”. “Most men like something to get hold of”, my father used to say. That’s probably true, but try telling that to a woman about to subject herself to the torture of a beach! I cannot find the exact quote by Oprah, but she did once say something like,
“There’s only so far your personality will take you – on a beach.”
I sympathise with that view, but we are not talking here about the desire to lose a few pounds in order to look better in a bikini. Thinness has become almost a religion to some and we solemnise the cult by according it religious language, talking of certain foods as “sins” for instance.

As a child, I was very small but what Raquel Welch once termed “the equipment” was well installed by the time I was 13 and I soon discovered that when it comes to our bodies, women can’t win. We are supposed to have breasts, right? If we are not voluptuous in that region, we risk elective surgery. Yet when we are, we go through hell: the British Home Secretary shows a little cleavage and there is public uproar. If Ms Smith were 20 years or so younger and uneducated, presumably it would all be all right as then she might make page 3 of some of our national newspapers one summer day together with the caption, “Cor, what a scorcher”. My own hell in this regard was the Woolworth’s store in Kingswood, Bristol, where my friends and I would go to buy Miner’s makeup and trinkets on a Saturday. A boy from the year above ours at school was nearly always there and he would usually make some remark about my breasts in order to ensure that my weekend was a tearful one. On one occasion he excelled himself: “There’s something on your shoe. Oh, I forgot. You can’t see past your tits, can you?” That was the day I started hiding my breasts and the barb hurts as I recall it even today.

There I am above at 14. [Sorry about the length of the photo and I cropped out the guy who was with me.]

Now, take the same girl a few years later when Twiggy’s was the body shape we all wished to emulate and you have a ready anorexic. With my curves and thighs that refused to reduce whatever the rest of me did, the Carnaby Street look didn’t suit me and I didn’t wear a pair of denim jeans till I was 28 and 7 stone!

Yet all this is a twentieth century phenomenon . It began when most people in the west finally had enough to eat. It went on to make the lives of millions of women miserable and to make millions of dollars for the diet industry. “Take this powder to replace one meal a day.” “Try these Slimmer’s chocolate biscuits” [which are nothing more than ordinary chocolate biscuits]. “Take these appetite suppressants during the day”. The small print on all of these reads, “Only works as part of a calorie-controlled diet”. So are women too stupid to read the small print, then? Of course we’re not! We’ll just clutch at any straw that might help us to look like a size 0 model – which we never will, as most of us are [a] not hooked on drugs which will make us look ill and therefore skinny and [b] unable to afford the gym fees, personal trainers and lifestyles of these women.

In a little-noticed section of the book that accompanies Jane Fonda’s original “Workout” tape, [oh, yes, I “went for the burn” in those days, in an effort to stay 7 stone!] the actress-activist admits to episodes of bulimia. I could hardly believe this when I first read it. Jane Fonda?! An intelligent political and feminist activist? And she’d done this before the ideal body shape changed from Marilynesque to that of a female who “makes clothes look as if they’re still on the hanger”, as one designer put it. If Jane Fonda could fall for this “thin” nonsense, I realised, then any of us could – and did!

So I have one question, readers: WHY? Why do we allow ourselves to be bullied in this way? It is surely the last tyranny exerted over western women. Why don’t we just PUT A STOP TO IT?

Do you want to look like a dress on a hanger? I don’t! I’ll do my best to stay slim but I’m not going to take laxatives, get obsessed any more or deny myself the odd chocolate. When I showed my very heterosexual Sicilian hairdresser a picture of Nigella he did not exclaim, “Gawd, she’s fat” or “Worra pair of knockers” . He smiled and said, “È una bella donna - She’s a beautiful woman.” And this wise lady still has much to teach us.

I’m not claiming that being clinically obese is good for you or suggesting that we all go out and eat chocolate covered in lard. However, I am saying that the amount of suffering caused by the few extra pounds that most women carry is totally disproportionate to the importance of that weight. As this International Women’s Day draws to a close, couldn’t we give ourselves a gift? We are constantly being told to celebrate diversity. Let us celebrate it in OURSELVES.


Leslie: said...

What a fantastic post today, Pat. I was SO worried about being heavier than I was when my sweetie and I were going out in our 20s that it was almost horrifying and humiliating the first time we went to bed again. But he's fine with everything and keeps reassuring me that he loves my body...What a guy! I totally agree that we should only concern ourselves with our health and not some idealistic body image that will always be impossible to obtain.

Cat said...

I was nodding away with you the whole way through. Thank you for posting this. It puts what I think into much better terms! It is incredible when we think what we do to ourselves because of this society that expects us to be an unrealistic size and shape - or just can't acknowledge that women have a natural shape. Perhaps it is an anglo-saxon phenomenon as you say, as the attitudes are really very different in Italy as you say.
Of course, looking good is important to self-esteem but not trying to be something that you are not - and more importantly, it is something you should do for yourself as much as anyone else (although I accept that is a little unrealistic!).

Rowena said...

In a word: insecurity. That's what happens when you realize that the first woman on earth depended on a rib from one man to even exist. (Sorry Welshcakes, but I just could not resist that one!)

Mopsa said...

Oh my, where to start! I agree, I agree...and no matter how sensible one is, this thing has such a hold on people, male and female - too thin, too fat, just right so now I can eat til I'm too fat... arghh! Food is wonderful, appetite however is more in the head than in the gut, but why should it be? I can't imagine a generation that is free of this stranglehold; how sad is that?

flutterby said...

Wonderful essay. As lovely as Keira Knightly is in Atonement, she is so thin and angular that I did not see anything sexy about her. That famous green dress did look like it was still on the hanger.

Also, it just isn't healthy to hit every fad diet that comes out. Moderation is the key in life IMHO.

flutterby said...

By the way, Mma Ramotswe in Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency celebrates the "traditionally shaped woman".

sally in norfolk said...

A great blog post... weight is something i stuggle with all the time iam your typical yo yo myself when i am down hate myself when iam up :-) . often i think why worry as i may be abit on the heavy side but i know i am fit and healthy and thats what counts. But i have set myself a goal of loosing 10 lb durring the 3 month that Geoff is away. 10lb being what i have gained since meeting him.the more he says i wont do it the more determind i become to show him that i can and will :-)

Whispering Walls said...

Hear, hear!

lady macleod said...

A very timely post my friend. I struggled with this issue not so much as weight ( I am "that woman' you all hate, I lose weight when I am sad, happy, busy...) but my daughter developed early and is very, very buxom.

It only goes so far to tell her that her peers will gladly pay out over ten thousand dollars to have her attributes when she was being the butt of jokes in school. So I put her in the cockpit of an airplane and she learned to fly - something those pukey teenage boys with no manners could not do. I do think it made a difference as that is her favourite body part as she has matured. (whew) But it was twice as hard on me!

I think if we as parents can get in the heads of our daughters that their character and ability to be a superior human is not tied up in any number on a scale or size in a dress we have won that battle.

As for mature women - having grown up in Europe it was always that you would have a bit more hip in order to have a smoother face; the Americans.. I don''t know I can't explain starving yourself in a country of plenty. In Morocco, Mama Fatima was constantly trying to get me to eat up as 'You will never get a husband. You are too skinny!'.

In this age of financial and political uncertainty I am going for health (says the woman who just had plastic surgery - but NO liposuction). I hate the truth of it, but I think there are few things good that exercise won't do for your health and mental state.

That's my two pounds worth. Again, a timely topic. Thank you for making us all think my friend.

OH and SS my love, you look beautiful at any weight because your loving heart shows through your eyes.

Sally said...

This was a terrific post dear friend and it's great to read the consensus you have in the comments that are already up. It confirms my belief that so much of the whole weight issue is encouraged by the media and advertising and, left to themselves, sensible and honest women eventually do come to accept that they are what they are. The sadness is, that it takes maturity and experience to realise this. Health is the true priority, and young girls need someone they know and trust to get them to accept this.

PinkAcorn said...

Loved the blog. I've currently fallen off the Nurtisystems wagon and almost immediantly put about five pounds back on. I was always stick skinny until menopause...after losing 20 pounds on Nutrisytems I felt better, no more back aches...but now they have returned.
I dont' know how you haven't blossomed out with all the wonderful food you show on your blog...I'd be looking at a new wardrobe in muumuu size.

Gledwood said...

Only a girl would post that, Welshcakes, honestly. From what I've seen you've nothing to be insecure about!

Feminists do all they can to blame this perpetual poor body image that thrives amongst women on to men, but I can tell you where it comes from WOMEN'S MAGAZINES. I flicked through a selection in the Chinese as I waited for chicken curry egg fried rice last time and was shocked! So much for "sisterhood"... The glossies instill and perpetuate the fleshless image and the weeklies fuel the obsession like petrol on a bonfire by flapping on in league with celebrities' PR about how much they lost on such and such "diet and exercise" when anyone with 0.5 brains can see a lot of it's achieved by SURGERY. I wish someone would expose this...

Isn't Simi gorgeous... I would say she reminds me of Baby Itchy Robo, but she's even prettier. Do you spraypaint her gold each morning..?

I featured your remark on my today's post: I think you were dead right; it is indeed the psychiatricals who are madder than any of us!!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thank you, Leslie and thank you for sharing that story. We worry far too much , don't we, whilst men who love us love us as we are? You are so right about health. Hello, cb, and thank you, too. It means a lot that you agree. I agree about looking good for yourself. Hi, Rowena. That made me smile! Hi, Mopsa. So glad you agree, too. It is, indeed, very, very sad. Hi, Flutterby and thank you. I agree about fad diets. I think the key is to eat healthily, not eat to lose weight. Mme Ramotswe is one of my heroines! Thank you, Sally. It's hard to think you have any problem with weight as you keep so fit and trim. You are right - being fit and healthy is the important thing. Thanks, WW. Hi,Lady M. I agree with what you say and what a fabulous thing to have done for your daughter. I think I'll move to Morocco! I also agree about exercise, in whatever form one can take it. And thank you for your kind words at the end of the comment - I am so touched I am nearly crying - in a nice way! Thank you, Sally. You are right - it does take maturity to see that you should value what you have and that you can look good if you are overweight. I wouldn't want to be young and go through all that again! Hi, pink. I think it's just the amount of raw food in an Italian diet and the fact that they don't feel the need to eat between meals. Hi, Gleds. That's very chivalrous of you. Thank you. I'm sure you're right about women's magazines - a flick through them can really depress a woman. Simi is gorgeous and she thanks you. When she was a pupoy, she was completely broen for the first 6 weeks, then she turned this lovely golden colour! I am so proud of her. Glad you liked my comment. Over to you in a couple of hours [after "Holby City" - 2 episodes on BBC Prime!]

Ellee Seymour said...

Pat, we love you the same whatever you weigh. I was worried about your weight loss and hope it has stablised now. Take care.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Ellee, I think it has stabilised now. x

Wolfie said...

We are constantly being told to celebrate diversity.

I should pay no heed to such dishonest pronouncements, the speakers of such words seem to usually want us to tolerate some intolerance.

I understand what you are saying. It seems to be ingrained into the human psyche to judge one-another, often most cruelly but the most dangerous delusion is to believe that our suffering is greater than someone else's or that we suffer alone.

A wise man once said that it is a fool who bases his self-image on the shallow pronouncements of others, hard though that it is to do as we are social animals we should try to remember that being what these benevolent others desire of us is unlikely to ever satisfy them for even a minute.

Michelle said...

What a great post. A little common sense should go a long way but it appears as if radical ideas over this (non) issue has had it's way with us! I'm glad to hear your reasonable point of view.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

You are right, Wolfie and anyway, no one can "please all the people all the time" but in this case it's almost as if there's been a war and thin people won it.
Thanks, Michelle.

Race Kale said...

I think you're looking great.

It seems to be true, that, in general, men like a tiny bit 'rounder' women. I think that is the main reason why Nigella is so popular, don't you?

But, as you say, since you're blonde and live in Italy...

You're conclusion sounds outstanding to me.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hello, Race Kale and thank you for commenting on my blog. Thank you also for your kind words. I do agree with you about Nigella.


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