Columnist Bryony Gordon sparked an online debate after saying she’s fat and happy, and revealing she is trolled every day by people commenting on her size. Here, writer LUCY VINE agrees… and says it’s other people who have a problem with her size 14 figure – not her.
Lucy Vine says she doesn't have a problem with her size so why do you?
Let’s start this by saying that the friend I’m going to tell you about – Danielle – is really lovely. She’d bought my bridesmaid’s dress for a wedding we’re both going to next month, and our conversation went like this.
[Her] ‘I bought you a size 14. Is that OK? I’m so sorry.’
[Me] ‘Of course it’s OK – that’s the size I am.’
[Her] ‘It’s only because of your boobs. I was just worried about them fitting in the dress… I’m sorry.’
I get it. She’s trying to be nice. I understand, but really I want to tell her there is no need to be sorry. I don’t need her to justify my size or apologise for it. And yet this happens to me constantly. ‘It’s just your boobs’; ‘It’s just your womanly hips’; ‘It’s just because you’re curvy.’ Yes, all true. But the underlying assumption being made here is that I am in some way unhappy with being a size 14. And I am not.
It’s a leap everyone makes, because thin = beautiful, right? By (well-meaningly) justifying my size you are telling me that my body is not good enough. That my shape is not what you would like it to be. I’m wary of using the term fat-shaming, because I know all too well about the darker, nastier, more insidious fat-shaming used out there to police women’s bodies every day. But offering excuses for my body – without my eliciting them – is a shaming of sorts, unintentional though it may be. And it’s ingrained in all of us – I even did it myself just a few weeks ago to my friend Amy, when we went shopping and she asked me to pass her a size 16. ‘You’re not a size 16? Well, it’s only because you’re so tall.’
I’m treading a fine line here because I do not consider myself fat. The point is, I suppose, that a lot of other people do. I am overweight – another fun word! – I know that, but ‘fat’ assumes a sense of unhappiness, and I am very far from being unhappy with my size. I do yoga once or twice a week and I play netball and squash now and again. It’s not enough to make me lose weight, but it is enough to make me feel good and be able to run up the occasional escalator without collapsing in a sweaty heap at the top. I know I
could be thinner with less eating and more exercise – I’ve always been aware it’s that simple (although I’m also aware it’s not ‘that simple’ for many women), but I choose not to because my weight, believe it or not, is something I think about very little. When other people point it out, however well-intentioned, I’ll be honest: it sets me back.
I’ve never wanted my weight to define me. Growing up, I was always bigger than my sisters, but I was surprisingly unfazed by it, even when I was at school. I realise I’m lucky but I think it’s definitely not the big deal people think it is. Over the years, I’ve watched people I love, of all shapes and sizes, become obsessed and hateful about their bodies, and I feel sad and lucky that I didn’t think that way about myself – and still don’t. It’s never been an issue with boyfriends. Some men like slimmer girls, some men like girls like me, and that’s fine.
US writer Lindy West often writes about the pain of being defined as an overweight person, saying, ‘I spent half my life eating apology-salad as publicly as possible so that I might be able to pass as one of the “good ones” at least trying to lose weight.’ And that’s something I totally get. As happy I am about how I look, it’s other people’s perceptions of me as fat that make me nervous.
If I ever eat a chocolate bar in public, I can almost see the people around me are nodding to themselves and thinking, ‘That’s obviously all she eats.’
I remember reading an interview with Kelly Brook two years ago where she said, ‘I reckon I’ve got the opposite of body dysmorphia. I think I’m a size 0 until I see pictures of myself and realise I’m not.’ And I remember thinking, ‘Is that me? Is that why people are uncomfortable with my shape – because I’m not seeing it right? Maybe I’m enormous and I just can’t see it when I look in the mirror.’ So in those moments when a friend says ‘Oh, well you don’t look like a 14,’ that’s when I start to worry. If it’s such a dreadful size and has such stigma, if my closest friends and family feel like they have to lie or reassure me, when I wasn’t asking for reassurance, maybe it is bad. Maybe my size does define me, maybe I should lose weight. After all, my BMI is 27.6 and the ‘healthy’ range stops at 25.
Curvy girls get put into categories of being either desperately unhappy with their size or aggressively proud, but of course we’re all of us somewhere in the middle. I’m a rounded human being (no jokes, please) who has bad days and I’m definitely not immune to what society says I should look like. I’m also aware that being thinner would be easier in a lot of respects. Clothes would probably be more fun and I wouldn’t feel personally attacked by those ‘Use this one weird trick to lose 700lbs a day’ spam adverts plastered everywhere I go on the internet.
And what’s sad is that the only way I know people will stop whispering my size, or excusing it for me, is for me to lose weight. Lily Allen – for all her defiance saying, ‘I may have gained a few pounds. I’m one of many that find comfort in food,’ and ‘My children felt more important than being thin,’ last month when she was accused by rentagob Katie Hopkins of ‘gaining two stone’ – only really ‘won’ the argument when she posted a picture of herself having lost the weight. That’s when Katie shut up: when Lily was slim again and it was therefore no longer something to be laughed at. In fact, that was the only tweet Lily left up. Down came all her I-don’t-care-about-putting-on-weight tweets and up stayed the slim picture of her.
So yes, I know I could stop people commenting on my shape by losing weight. But that feels unlikely to happen. I like chocolate and pasta too much. And really, why should I? I know people are doing this size-apologising with love, to make me feel better about my failure to look the way I should do by their standards. But maybe it’s those standards that need to change. I’m a size 14. It’s not my boobs, it’s not my hips, it’s all of it – it’s my shape. Stop explaining it away for me. Because it’s only when you do that that I start to feel unhappy about how I look.