A Weight of One’s Own

I’ve already written a lot about body image, about embracing my own shape, eschewing dieting, and women’s relationships with food. Before a female-only dinner I went to recently, I joked on Twitter that there should be a Bechdel test for women’s dinners where at least two women talk about something else other than food while eating. It never happened. Someone turned up and promptly announced how many calories they’d burnt off at the gym and it was all over.

This policing of food intake, both by ourselves and by the media, drives me mad. It’s taken me forty-eight years to realise I don’t have to be thin to live a happy life, that I haven’t fallen into oblivion by stopping dieting. I have gained around 20lbs since my decade of dieting in my 30s, and have gone back up to the size I was before the dieting kicked in.

I honestly went into a panic as the scales showed a significant increase earlier this year. And yet every time I looked in the mirror, naked, I saw a body I liked. How can this be? I panicked myself into another low-carb diet. It didn’t work. The panic subsided and the body I liked was still there. Rounder around the tummy, thighs and upper arms, but it actually looked like the shape it was meant to be. Some clothes didn’t fit, some clothes fitted better. I filled out the bits that were meant to be filled out. This made me laugh with joy a few times, getting ready to go out.

I think my body is lovely. Am I allowed to say that? Damn right. For years I thought it was bloody disgusting and thank god that’s over. There are men (and women) who’ve only known me as post-dieting Lisa and they say such nice things about my body. I’ve had them call me things like ‘full-on woman’. They’ve commented on my shape, and called it ‘beautiful’, ‘sexy’ and ‘lovely’. I bask in it, because my Inner Voice is saying, ‘Really? At this size?’ and then just when I’m about to say it out loud, I tell IV to shut the hell up and say nothing.

I must have my ‘fat radar’ set to high frequency because I was rewatching Love Actually the other day as part of my annual Christmas TV viewing and suddenly realised how fat-shamey it was.

From the start, Bill Nighy constantly refers to his ‘fat manager’, Nathalie gets called ‘plumpy’ by her parents, Emma Thompson bemoans her ‘Pavarotti’ clothing, Aurelia chides Jamie for getting ‘chubby’ and her ‘Miss Dunkin’ Donuts’ sister calls her a ‘skinny moron’. The movie even ends with Hugh Grant saying ‘God, you weigh a lot’ to his new girlfriend, the aforementioned ‘Plumpy’.

Someone making this film had some issues, I’d say.

Why is flesh so fearsome? Why do the Overweight Haters think it’s ok to distribute Fat Cards to women on the London Underground? Why is the worst insult a rejected man on Tinder can throw at a woman is ‘ur fat and ugly anyway’? They know it strikes at the fear in the very centre of our being. Even now, if someone shouted ‘fat’ at me, even though I know I’m not, I’d carry around the curse of that for days, weeks after. I know I would.

And then… And then that bloody women’s health report. Even though it rightly acknowledges that obesity is a nationwide, non-gendered problem, and has a significant effect on women’s health, the media has grabbed the chance to say “Women: You Are Responsible For a National Crisis By Eating Too Much.” Here’s what the Department of Health’s Sally Davies actually says in her summary of the report:

Tackling obesity in the population as a whole has to be a national priority, in order to reduce the impact of related, non-communicable diseases on healthy life expectancy and health services.

But guess what? The Daily Fail lays all the responsibility of a national crisis, just before Xmas, on women’s eating. Not the Cumbrian floods, not the terrorist threat – women’s eating:

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And rather effectively, it’s sandwiched (no pun intended) between an advert for ‘lady petrol’ and two feminine ideals (one of whom has been told to lose weight in the past). It’s a classic, ‘enjoy this, but don’t actually imbibe it if you want to look like this’ schematic.

I’ve returned again and again to the great feminist work Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach, first published in 1978, and been amazed at how relevant it still is today:

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As Orbach goes on to say, “selling body insecurity to women (and increasingly to men too) is a vicious phenomenon. It relies on the social practices that shape a girl’s growing up to make her receptive … they are discouraged from using their body strength to explore the world.”

I have made it a life principle to take up space in the world, to increase my body strength, and to explore as far and wide as I can. On my own. I know that my anti-diet approach to life comes from a response to being body-policed from a young age, and from hearing female friends and relatives comment on their weight and others’ all my life.

I am happy to know a number of younger women who’ve taken a similar ‘This Girl Can’ attitude to life. But I know a hell of a lot more who’ll be monitoring their food intake and not have the strength to climb a wall or run a 10k. But it’s ok, because they’re skinny.

I will say again and again, and if I had a daughter I’d say it every day, that it’s our right (I see it as a duty) to be in the world, to take up space, to be sexual, to get into all its corners. Shrinking ourselves, Alice-like, is not the way to do it.

If only I’d realised this thirty years ago.

Happy Christmas, ladies – eat, drink and be merry.

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Tinder is the Night

In many ways, the Tinder app is the best online dating method for women. You don’t get that deluge of ‘hey, sexy’s when you sign up as you can only talk to people who’ve ‘swiped right’ on your picture, as you have on theirs. There is already a mutual attraction based on profile pictures and a tiny bit of bio information before you even start talking. It’s fun to get the ‘It’s a match!’ icon bursting onto your phone when you swipe right, and if it’s not mutual you instantly forget about the person you liked because their profile disappears once you’ve swiped. Perfect.

There is a perception out there, particularly among older users, that Tinder is a sex hook-up app (because of its association with the Grindr app) but I’ve used it straightforwardly, and been pretty happy with the results (apart from Parisian Angry Guy – I’ll tell you about him in another post). When I first started using the app, I took it as ‘seriously’ as other online dating forums, expecting to match and date someone. You can follow that road relatively successfully, especially if you have an in-built system for filtering out weirdos (largely based on ability to spell and use proper words), but it’s actually much more fun to treat the app like a dating Gogglebox. The myriad ways in which people present themselves as potential mates (in all senses of the word) is nothing short of astonishing and makes for great entertainment.

Interestingly, when you do get a match, the app tells you if you’d like to chat or ‘keep playing’, which suggests Tinder know people will use it as a game. And now I’m one of them. I thought I’d collate my Top Ten Tinder Treats here, in case you’re not on there yet and need to know what you’re missing out on.

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Manhood

Posing with drugged tigers seems to be the order of the day for many men on Tinder. Grinning inanely next to a big cat appears to have become the tenties version of posing next to a Lamborghini. If it’s representative of associated virility, do men really think we want to know their manhood is sedated, limp and out of action? They clearly haven’t thought this through. (See also guys who only post drunken pictures of themselves.)

A few guys have told me that girls often pose dressed as cats in their profile pics, presumably in their sexy Halloween costumes from last year. What is this obsession with cats? Are they latent representations of our sexuality? Or just our need to appear aloof, ‘can’t catch me’ animals, stalking around our prey with flashing eyes and the odd tail-brush against the legs of a potential mate. See also: cougars. I’m often called one, because of my age and the fact that I date younger men. These men like to view me as a predator, trying to ‘catch’ them on Tinder, and I often have to remind them that they swiped right too. They genuinely ‘forget’ that they had any agency in the match and don’t like being reminded of it. Tough kitty, guys.

 2. The Other Women

Hilariously, some men thing it’s a good idea to show how successful they are with women by posing with one or more in every single profile picture. Sometimes it’s bikini’d women on a Balearic holiday, sometimes a ‘celebrity’ from Towie, but sometimes it’s clearly an ex-girlfriend. Hell, sometimes it’s clearly a picture from his wedding day. My favourite, however, is when you can see that they’ve cropped their ex just out of the picture, but you can still see the telltale ‘heads together’ pose and the look of smug coupledom. Not cool, guys. How difficult is it to take a selfie?!

3. Slim Shady

Guys who never take their shades off. Sorry, but most people look much better in shades. I’ll swipe instantly left if a guy only posts pictures of himself in them. Dead giveaway for a horror story underneath. Often, there’s a helpful non-shades pic nestled in there that reveals the truth. My rule of thumb is that guys (and probably girls) always ALWAYS look like their worst picture. Ladies – take note. Do not be fooled by the Great In Shades pic.

4. Which One Are You?

So, you’re wearing shades in all your pics, and you decide that only posing group shots is the way forward. Drinking games, team sports, stag dos – all of these scenarios appear in your profile pics and we can’t tell WHICH ONE YOU ARE. And you’re always the least-hot one, aren’t you? No one’s being hooked in by that one, darling, unless they want you to introduce them to your hot friend.

5. So What Are You Looking For?

I’m always asked this by guys, as though I have some grand master plan complete with a Matrix-style home computer where I work out the logistics of hooking in my perfect mate. What they actually mean is, ‘are you up for casual sex?’ but they can’t bring themselves to say it. I’m not ‘looking for’ anything in particular, love – if anything, it’s probably the same thing as you.

In my experience, it’s often guys who go into master-plan mode when they’re looking to settle down. I distinctly remember two male friends putting their taxi lights ‘on’ when they decided they wanted to get married (see the Sex and the City ‘taxi-light’ theory from Miranda). I’ve done all that so I’m literally just seeing who’s out there with no agenda. And yet I’m expected to have one. One of the really worrying traits of Tinder men, is that they are clearly paranoid about being trapped by women-with-a-plan. Get over yourselves.

6. Fun times

Guys – stop saying ‘fun’ when you mean sex. When you suggest ‘fun’ to me, I picture getting on the waltzers at a fair with candy floss in my hand, attending a party dressed as a drag queen (just did that), or playing a word-based board game. Whole different thing.

7. Cock and Bull

Ah, the classic cock shots. Usually presented alongside the downwards torso shot and maybe a cheeky bum one to complete the set. All headless, obvs. I always swipe left, but not before having a good look and a laugh. And then there are the guys I match with who appear normal and then instantly ask if I’m on Whatsapp or Snapchat once we’ve matched, clearly just looking for nude picture-swapping. It always makes me laugh when they instantly lose interest when the promise of pictures is taken away. Joy.

8. Couples Competition

I just love it when I see a guy on there whom I know is in a relationship but is playing that couples game of how many matches they can get. A very, VERY dangerous game to play, my friends.

9. Athena Man, Invisible Man and Lying Man

Athena Man – the guy who presents himself topless, holding either a cute puppy or a baby. Seriously?! Gone already. Invisible Man – the guy who can’t even be bothered to upload a picture of himself? That’s special. Lying Man – the man who is obviously 56 but is pretending to be 34? We can tell. We can also look you up on Google, Mr Celebrity Person I Just Happened To See Posing As 36 When Your Real Age of 43 Is On Your Wikipedia Entry.

10. Spellcheck.

But the real, ultimate test of whether a guy is ok is his ability to write messages without resorting to ‘ur’ or ‘do ya wanner meet up?’ This results in instant deletion for me. You might look like David Gandy on the beach in Thailand but if you can’t spell or form a sentence you just don’t cut it. This works in 99.9% of cases – I can provide evidence. Textual literacy means a good date will happen, however it ends up. Beware of the ones who are too charming and brilliant with words though – these are signs of sociopathy.

So, still interested in becoming a Tinderette?

Honestly – it’s worth it just for the laughs.