I have just created a fat teenager.
Obviously I’d have liked to have pushed out a perfectly formed Phd Thesis – all sporty-popular-genius. Instead I’ve produced something lurking in a shell of fat, with uncoordinated parts and early onset chippiness. How on earth did that happen I wonder?
Creating something is deeply scary because it doesn’t matter how many post-it notes and to-do lists you have, when you bring something into the world you don’t get to control what comes out. Each creation has its own identity, inheriting random aspects of ourselves, but not a clone. Thats why even the hard slog of writing is sometimes magical, as something comes into the world that did not exist before.
As someone who read Fat is a Feminist Issue at the age of 11 I’m filled with sad love that this love-child of 20 years working in trade unions and my needing an academic driving licence is frankly a bit of a tubs. Having spent most of my life ‘managing’ weight hardly a surprise. But I’m left with a sick feeling of parental anxiety that I still haven’t figured out why its so hard to lose the pounds by making sensible lifestyle choices.
I am someone who quickly gets existential about weight. I have been known to punch and spit at wellbeing seminars and sulk in toilets at the inevitable reference to the O-word. So I’m going to try to say something important without losing my doughnut.
Losing weight is complex. If it was just about eating fruit and cycling to work we’d all be doing it.
I have well rehearsed missives about poor-people food, our alienation from nature thanks to intensive farming and self-harming through food waste and cheap booze. I carry physical scars from the 1980s when food became a weapon in the war of aspiration and McDonalds ruled over home grown grub.
Obesity is an emotional categorical muffled by food. An insulation against life that can only be peeled away only if you accept that its there for a reason.
For most of us fat serves a function. It can hide and distract the viewer from what is going on inside. Whether its a girl’s avoidance of her sexuality, or a middle aged man’s terror at his own freedom to choose, get fat enough and you can convince yourself that you will never be wanted by another.
Or a flabby Phd that won’t risk stating in black and white some unsavoury truths about the future of work for fear of holding an independent thought and someone not liking it.
This obese state of mind protects us from the risks inherent in life but at the cost of not being fully alive, more trapped under a heavy psychic object organising your social life around the Great British Bake Off.
I look at myself and what I have just created, and reading between the lines I see the years of trying to control my body rather than understand it. Fat is a way of covering up the shame of being afraid and burying the emotional core behind it. So when we choose to show ourselves to others we also have to show ourselves the kindness of asking what’s bugging the fat teenager, however complex and hard the answer might be.
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