It’s that time of year once again, ladies and gentlemen; that time of year just as eagerly anticipated (if not more so) than the festive winter season. The six weeks summer holiday.
The word ‘summer’ sends chills down the spine of every woman. Fat, thin, or somewhere in between, it doesn’t matter what size you are, because the media has been on a tireless campaign since May to get you to put down those biscuits in time for holiday season, where you’ll debut a super slender bikini body. To big ol’ me, I couldn’t give a fuck about sacrificing foods that I love in order to achieve a body that Closer or someone similar tells me is a suitable to be bared on a beach. Also, I’ll let you in on a secret: I already have a bikini body. Yes, I put on my cutest bikini, head down to the beach and let my flab fly (not the freaky kind though, there’s kids about).
Every last one of the women that I work with are beautiful. They are all smart, funny, have great relationships with their partners and are achieving amazing personal goals, like getting married, moving houses and kicking arse at the projects and workloads that they handle. But I found that within my first fortnight of working there, I was picking up on the regular occurrence of The D Word; it made me cringe in my seat and want to hide away, hoping that it wasn’t a virus I too would contract.
At first, I liked to give them the benefit of the doubt and allowed myself to think that they were genuinely trying to lead healthy lifestyles. It wasn’t long before I realised that this wasn’t the case.
Getting skinny at this time of year seems to be their top priority. Every single conversation ends with the word diet. Or Slimming World. Literally every conversation. Might I add that these women range from sizes 8 to 16, at the very biggest, with me being both tallest and largest at a size 18.
At least half of these women are mothers to young children. These are the women who will moan about their jelly belly as a results of childbirth and how their figures aren’t the same as they were before they entered motherhood. I’m not a mother myself, but how can they be so surprised by the changes that their bodies have made? They birthed a human! As tough as many find it, embracing it is better than any radical diet; your body has served both you and your child well, so you should love it in return. But for some reason, in their heads, a little demon shaped like their former, thinner selves sits there and torments them. In addition to the smack talk about their post-natal bodies, these are also the women who will give then entire office updates of how many pounds they lost at Slimming World/Weight Watchers/Fat Club/[insert some other bullshit weight loss programme here], congratulating each other as they work out how many Points or Syns their salad contains. As happy as the outside appears, I still see them sat eating their lunch, staring longingly at the communal cakes sitting in the middle of the office for everyone to share.
Then there’s the other half of my colleagues, who are on diets for the sake of being on a diet. They really enjoy food; their eyes glaze over at the mention of a restaurant, and they excitedly join in on conversations about how to cook the best Mexican food or the latest food spots that others have tried. Despite their food joy, they sit and count the calories in their lunch, forcing themselves to eat things that they actually loathe because they think that they must be on a diet. Because media, because society, has told them so.
I also want to note that this isn’t just me speculating. I’ve had a colleague actually come out and say that she didn’t even know why she was dieting, it’s just something that she’s always done. I find this so sad - and I know there are tonnes of women who live life in a similar way - but who wants to spend their time on this earth that way? Another colleague outwardly stated that she skips lunch to be able to fit in outfits for various occasions coming up. I shuddered at the thought of purposefully skipping a meal, of restricting yourself - thinking of the people close to me who have suffered and recovered from various eating disorders - and how this is something that people would so flippantly talk about around the office.
Why haven’t you challenged them? I hear you shout from the back. I’ve thought about it many times, but then I think to myself about how these women have been dieting for most of their lives. On occasions where I’ve tried to challenge it diplomatically with tact, I was met with ‘but Slimming World is a great way to monitor what you eat and be healthy!’ But that’s my point, do you really want to monitor everything for the rest of your life? Do you not want the freedom to eat whatever and whenever you want? How do you argue against them using health as their defence, when this way of life is ingrained in them - and within office chit chat - and they are convinced that this is healthy? This requires more than just my lunch break-sized attempts at telling them that there are such things as beauty and health at any size. You tell them that they look beautiful as they are and you’re met with their scrutiny over their most recently tagged photos on Facebook from a summer wedding. My initial snippets of body positive talk hasn’t done much to shift the diet-soaked wool from their eyes as of yet, but I have hope.
If health is what they truly want, then who am to stand in their way? But when it comes to diet culture and its psychological repercussions, I’m of the mind that an old dog can’t learn new tricks… unless you change the food you’re trying to train it with. Perhaps it’s about changing my language or angle that I use to promote body positivity and break it down, feeding it to them subtly and starting from the basics. Change takes time, but with the amount of time I spend with my colleagues and the proximity of good food in the canteen, I’m optimistic that change is an achievable goal.
Until then, I’ll sit and enjoy not having to share the biscuits whilst I admire myself in the reflection of my computer screen.