A few years ago a friend and I had the idea that we should write a self-help book for women like us (after all, we had read enough of them). It seemed a sure way to earn ourselves some fortune, if not fame (fame not being that attractive, though fortune looked delightful). We were both struggling with over-eating, being over-weight, issues of body image, years of feeling crap about our bodies, and bored with ourselves for feeling crap about ourselves, etc, etc. A lot of women will understand that - I can't speak for the men, as I've yet to meet one who (even if over-weight) admits to the Black Hole of Self Loathing and Doubt that most women recognise.
I think we only really got as far as some ideas for the title (Women Who Eat Too Much or Women Who Run with the Pies) and a bit of publicity blurb for the back cover - the whole idea was just fun, and a chance to laugh at our craziness. There we were, two fabulous and feminist women, caught up in this nonsense - really knowing everything we needed to know to heal our lives - but throwing good money after bad on another book, when we could have written them in our sleep. They were like the old Mills & Boon romances my aunt used to read, that were written to such a strict formula it was amazing to me as a fourteen year old that she'd want to read another one. Yet, 30 years later I was scoffing about the endless supply of paperbacks in the Personal Development section offering us the same kind of escapist fantasy, only now it was me who was buying them. I don't mean that there haven't been some seminal works written about women and body image. When Susie Orbach published 'Fat is a Feminist Issue' in the late seventies it was a watershed moment for me. Just recently she launched the Endangered Species Summit to 'challenge the culture that teaches women and girls to hate their own bodies' http://www.endangeredspecieswomen.org.uk/
The truth is that at fourteen I hadn't really begun my journey on the self-destructive road that I've been on for most of my adult life - that started a few years later. I doubt that I would have understood all the fuss. I had always been thin and never thought about it. What did bother me was having to wear glasses (which also led to poor self-image). If I was fourteen now I imagine I'd be well on the way to torturing myself about every aspect of my appearence, because the pressure on girls seems so overwhelming in our media age. I am sickened by the over-sexualisation of young girls. When I look at pop music videos the artists look and behave just like the women in the porn ads on Italian TV, and these pop stars are role-models for young girls. I shudder every time I see family snaps where the little girls are dressed in pink and the little boys are dressed, well, like little boys (and not all in blue!). Up until the 1950s our idea of gender specific colours was completely reversed - blue for girls (it was considered a dainty colour, and associated with the Virgin Mary in Catholic countries) and boys were dressed in pink. But now this wonderful world of girly pink is so heavily marketed that the gender stereotyping is reinforced at every turn - what little girl would be able to resist when all the images she sees are of sparkly, pink princesses? How will she define another identity for herself if we don't show her alternatives? As if there isn't already enough social conditioning! So todays little girls learn they must be pretty, sexy, thin and preferably famous even before they start school. No wonder I get mad - feminism has become diluted and undermined, become something that young women are ashamed to identify themselves with (or worse, an idea that is redundant because they somehow believe the battles have been fought and won). Who can possiblly say we've won the war?
Just took a little tea break there to calm myself, and was looking at some stuff on the web. Blow me down if someone hasn't got a fabulous website about the lack of role models for girls and sexual stereotyping!
I'm still a woman who eats too much. I did stop dieting many years ago, but there remains a part of me that wants to be thin. It's like admitting to a terrible dirty secret to say that. But now I try to work at it on my own - no more self-help books - trying to find out what it is that I'm using food for. I wish it was just fuel for me, and that I really could learn to eat only when I get hungry. Maybe part of the inner struggle is some resistance to conform to those awful female stereotypes? Perhaps. It's certainly a source of conflict in me - my politics and my problematic self-image - though I am so much happier in my skin now it's stretched and wrinkled.