I weighed four stones on the scales on my seventh birthday, a sinewy, slender child. I remember the moment clearly, in my grandmother’s pink and sweet-smelling bathroom, but that was another body and another life.
Even now, I can hardly believe that body was mine. Soon I was ten and my father left. I remember a suitcase in the hallway, a staircase, sunlight in the street beyond an open door. He is not in the picture in my memory. My mother said he was going on holiday. But I knew she lied. I was a resourceful child and I had a plan. I would replace him with carbohydrates. I would be parented by toast.
If I am to be truthful, I will say that the desire – the yearning – to eat compulsively predated my father’s leaving. When I read the fairy-tale Rumpelstiltskin – was I seven, eight, or even younger? – I imagined rooms not full of straw, or gold, but of burgers and sausages, piled up against the palace walls and up to the ceiling. I imagined myself lying in them, in a semi-carnal way. (I have, in adulthood, had erotic fantasies about bread. I do not know how unusual this is; and it makes me laugh). I was already in love with food.
I became, within a year, a fat child; a child who was laughed at; a lonely child. This was the beginning of my troubled self. Food was a companion, a friend, which asked for nothing. Food was trustworthy, and available, and it did not criticise me. I bought boxes of meringues and ate them on the way to school; I ate slices of hot-buttered toast after school. The fat was my sadness and I carried it with me everywhere. It was my original metaphor, and my essential drug, although I have tried, become addicted to, and given up others. It was the first to arrive. It will be the last to leave.
It’s anger, of course. I can write you a pretty sentence, which might make me sound like a functioning human being, and throw in a sub-clause here, and a rationalisation there, but being fat is really about rage; rage which cannot speak, but must be forced back, under. Have you ever noticed that you cannot eat and weep at the same time? Under the rage is grief. And then comes force of habit. You do what you always done, unless something stops you. And food rock-bottoms are hard to come by. Tell a passer-by you are powerless over refined sugars and carbohydrates? They will surely laugh.
Being fat is really about rage; rage which cannot speak, but must be forced back, under.
I write this prettily, as I said, as if were retrospective wisdom; as if I am getting better. It isn’t and I’m not. I have even less control over food now than I did then – I have had more practice – and less hope. Sometimes, for instance, I will lie to myself and say: this is the best I can do. I accept myself. I will stay this way; or get worse. Carbohydrates – my food drug of choice, because sugar, in large amounts, is nauseating – are a powerful sedative. And when you are sedated, the despair that forces change is hard to find. I can number the days I have not eaten compulsively in the last thirty years on one hand. You will probably want to know my weight. It is seventeen stone. I am less than five foot four inches tall.
It works very much like alcoholism, which is, I think, an underlying spiritual sickness of which drunkeness is only an expression, or symptom. I suspect that, in my deepest self, I want to be fat. My experience tells me that if I wanted to be slim, I would be. I am tenacious, and one of the things I am most tenacious about is being fat.
I think I am afraid of slenderness; I also think I know why. I am, on the whole, afraid of men and, if you are fat, men do not notice you. And, when I have overcome my fear, and lost weight, although typically it is for an article (workaholism can trump an eating disorder for a month or two) – the fat has always called me back. It has not done with me; or I with it. I remember very clearly standing on the scales in 2005. I was slightly under ten stones. I had worked so hard to get there. I had run a thousand miles. And I thought: now it has to come back. I need it.
I think I am afraid of slenderness; I also think I know why. I am, on the whole, afraid of men and, if you are fat, men do not notice you.
All this has left me with a body I feel is my enemy. I hate it, I hide from it, I ignore its needs. It has ruined my sex life to some extent, because, although I love my husband, this is not a body I want to share. But hey – don’t you want to fuck my sentences? I had a chance of recovery when I was pregnant with my child. I developed pre-gestational diabetes, which meant I might have an over-large baby. I wept in my husband’s arms and said: I knew there would be a reckoning. Is this it? It did no good. The compulsion overwhelms everything. I left hospital, and went to bed with a ham.