Pop the kettle on, grab a few biscuits or some pieces of fruit, and pull up a chair, because I want to chew some fat (and some lean) with you, in a longish post.
When I look back at old news reels from the seventies they always seem to be populated by very slim people, it’s surprisingly the first thing that strikes me before I’m visually assaulted by the hideous fashion choices. That goes for footage from the UK, Australia and the USA, all the so called developed nations that are now struggling with ‘obesity’ epidemics. I put that word in scare quotes as a nod to my husband who is often declared medically obese, most memorably by the corpulent nurse who huffed and puffed her way up our stairs to tell him so, and yet has a skeletal frame that would never be healthy at the medically recommended weight for his height. He genuinely is big boned and I don’t just say that to ensure that he’ll get the painting finished this weekend (love ya big fella keep up the good work!!!), and I’m genuinely petite, the sort of petite that has to have watch straps and bracelets adjusted past their pre punched minimum wrist size. (See also my teeny tiny head in a previous post). We kind of know instinctively, without the aid of some inflexible medical chart, what our own healthy weight range should really be and it’s perfectly normal in our minds that we have very different genetics and therefore body types. As for the folks that would have been socially deemed too fat back in the seventies they now don’t look anything other than a normal and regular size by today’s standards. Ironic and almost unjust isn’t it?
Just look at these cool slim kids doing the Bump, just look. If that doesn’t make you laugh your head off and a few excess calories whilst you’re weak pelvic floor emits an accidental tinkle in your knick naks I don’t know what will. What? You mean that last one was just me? There is perhaps then some correlation between the hectic dance moves of the day and the average contemporary build; though I positively do not recommend the Square Dancing section of that news reel.
Scroll back a few decades and the term Fat Cat referred not to a sardonic and ginger cartoon moggie but was more usually reserved for the corpulent business man whose success and ego equalled a no restraint, no holds barred approach to life. If you have enough money and power the best way to demonstrate it is by putting your money where your mouth is and proving that everything can and should be bought and consumed.
Clive Palmer, Mining Magnate and the epitome of greed and no doubt a regular consumer of the Monty Python-esque “Wafer Thin Mint”. In the interests of equality here’s the female equivalent, Gina Rinehart, all that money and yet still so badly dressed and turned out.
Dishing out advice to the poor and apparently lazy and greedy
So let’s take a look back in the archives at my own family whose genes predisposed us to be skinny and added in to that mix was the additional factor of a lack of funds for several generations. We couldn’t afford to buy enough food to overeat and what food was bought was as nutritionally sound as possible, a throwback to rationing where it might not taste great but it would keep you alive, and sugar was deemed an unnecessary luxury. When my father left us we didn’t have a car or unlimited money for public transport either (and my single parent would not concede to the perceived shame of subsidised meals or travel tokens) and therefore we expended more calories getting around on foot with less food in our bellies. I was always starving hungry (or so I thought) by tea time, rarely allowed too much sweet stuff and often given fruit or one slice of bread and butter to fill up on. Christmas was a joy because I might be allowed more than one Satsuma in a sitting and Ribena was an indulgent treat only to be found in the cupboards of more affluent (and therefore my favourite) friends and relatives.
My Grandma was tiny all her life at 4ft 11 inches. She tottered around in specially ordered size 2 heels, and even had heels on her fluffy little kitten slippers. She was notoriously lazy to the extent that her youngest son, and the skinniest, wrote a song about her, with the lyrics “one third of your life is spent in bed”. He was nineteen and just starting out with his band The Majority, though no one ever admitted she was the inspiration. She was so gloriously ignorant of her diva status that I doubt she ever guessed it either. Barry is the wee little blond fella at the far right with his older, and much bigger brother Jack, my Dad is looking particularly pigeon chested in the middle and is probably shivering from the lack of fat on his bones to keep him warm in the North Sea.
I’ve never been able to listen to this in quite the same way since, and all the Northern Soul fanatics that still bust some most peculiar, yet calorie zapping dance moves to it should probably remain none the wiser also, but hey, I’m a fan of Stephen Fry’s QI so feel it’s my job to engage in a little myth busting from time to time. Uncle Barry told me recently that his mother spending most of Saturday mornings in bed whilst everyone waited on her hand and foot was still an enduring image all these decades later. My Grandad adored and did everything for her and their seven kids, so how on earth did she manage to stay so slim? I’d hazard a guess, from my memories of her wardrobe, that when they were eventually better off she continued to eat like a little Mediterranean bird pecking at all year aperitifs and salads and just spent the extra funds on more shoes instead. They were southerners from Kent, and polar opposites to the stodgy, hearty roast dinner eaters on the matriarchal and Yorkshire side of my family.
Front and centre Grandma Kathleen, teeny tiny bird lady, famously informing her newly delivered daughter-in-law that her offspring (me) had a head shaped like a bullet, gee thanks.
Even in the skinny era I was always being told I was too skinny, something that it would seem is still more politically correct to verbalise than telling someone they are too fat, and like any negative comments about your appearance it can be just as soul destroying eventually. My all-time favourite name call in school corridors was from Nick Dale “hey Dawn, I’ve seen more fat on a greasy chip than I’ve seen on you” he was skinny too, had terrible taste in sweaters and was a redhead so I let it pass as his life was already tormented enough.
Audrey Hepburn made a career of her enviable figure, a result of being malnourished in the war, not to be recommended as a dieting tip obviously, yet she is held up as an epitome of style to aspire to (I adore her by the way because she was also fabulous, kooky, intelligent, thoughtful, incredibly tough, and so much more than just skinny). There is of course a genuine medical state of ‘being too skinny’ but even when I did eat more it took a long time for my overactive metabolism to catch up with me. About 33 years old if I recall correctly and with a lifetime of bad eating habits already in play. So I’m not spouting a “hey look at me aren’t I lucky gloat” at the world, I’ve been overweight too and fallen prey to emotional eating because for me the alternative would have just been smoking and drinking more instead.
At my heaviest, 70kg and miserable but financially healthy enough to buy and eat what I wanted no holds barred, especially take-out meals. This was my own personal limit and tipping point; at 5ft 2 it was a lot of extra weight to be carrying and it took a lot longer to get the extra back off than it did to put it on. Not everyone can pull back just in time and there is very definitely a moment you can pin point when you either rally yourself to get a bloody grip on it or give in and raise your limit because it can seem too hard to bother trying, and everyone else seems to be getting bigger so why not? Maybe we are literally just trying to fit in with the larger crowd to be accepted? I know people who have been hugely successful in overhauling their lifestyles and body shapes only to find that their nearest and dearest don’t support them and instead positively resent them for their hard work and dedication. A caring and sharing lot at times aren’t we? The enduring voice in my head at that point was this gem of my Dad’s, which he told me when he walked out and I was aged seven, “Don’t ever get fat like your Mum because no one will love you”. Makes the bullet shaped head the least of my worries doesn’t it?
I’ve also often been lectured to about how my own kids are also too skinny, and I was asked constantly if my daughter was anorexic in her teens. My son has always been ‘painfully’ thin just naturally, a Jack Sprat of the world who may trim the fat but makes up for it by clearing out the pantry and fridge of everything else at an alarming rate. My daughter is now fretting that her own baby son is also going to attract disapproving looks for not being a little chubby chops even though he is a very healthy and active little Mister. He is exactly the same body shape that she was, I was, my Dad was, his brothers and sisters were and his parents were. I’ve seen it before but more and more people in today’s first world societies have not. Gone are the days when the monitor for a healthy weight was the slogan “can you pinch more than an inch?”!! Jeepers, I’d be happy with less than four nowadays thanks.
If this is how you eat your dinner you’re bound to burn up more calories than you consume.
We can’t ever get it right and please everyone, you can be unhealthily skinny if you are a female model or celebrity, in fact it’s positively expected, but its offensive for a baby or child to be naturally slim and parents are continually being encouraged to ‘feed them up’, and adults are just labelled gym junkies or obsessives amongst their peers if they are toned and slender.
Time warping back to the seventies again for a moment, it’s worth considering just how few opportunities for snacking in between meals there were back then. Cans of cola and vending machines were only just starting to become a feature of our local swimming baths and because we didn’t have affordable spare change for snacks I never had much choice about eating them. I still can’t (thankfully) down a full can of anything fizzy and prefer water or tea, and I think most people who were parched in the dessert would be just grateful for a glass of water when they are thirsty. If we could get ourselves out of the mentality of thinking we need unnecessary extras we’d all save ourselves a few hundred empty calories per day. In fact, I’d like to see a disclaiming image on all drinks that have added sugar, an image of how many teaspoons have been added to the liquid just to make it really clear to people what they are consuming. I don’t, however, believe in a fat tax on unhealthy products, because where the hell do you draw the line between what’s bad for one person and not for another? Instead, I do believe that there should be more financial incentives for people who are living healthier lives; like a reduction in their private health care or Medicare fees. If being healthy isn’t enough of an incentive and reward already then there is really no point in punishing people who are in a bad way: that just leads to more emotional guilt eating surely?
For more images and data go to: http://www.sugarstacks.com/beverages.htm
It’s confusing nowadays what is actually contained in food, even to the extent that some countries can’t even be sure what animal is in their beef products now, but I really don’t believe people are as ignorant about sensible eating as they claim. You can’t go wrong if you chose water over every other drink in the cabinet, it’s the only one with zero sugar and zero additives that you can be sure of. And the argument that healthy food is too expensive is redundant on me as well, when you’re healthier and half the size again you’re going to need less fuel to get around, just think of how much you’ll save then. I just think that we are a society that now doesn’t just want one slice of pie we want and expect the extra one as well; we know it’s bad for us but we think if we all collude together then it will be acceptable. We’re forgetting what it feels like to be hungry and often confusing it with real thirst for just a plain liquid and relying on profiteering food corporations to do the healthy work for us (which they won’t). I don’t look back and think I was deprived as a child in the seventies, I look back and wish I hadn’t ever over indulged once too often in the eighties and nineties when I formed much worse eating habits, not to please other people, but just so I can still feel comfortable in my own skin.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that genetics, lifestyle, personal choices, peer pressures and apparently the latest dance moves, could all be factors in the average size of a nation. No one escapes the judgement of others so focus instead on what’s your own personal normal or average and accept that each end of the body type spectrum, and all the variations in between, are a constant. With every decade that passes the average proportions will always include exceptions to that current average rule. And if we weren’t all so darn lazy about consumption itself we’d start taking more responsibility for ensuring we know exactly what it is we are consuming.
For the truth we seem unable to universally acknowledge head on over to Carrie Rubin’s excellent post on peer pressure and super sizing http://carrierubin.com/2013/02/18/ill-take-four-burgers-and-a-heart-attack-please/
And for a sensible discussion about the ethics of judging others appearances (and I mean everyone except Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart of course, they are my exception so judge away) see personal trainer and Australia’s Biggest Loser regular Michelle Bridge’s take on this issue:
I think it’s all food for more thought.