As a point of personal pride, I don’t keep a set of weighing scales in the house and now I know why. At a friend’s house a few weeks ago, I decided to pop on her bathroom scales out of curiosity. What else are you going to do after a few cheeky glasses of prosecco but jump on and sate your curiosity? Well, talk about sobering.
I watched the dial skit past my “heaviest” weight and wobble perilously at a very, very high number. Wow. I know I had tried to drown the existential angst of the last 20 months two years with Doritos and biscuits and wine, but... really? I’m up there? And, because this reaction is inked on every woman’s DNA like writing through Brighton rock, there came the inevitable chaser of shame and guilt and embarrassment. A big auld oopsie, covered in Doritos dust.
For a long time, I had rejected the idea of keeping those numbers on the scales nice and low. Why cut out food groups, or fast, or drink only juices for days at a time just to fit into some nice clothes? Why be miserable and spend precious bandwidth on diets and the idea of “good” and “bad” food in order to stick to some arbitrary version of the Western bodily ideal?
How much of your life and your brain do you get back when you’re not doing the subconscious labour of calorie counting and “outsmarting” your body into being thinner?
I turned my back on that boring, horrid social contract that all women are supposed to sign up to. It bothers me that spending so much time thinking about diets and cellulite and wobbly bits is intrinsic to the experience of being a woman. I hated the idea that keeping your body weight low was a duty that was simply expected in order to be a fully functional female. A “good” wife and mother.
I had this revelation during lockdown, when, admittedly, it was an easy time to think about turning your back on any kind of social contract. Surely, I reckoned, not giving a stuff about your body or your weight was the ultimate act of feminism — a resounding two chubby fingers up to the patriarchy?
Here’s the thing. That fateful evening at my friend’s house woke something up in me.
Now, I know that the numbers on the scale tell only part of a larger story. They are but one marker of someone’s overall health. But the thing is, I realised, while looking at the scales, something that I’d long suspected: something was not right. Because there’s a difference between fretting about pounds and ounces and worrying about your health.
I tuned in a little more to my body and didn’t necessarily like what I heard. Things are starting to creak. There’s an ache in my back that wasn’t there before. I’ve been sluggish, devoid of energy and enthusiasm and diving fat-butt first into a moody, depressive hole. Doing something about it has nothing to do with the “social contract” of being a woman and everything to do with the contract I keep with myself.
Because, when it comes down to it, being a “good” wife and mother ultimately means doing everything within your own power to enjoy a healthy and long life.
Every year, I start out with great intentions, only for the “new and improved” me to end up dashed on the rocks by mid-January. And so, this year, it’ll be a month of tiny, barely perceptible changes. It’s not about weight loss. It’s about self-care. It’s about hoping that, once my brain starts getting these tiny, positive messages about my health, something will shift and the self-care will kick in as a matter of course. Maybe then I can worry about the bigger issues of laziness, self-sabotage and eating my feelings.
And so, we’re kicking off with a jug of water on the desk. A multivitamin. And scaling back, even a little, on the cineplex-scope bounty of evening treats which have seemed so necessary and right for the last 20 months.
It’s almost unbearably cliched to kickstart any new regime like this in January, but there’s something about a new calendar year — the fresh, back-to-school feeling of a new calendar diary — that offers a psychological clean slate. Perhaps it will all have gone to hell in a handcart by next week. Perhaps I’ll start to feel better and will chase better health with a new-found fervour.
But the world could do with taking on a New Year’s resolution, too. We could do with dumping that bone-deep mindset that thinness equates to hotness. We have to kick into touch the idea that excess weight is a character flaw that needs to be scrutinised and redressed.
In a world where a woman’s worth is still tied to how closely she fits with traditional models of beauty and femininity, the alternative to thinness will always be seen as a moral failure, as well as an aesthetic one.
It is amazing how much brain space you get back when you stop looking in the mirror and stop wishing for parts to look different. But, make no mistake, turning your attentions to your health is another matter entirely.