A good friend of mine put up a post on Facebook today:
“I just saw a quote on a photo of a beautiful plus-sized girl calling her “a real-sized model.” Because it’s not enough that slender models are insufficiently womanly, they now apparently DON’T EXIST”
She elaborated in the comments: “If I may, and this could be controversial so I have my apology ready, I would compare it to racism against white people: there IS such a thing as thin privilege, which makes it ‘okay’ (in some people’s minds) to be utterly horrid to thin people….slender=vain, superficial, overly self-controlled. Fat=lazy, slovenly, undisciplined, can’t stop eating. I had a stranger in the pub once poke me in the ribs, exclaim ‘what a side on that one!’ and then advise me to ‘stop eating hamburgers’. This was when I was running 5km five or six times a week.”
I kind of know what she means. I’m pretty thin, and plenty of people feel the need to advise me to eat more, because if I’m not constantly reminded, I might forget. Some people go further and feel the need to give me a poke, as if their touch will somehow drive home the point that I’m too thin. Most of these people mean well, but no matter how well they might think they know me, absolutely none of them have any idea of my own body image or the how I see myself or how hurtful some of these remarks might be. Larger people sometimes seem to view my build as a criticism of their own.
Body image is a very strange, personal thing. I have a vivid memory of being about eight or nine years old and having an older boy at school wrinkling his nose in disgust when my backside wobbled as I towelled myself off in the changing rooms after gym. I doubt he meant anything much by it, but from that moment on, I had an image of myself as being big. Of course, at around 6’5” in height, I grew to be tall, but my experience of growing up was that I always needed to have bigger clothes than everyone else: my school shorts were “chunky fit” and I needed a bigger cap than everyone else at cubs. Maybe that all makes sense now that I am simply taller than most people (after all, puppies have huge paws), but that was actually quite difficult to deal with when I was still actually growing up. I have weighed over 100kg at my heaviest, but even now I’m more than 20kg lighter, I still find it incredibly difficult to see myself as thin, and still find it weird when people tell me that’s how they see me.
In nineteen days’ time, my wife and I will be running the London Marathon. My wife ran 22 miles with me on Sunday and will complete the full 26.2 miles of the race when the time comes. She’s done brilliantly with the training and she looks great on it too. She might not be able to fit into her boots any more, thanks to her newly developed calf muscles, but everyone has been telling her how great she looks. And yet, and yet…. She seems mildly disappointed that the scales are telling her that she hasn’t actually lost any weight. What’s the point of all this bloody training, she half-jokes, if I’m not going to lose any weight? As if the ability to run a marathon and raise thousands of pounds for a brilliant charity *and* looking great are somehow not enough.
Your own body image is a funny thing, and whenever and however it got set, it’s clearly not a straightforward thing for people to re-programme.