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By Melanie Schoo
Maths isn’t my strong point but I can divide my weight by pretty much any number you care to imagine. More specifically, I can determine the gap between my current and my ideal weight and, depending on which dieting method, I can calculate how long it should take me to be perfect.
I’ve been obsessed with these numbers and how they represent a deficit in my worth as a person, since I was seven. It was grade two, I was tall for my age and fairly active and sporty. We were learning about measurements by recording the height and weight of everyone in the class. My height was 143 cm and my weight was 30 kilograms. Another girl in my class was 125cm and 20 kilograms and compared to her I felt huge and hideous and wrong. I have never been very good at being wrong, I always want to be the best and be perfect, and here’s where my obsession began.
That was the first number I focussed on. I wanted to be 20 kilos, and this started a 30-year relationship with some numbers on a scale. Beyond every other hobby, interest, celebrity crush and fashion trend, this obsession is the one that has invaded my thoughts every single day.
I’ve swung to both extremes on the pendulum. When I was a teenager, I skipped breakfast and lunch for a year and was overjoyed when a three-week period of not eating meant that I had to poke new holes in my belt. I memorised and copied celebrity diets in magazines and still remember that in 1993, Claudia Schiffer only ate fruit before midday. I have dozens of old notebooks and diaries where I have written down my weight and the date, and then plotted the regime and time frame until I reach perfection.
With the benefit of hindsight and the wisdom of not being fifteen anymore, I can look back on these photos and see even though I wasn’t Claudia, I was still ok. I’ll never be as thin as I was when I was 15, but that girl wasn’t perfect, and she certainly wasn’t happy.
In the last 15 years, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but today I would be very accurately described as overweight. I’ve long passed the stage where skipping lunch for a few weeks will get me back into my skinny jeans. The numbers still run through my head dozens of times a day, almost like someone has switched on subtitles and they don’t know how to turn them off. At some point they became paralysing; instead of coming up with a plan, the numbers and the gaps between where I am and where I “should” be trigger different equations.
Today the numbers tell me that even if I do everything right, and focus on nothing but diet and exercise for a year, I still won’t be perfect. I’ve put on and lost weight so quickly and so many times that I’ve crippled my metabolism and will never be able to play by the rules of dieting again.
When I’m not running the numbers, I think about the difference not being overweight would make to my life. Apart from making me healthier, would I be a better person?
Apart from my body, I love my life. I have an awesome husband, a great career, and friends who make me want to be a better person. I don’t think they would like me or value me more if I wasn’t fat, but I do think that that almost everyone else in the world would.
Beyond my obsession with my weight and size, what is most confronting is the interest that strangers have in my body and the judgements they make about my worth as a person because of this. I know that in the society I live in, there is a pervasive belief that there is something wrong, shameful or defective about me. If only I just cared more, was disciplined, stopped being greedy and got off my arse everything would be fine.
I’ve been stared at and spat on. People I barely know, or have never met before go out of their way to offer me advice, send me diet tips on social media or give me an honest critique of what they think is “wrong” with me.
On an intellectual level, I get it. It’s human nature to judge. We all think that our perspective is the right one and that we would make the best choice when presented with the same circumstances. Despite our best intentions, humans are flawed creatures who continue to fuck up and make mistakes. We don’t do it deliberately to upset or outrage anyone else (mostly)
Please, take it from me. A person who is fat knows it. It’s a reality that we are reminded of with every step we take and every inch of space that we take up. I know that I am failing in this basic measure of being a “successful person” and I promise all the helpful and well-intentioned strangers out there that nothing you can do or say will motivate or fix me. If anything, all these helpful, and let’s be honest, hurtful, comments do is make me miserable, and that is not a mindset that I find motivating.
Obsessing over the size of my bum doesn’t make me a better person. Feeling bad about the way my body looks, doesn’t make it any easier to exercise or eat kale. Being thin is no guarantee of happiness and I cannot spend my life in the pursuit of an acceptable number, to the detriment of everything else. This overpowering internal dialogue is neither helpful, nor unique to me.
As the prominence of the diet industry has increased, so too has the prominence of eating disorders and obesity. We’ve never had more access to information about nutrition and we’ve never been sicker. All this focus on fixing ourselves is breaking us.
We have to get better at understanding and appreciating different bodies. Not by celebrating what is unhealthy or dangerous, but by recognizing that a number on a scale isn’t the only way of determining your worth as a person, because there’s no such thing as perfect.
Melanie is a communications professional who has worked in the not-for-profit sector for more than 15 years. A reformed social media addict, she has been condemned, attacked, and blocked by most right-wing tabloid journalists for being a “rabid leftie feminist social justice warrior”. She has a pair of 24-year-old Doc Martens, a fondness for Harry Potter and some very spoilt pet poodles. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.
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Perfect doesn’t exist, but this column was as close as you are going to get. “Lord, please save us from people with the solution.” I raise my coffee cup and toast your well being.