I woke up this morning and while still half asleep, felt my stomach and hips. As I have been following my secret diet, designed to get me into the healthy BMI range, I realised I was checking if I was getting smaller yet. And I thought of L, waking up in her hospital bed, probably examining her own body to see how it was growing and changing, feeling alarm at being “bigger”.
Let’s leave aside the issue of BMI for a while. I don’t subscribe to the view that it doesn’t matter if you are overweight, in health terms. It does. But somewhere under the health concerns, the vanity about appearance, seems to be an unspoken anxiety of how much space we take up as women. My dislike of being overweight is not just about how tired and listless I feel, or that the clothes I love look wrong, but also that there is just too much of me. I take up too much space, I am too large for the space I feel I should occupy. I am tall too and conscious that in heels I tower over others and rather than feeling imposing, I feel ungainly and clumsy. Yet I see other women, who are large and dress well and think how magnificent they look. I also see women who are significantly overweight, and see how timid they are, and women who are stick thin acting as if they own the world.
Somewhere in the simmering cauldron of causes and triggers for anorexia, seems to be the fear that as women if we are not seen to be good, to be perfect, if we take up too much space or make too much noise, if we demand or insist, if we do as we like rather than as others expect, we will not be loved. We will be loud, large, brash and somehow uncontrolled and uncontrollable, by ourselves and others. Yet what could be better than doing as we please, eating what and when we want? As L got thinner, she got quieter and meeker. She used to laugh until she fell over and all she can manage now is a smile, which is sometimes forced and hard for her. As well as needing to gain weight, she needs to regain her sense of space, her sense of absolute entitlement to be here in this world, to be a young woman who is noticed, who speaks up and stands up for herself. That is the L I know, before Ed came along. She needs to know that being too big for her boots is just fine, that too much of a good thing, as Mae West said is wonderful.